In 2000, when former Vice President Al Gore found out that the Supreme Court had stopped the recount of the vote in Florida thereby removing any uncertainty about whether George W. Bush would be granted that state’s crucial electoral votes, Gore called his spokesman, Mark Fabiani, and told him not to let anyone on their team trash the Supreme Court.
(I’m finally reading the book “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.”)
Why was this necessary? Obviously, Gore wanted to maintain some class in the face of a devastating blow to his lifelong dream. But also, Fabiani could say a lot of things if he wanted to.
There’s probably no one in San Diego more capable than Fabiani of sending one message while, at the same time, articulating another.
What am I talking about? Fabiani, of course, is the liaison between the San Diego Chargers and the broader civic conversation going on here. He’s the point man on the team’s effort to get a new stadium.
I had a chance last week to ask him about the news that the port would be pursuing legislation to ensure that neither the Chargers nor anyone else would ever get the idea again to use the voters to change the port’s land-use decisions.
It all has to do with the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal. It’s perhaps the most valuable and coveted piece of land in San Diego. It is valuable because it is just south of downtown. It’s valuable because it can handle major cargo. It is valuable because the view from it is priceless.
Like valuable land everywhere, some people thought you could maximize its benefit by building straight up into the air. They supposedly thought they could keep the cargo operations and put a new sports stadium on top of it all. They put it on the ballot, and they got stomped.
But everyone else saw them do it. And some wondered if it didn’t provide a way to get at Tenth Avenue without having to talk to the commissioners who run the port district.
When port officials announced last week that they were going to try to make sure this never happened, the Chargers were mentioned a lot.
I wanted to see what Fabiani thought about that. Why so much talk at the port about the Chargers and Tenth Avenue? Was the team fomenting it?
Fabiani said that since the November election, he’s been getting an “increasing number of inquiries” from people in the community interested in whether the Chargers could pursue the same kind of ballot box challenge to the port that two rather unorganized developers tried then.
And then Fabiani did what he does best. He communicated a lot of different things while saying all the right things.
Like this. Here he says a lot of interesting things:
“The fact is, a site downtown would be a home run for everybody,” Fabiani said. “You don’t have to build parking or freeway on-and-off ramps. You don’t have to build transit spurs. And a $1.2 billion project becomes a $900 million project right off the bat.”
And then the right thing:
“The port’s not interested in Tenth Avenue as a site for a new stadium. If the port is not interested in discussing that then there’s nothing to discuss,” Fabiani said.
So basically, here’s the Chargers position: The Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal is perhaps the greatest place in San Diego for a new stadium, we love the idea, everyone keeps calling us about it and it would be a huge benefit for the whole city. But that doesn’t mean we’re interested in it. We respect the port.
See what I mean? He gets credit for showing respect to the powers that be at the port: the labor unions and port commissioners. While at the same time, he gets to help cultivate the idea about how great a site the Tenth Avenue property is for a new stadium.
I mean, if he and the Chargers really didn’t want to discuss Tenth Avenue anymore, they wouldn’t discuss it.
But he did make one thing clear: The Chargers are still interested in Chula Vista. And the team has no appetite — or they want to project they have no appetite — for a multi-year fight with a united opposition at the port. In other words, if the port, its business tenants and their allies continue to remain united in their opposition to the idea, the Chargers can’t imagine going through an up to seven-year ballot-box and legal fight for the property.
Now, if one of the interests involved, say the labor unions or a few port commissioners, soften the stance, well, game on.
Maybe, for instance, if people help them understand how cool such a stadium would be, they would change their mind.
That’s why you talk about it — while at the same time remind everyone there’s really nothing to discuss for now.