Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008 | Before Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers threw a big bucket of mud in the middle of the picnic Charger fans were setting while they took in this glorious march to the Super Bowl, the local newspaper was doing its part to raise expectations.

From the main sports story Sunday:

“The season of great expectation is finally beginning. An August of careful waiting is finished. Bring on the Panthers, bring on the Patriots, bring on Lombardi. Today, at Qualcomm Stadium against the Carolina Panthers, the Chargers begin their run to the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship.”

Wow. Bring them on indeed.

The paper’s editorial page got in on the boosterish hype as well. Assuming a more sober perspective — and apparently feeling responsible to do more than cheer a football team on — the editorial board wished the Chargers well in their upcoming season if only to further the imaginary movement to build a new stadium for the team in Mission Valley.

The paper dismissed other potential sites for a new facility. The “key” to a new stadium at the Qualcomm site was “success on the field.”

Well, actually, the paper admitted there was a lot more in the way. So the editorial board laid out its vision of everything that needed to happen to ensure the Chargers got a new stadium in San Diego:

“The odds in a Vegas sports book would be astronomical, but here is our best-case scenario: an exhilarating dash to the Super Bowl galvanizes the populace, and persuades San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders that striving to keep the team is indeed worth his effort. With Charger nemesis Mike Aguirre defeated in November’s race for city attorney, the Spanos family is willing to return its focus to the Qualcomm site. The economy rebounds, and a stadium deal — one that doesn’t burden taxpayers — can be struck.”

Wow. When you put it like that, the idea that the Chargers will ever get a new stadium in San Diego looks even more outlandish.

I called Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani to see if that’s indeed the list of must-wins the team must accrue in order to build a stadium.

(Great Quote Alert)

“The easiest part of that calculation is winning the Super Bowl,” Fabiani said.

Wow. Winning a Super Bowl isn’t exactly easy.

Let’s stop for a second and go through each of the U-T‘s contingencies:

An exhilarating dash to the Super Bowl galvanizes the populace. Umm, well, I’m not going to bring up yesterday’s stunning loss. The Chargers only need look back to last year to remember how to have a good season after starting poorly. But they could have started an “exhilarating dash” a little better, I suppose.

The team better shore up its run defense. Maybe find some leadership and a miraculous tonic for easing the pain of lower-leg and foot injuries.

But like Fabiani said, winning the Super Bowl may be easier to plan for than those other things the U-T hopes happen over the coming year.


Persuading Mayor Jerry Sanders that striving to keep the team is indeed worth his effort. I gotta ask: What’s the big guy supposed to do? There’s no proposal for the city to even consider. Fabiani and the Chargers have plainly said over and over that there’s no way a new stadium could be built at Qualcomm. And this business about the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal is pretty remote. Sanders could put his weight behind the proposal to put a deck on top of the cargo terminal and put a stadium on top of it. But that’s about it for the city’s potential involvement with the Chargers new stadium.

Council President Scott Peters once suggested the city should pay the Chargers to leave. They could save the annual cost of maintaining Qualcomm and help the team find a new facility in the county. So I suppose Mayor Papa Bear could sign on to that. But that’s about it.

Mission Valley is plainly out. The proposal to build a stadium and finance it with condos built nearby is nothing more than an old fantasy. They used to think the stadium would cost maybe up to $600 million. All that’s changed.

There are 166 acres on the Qualcomm site. About 100 would be needed for a new stadium, its infrastructure and an accompanying riverfront park. That leaves 66 acres.

Let Fabiani tell the rest of the story.

“These are billion-dollar stadiums and there’s no conceivable development framework for those 60 acres that would generate the revenue to help pay for a new stadium,” Fabiani said.

Take this in one swallow and try not to let it come up: The finances of the Mission Valley stadium plan never penciled out.

But there’s still a chance right? Yes. There is one chance and one chance only to make Mission Valley happen for a new stadium and the U-T owes its readers an honest assessment of how it would work: A massive taxpayer subsidy. You could bridge the gap between what a stadium would cost and what the Chargers would pay with … drum roll … taxpayer funds.

But even that’s too remote to fantasize about. To get $500 million or more of taxpayer funds would require a special tax. You couldn’t try to do it with bonds. The city’s books are so thick with debt, another line of credit even half as large would push it over the precipice to bankruptcy. Never mind what it would do to services in the rest of the city.

No, you’d need a special fee. An increased tax on rental cars; maybe a one-cent sales tax on every $10 of retail goods purchased; maybe, instead of a booze ban, we charge the drinkers $10 for the right to drink beer on the beach. Whatever. You’d need a new revenue stream for something that big.

To get a new tax or new revenue stream, you’d have to pass a ballot measure with support of more than 66 percent of voters.

Ain’t happenin’.

“We certainly do not anticipate a public subsidy of that magnitude,” Fabiani said. “We don’t see the political leadership in San Diego that would be willing to advocate for that, and most of the mechanisms to achieve it require a two-thirds vote and we certainly don’t see a way that happens.”

So let’s just stop talking about it without acknowledging this. It seems like a deal-breaker for any site in the county. But Fabiani believes that amount of land that could be developed in Chula Vista would offset the construction costs far more than anything at Qualcomm. That brings up the question of whether the gift of public land is the same as a taxpayer subsidy. Sure is, but you know this county would swallow that a lot easier than a new fee.

With Charger nemesis Mike Aguirre defeated in November’s race for city attorney, the Spanos family is willing to return its focus to the Qualcomm site. One more time: The Spanoses are not looking at Qualcomm because it doesn’t work. The numbers aren’t there. Fabiani and his bosses would be the first to talk about how much they despise Aguirre. But they know even if he’s not city attorney, Mission Valley doesn’t work.

Let’s be clear, Aguirre’s hardly the partner anyone looking to build a stadium in San Diego would want. The Padres, long ago, were able to persuade Aguirre to actually chair the committee in charge of passing the ballot measure for their new stadium. That just will never happen in the case of the Chargers. Ever. But it doesn’t matter for now.

The economy rebounds, and a stadium deal — one that doesn’t burden taxpayers — can be struck. The economy rebounds. I can just picture the U-T editorial board members holding hands in a circle chanting “Let the economy rebound … ommmmmmm … the economy’s fundamentals are strong … ommmmmm … San Diego has a diverse economy that will bounce back faster … ommmmmm … “

It is actually a two-part outlandish wish: 1) that the economy will reverse its downward spiral and; 2) that the recovery will be so fabulous that money spews out of the ground like a row of lawn sprinklers that have been run over by an out-of-control Volvo. Just get a bucket and collect enough to build a stadium.

So that is the reassuring analysis the U-T provides its Chargers-loving readers: All they need to hope for is Jerry Sanders to embrace some plan that will be viable when: 1) the economy reverses itself; 2) the Chargers win the Super Bowl; 3) Aguirre loses his reelection campaign; 4) the price of building a stadium is cut by two-thirds and/or San Diegans decide they’re cool with new taxes after all and, in fact, the first major new tax shouldn’t be for hospitals or roads or a new library or a new City Hall but for a new stadium.

Whether you want the Chargers to stay with a new stadium or whether you’d like nothing more than to see them pack up their buses and head to Vegas, you’ll have to add two more to the list of events in the “best case” scenario: 6) that the Union-Tribune is sold and; 7) that its new editorial board really would like to discuss the facts of the situation.

Please contact Scott Lewis (scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org) directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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