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Statement: “The people who say they are in favor of the status quo — those who say 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,” San Diego Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani wrote in a Union-Tribune editorial Dec. 12, 2009.
Analysis: The Chargers estimate it will cost San Diego city taxpayers $340.5 million (per this detailed spreadsheet) if the football team stayed at its current Qualcomm Stadium location through the life of the team’s lease there. The number is an important part of the debate for a new downtown stadium for the team.
But the Chargers’ estimate for the taxpayers’ costs at Qualcomm relies less on hard data and more on drastic shifts in city policy and fuzzy estimates. The team’s figures could be as much as $145 million overstated, a voiceofsandiego.org analysis shows.
Some quick background. The city, not the Chargers, is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving Qualcomm. A series of complicated deals with the Chargers and lack of revenue-generating events mean the city loses money at the stadium each year.
The question is how much.
For their estimate of the city’s losses, the Chargers assume the city would spend $113 million more than it now plans to make improvements at the stadium over the next 11 years. For the Chargers’ $113 million estimate to be true, they’re relying on one of three things to happen — and there’s no indication any of them will:
A dramatic change in city policy to pump money into Qualcomm.
The team winning or settling a lawsuit to force the city to pay, which Fabiani would not commit to filing.
Something expensive breaking and needing immediate repair.
Further, there’s no list of the repairs the stadium needs.
The Chargers also are assuming the city will lose $188 million over the next 11 years operating the stadium — a $15.5 million annual loss adjusted for inflation. Their estimate comes from averaging a number from a single sentence in a five-year-old Union Tribune story and a projected loss made by the city auditor.
But there’s a more precise way to calculate the city’s losses than the Chargers’ method. Over the course of a month, VOSD broke down the city auditor’s numbers, added in the police and fire departments’ annual spending at Qualcomm and talked to the Chargers about their costs to the city. Then it took all those losses over three years and added them up.
The VOSD analysis found that losses at Qualcomm average $12.2 million a year — about $3 million less than the team says. Using the VOSD analysis, the Chargers’ estimate overstates the city’s operating losses at Qualcomm by $32 million over the next 11 years.
It would be impossible to prove how much the city would spend over the next 11 years if the Chargers stayed at Qualcomm. But the team’s estimate shows that it assumes the city will lose much more than current data projects.
— LIAM DILLON