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On Saturday, Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani published a thought-provoking commentary in the Union-Tribune.

In justifying the team’s decision to renew requests for a straight taxpayer subsidy of construction of a new stadium — this time in downtown San Diego — Fabiani made the point that it would hardly be a worse deal for residents than the status quo.

No matter which way you come down on the question of public funding, this is not a debate between one side that is against taxpayer spending and one side that is for it.
The people who say they are in favor of the status quo — those who say that the Chargers should simply stay in Qualcomm Stadium and play out their lease through the year 2020 — are in fact advocating the spending of more than $300 million in taxpayer money between now and then just to keep the aging stadium operating. In short, by advocating inaction, proponents of the status quo are also advocating the expenditure of huge amounts of taxpayer money from now until 2020.
Those in favor of the downtown site are arguing that there is a better use for the Qualcomm site (that could potentially both generate new revenue and community amenities such as a park), as well as a better use for the $15 million a year that the city now spends on the existing stadium.

This is a strong move. This is a crucial period of time in this newly invigorated stadium discussion. What Fabiani wants to do is cast the new stadium discussion as a type of refinancing effort. You know, the house is cracking a bit, you have a terrible loan, you’re losing money. Get a new loan, build a new house, then you’re not losing as much money. When it’s all over, you have a new house and we’ll throw in a Super Bowl!

What he doesn’t say is that it’s not exactly a house. As excited as we are about football, we don’t actually need a stadium like we do a house.

In other words, Fabiani’s saying that we are currently losing a lot of money and will lose a lot of money on Qualcomm Stadium (true). We could stop that, and sell or redevelop the land that it sits on (true). This would raise a lot of money for troubled little San Diego (true). And we could instead make a better investment into a new downtown facility (true).

What he doesn’t say is that we could just let the Chargers leave and get rid of Qualcomm Stadium if we wanted. I’m not saying we do want that. I’m saying that we do ourselves a disservice — and lose a bit of bargaining power — if we just concede that the debate is only about how we spend our taxpayer money on the stadium and not whether we should or not.

After all, unfortunately for Fabiani and Chargers’ boosters, there really is a vocal group of San Diegans that don’t want to spend money on a new football stadium.

These are the people who see our schools and parks fall apart, the city cut back on services and start to flirt with new taxes. These are the people who simply wonder if a new stadium is a priority during times like this. And they’re also the people who know that primarily, the NFL is a business. Its owners want to make money. That’s OK. They’ve created something I, for one, enjoy watching tremendously. But it is a business.

What people don’t understand is why a business as popular and profitable as this one needs so much taxpayer subsidy.

At the same time, businessman in Los Angeles has broadcast high and low that he is willing to invest in building a new stadium. But he won’t do it unless he gets an ownership stake in a team that moves its operations to it.

Again I ask: Why would taxpayers demand anything less?

The only real arguments I’ve gotten against this have had a twist on one basic contention: The team would never go for this. I’ve gotten e-mails, comments on the post, and twitter messages all saying the same thing. The NFL and the team wouldn’t go for it.

Take this post from Erik Bruvold, the CEO of the National University System Institute for Policy Research, who runs through various public ownership scenarios but then says, without reason, that it’s just not workable here:

In my own opinion, it is VERY doubtful that the NFL values being in San Diego so much that league rules would be relaxed, even if there was interest by the Chargers, to provide for this kind of ownership structure.

Again, nothing about the merits of the proposal. Just that it would never happen.

This is fine. I’ve proposed two different things: that the taxpayers, through the city of San Diego, get a stake in the team if we invest in a new stadium or that the fans be allowed to invest in the team to raise the capital needed to construct the facility. These don’t have to be dollar-for-dollar equity stakes.

If the team actually refused to take San Diego up on an offer to invest in the stadium in exchange for some stake in the team’s future revenues or value, then it should also make it clear that it would (and will!) refuse the same deal from Ed Roski, the developer in LA who wants to build a stadium.

And since Roski’s vision of a team moving to the city of Industry is the only realistic threat to San Diego right now, then that would leave San Diego in a pretty strong position.

— SCOTT LEWIS

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