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Shrouded in secrecy, with a pass through the state legislature at a speed that must have caused Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers a moment of envy, a major hurdle was cleared for the development of a new Chargers stadium in downtown San Diego with the passage of Senate Bill 863. The pass was completed with the stroke of a pen on October 19, when Governor Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 863 into law. It removed the cap on spending by the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC), San Diego’s redevelopment agency. The effect is that public funds initially estimated at approximately $500 million may now be used for a new stadium.
Whether you support using public tax dollars to subsidize the construction of a new stadium or not, most people would take strong exception to the furtive and clandestine manner in which lifting the cap on spending was thrust onto an unsuspecting public. These antics, carried out under the cover of night and in secrecy, epitomize much of what is wrong with local and national politics.
The spending cap maneuvers came as a surprise to most, but not to all. Admissions from the very few people involved in this back-door deal acknowledged that discussions have been ongoing since August, which would have allowed ample time for input from the public had they known about it. By refusing to involve the community in this process and keeping it a secret, the elected officials that masterminded this scheme may very well have created a backlash that will give those opposed to a new stadium powerful ammunition to kill the project, no matter how worthy. As Supervisor Dianne Jacob so succinctly summarized, “the trust was broken with this backdoor deal.”
This is reminiscent of the health care legislation in which the public felt its voice was not heard. What was the result? Cynicism and distrust by the people of elected officials and of the legislative process. The abysmal approval ratings for the President and Congress reflect this as we approach what very well may be one of the most significant election cycles our country has seen in a generation.
In response to harsh criticism of the process, the assemblyman who was the architect behind removing the spending cap intimated that the way politics work in the state capital makes deals happen this way. This is a perfect example of why the public is so distrustful of many elected officials. The mayor’s assertion that “the end justifies the means” is an awkward attempt to rationalize away broken trust and promises. One would expect better responses from experienced politicians, especially in a matter of this magnitude.
The Chargers’ silence regarding these events has been deafening. One suspects that the franchise is astutely aware that such machinations will not be well received by the tax-paying public. By lifting the spending cap the Chargers are also aware that any tax revenues used for a stadium will be controversial due to the fact that it means less revenue is available for police, fire protection, libraries and schools. Building public support is a very delicate matter and requires justification from public officials as to the value that a new stadium would bring to our economy and community.
During its history the CCDC has done an admirable job of attracting capital downtown as an independent agency. However, past ethical violations and the subsequent resignation of the CCDC’s former president, and the current chairman’s involvement in this backroom deal may cause some to question whether the organization’s independent model still makes sense.
Let’s hope that in the future our elected officials will give careful consideration to the public’s right to know and participate in decisions affecting their tax dollars. As our second president John Adams once said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know.”
Steve Francis is a co-founder of AMN Healthcare, a former mayoral candidate, and former majority leader of the state assembly of Nevada.