In the midst of a dramatic all-night budget negotiation, Sacramento lawmakers slipped in a bill that would give the state’s approval to raising the cap on downtown San Diego redevelopment to support construction of a new NFL stadium.

The bill would allow San Diego’s Centre City Development Corp. to raise its spending cap from $3 billion to $9 billion for downtown and continue sequestering tax dollars from the rest of the city, county and state.

The maneuvering came at an awkward time. For one, the city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars supposedly studying whether downtown is blighted and needs to increase its redevelopment activity. It also comes as the City Council and mayor plea with residents to increase the city’s sales tax or face drastic service cuts. 

The bill was attached to the budget through a “trailer bill” that had been crafted to support the Williamson Act, which protects rural farmland from development. It also has provisions supporting redevelopment in the city of Richmond. We’re trying to find details of the bill.

I called Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña. She said she did not support the bill, declining to vote on it.

“I was just astounded,” she said. “This is a specially worded sweetheart deal that gave Williamson Act supporters, the city of Richmond and San Diego’s CCDC very special and preferential treatment.”

Sean Wherley, the spokesman for Sen. Christine Kehoe, e-mailed me that Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher authored the bill. Saldaña said last-minute dealing to pull together the votes to pass the massive California budget was pervasive and “this was Fletchers deal to get his vote.”

As debate about it proceeded, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), tweeted that the bill was “a last-minute budget bill allowing scandal-plagued Centre City Redev. in San Diego to use public money for NFL.”

And the Sacramento Bee quoted Assemblyman Chris Norby calling the maneuvering for the new Chargers stadium “corporate welfare at its worst.”

This development is interesting because the city is only in the midst of studying whether downtown is still blighted and whether it needs to continue to benefit from redevelopment. Officials at the Centre City Development Corp. and Mayor Jerry Sanders support raising the cap and the City Council approved a one-year $500,000 study of whether it could be done.

A spokesman for Sanders declined to comment.

If the city did pursue increasing the cap, it would essentially sequester more tax dollars to support downtown construction projects including a new Chargers stadium. So it would need approval from other government agencies like the county of San Diego and the state. But this legislation throws into question what role those agencies now have in signing off on the redevelopment plans.

Hopes and plans for a new NFL stadium have hinged on this discussion. The Chargers have said they need as much as $500 million in taxpayer subsidies for the new stadium, and the primary source of funds would be downtown redevelopment dollars. If the city does not raise the cap on redevelopment money downtown, what the team says is their last hope to remain in San Diego will disintegrate.

But this is potentially awkward timing as the City Council and mayor ask residents to raise the city’s sales tax on November’s ballot.

As the final votes on the budget loomed, legislators were engaged in a furious round of horse trading, according to lawmakers and staff involved in the deal-making. As legislative leaders rounded up votes, they added provisions that would boost the bottom lines of online travel companies and an ethanol firm founded by a close ally of the governor.

Again, we’re trying to find out more on what this bill does, but KQED’s John Myers tweeted that the language related to the Chargers stadium made it in the final budget.

He also reported that the governor planned to line-item veto up to $965 million of the new spending plan.

County Supervisors Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob have been central in negotiations to increase the cap and the Chargers stadium, but their spokespeople said they were unaware of the bill.

Please contact Scott Lewis directly at or 619.325.0527 and follow him on Twitter:

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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