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Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009 | Tomorrow night, the San Diego Chargers will start their 2009 NFL campaign with what is expected to be a pounding of the hapless Oakland Raiders.
But in many ways, their 2011 season already has begun.
In the last five months, chatter about Chargers new stadium options has been — in the words of team special counsel Mark Fabiani — “unleashed.”
The team has met with city of San Diego officials to discuss different ideas. There are also discussions with the city of Oceanside on a 90-acre property. In the last week, Escondido city leaders have publicly embraced the concept of a Chargers stadium. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also made surprising headlines recently when he mentioned a long-dismissed plan to renovate Qualcomm Stadium and the city has had discussions with San Diego State University about leasing or selling part of Qualcomm’s gargantuan parking lot for a university expansion.
The Chargers, Fabiani said, remain determined and committed to finding a stadium in San Diego County.
But this week’s major Chargers news is going on 500 miles away.
A last-minute push by Los Angeles County legislators to exempt a potential 75,000-seat stadium near Los Angeles from state environmental regulations has upset San Diego politicians.
Billionaire real estate developer Ed Roski has not been shy about courting teams from Jacksonville to San Francisco to his stadium planned for the city of Industry, 15 miles east of NFL-less Los Angeles. The Chargers, with seven years of stadium struggles behind them, are on his list. It doesn’t hurt that the Roski family is a longtime friend of the Chargers owner, the Spanos family.
When a bill absolving the project from California Environmental Quality Act standards shot into the state Legislature in the final days of its session, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, issued a release accusing Los Angeles leaders of trying to “steal” the Chargers. The bill, Fletcher said, gave Los Angeles an unfair advantage over any San Diego project. He offered two alternatives: an environmental exemption for stadium projects across the state and an amendment that Roski couldn’t lure other California-based teams to Los Angeles. Both were shot down.
“Winners and losers should be decided on the field, and we’re talking about sports here, not in Sacramento politics,” Fletcher said.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders sent a letter to the Assembly before its vote last Thursday objecting to the bill.
“We’re not sure exactly what to make of it,” mayoral spokesman Darren Pudgil said. “We just know there’s no benefit to the city of San Diego.”
The bill passed the Assembly on Thursday. On Friday, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he would facilitate negotiations between stadium backers and environmentalists on project. If they failed, he would allow the Senate to consider the bill by the end of the month.
Fabiani said the team hasn’t spoken with any of the parties involved about the bill.
“We want to stay a million miles away from anything that’s not to do with San Diego County,” he said.
But Fabiani did say he was disappointed by San Diego politicians’ opposition to the bill. Los Angeles legislators won’t forget their stance the next time San Diego’s delegation is looking for a break, he said.
“It’s short-sighted,” Fabiani said. “No one now from San Diego, whether it’s the Chargers or any other large business, is going to get an exemption. But far-sightedness has never been a characteristic of San Diego politicians in our experience.”
Asked if Los Angeles is a viable option for the Chargers Fabiani replied, “It’s hard to say because it would require us to conclude that San Diego County is not a viable option and we’re not there yet.”
But, he added, after seven years of trying the Chargers’ timeline for San Diego County isn’t unlimited.
“I would bet,” he said, “we’re closer to the end than the beginning.”