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The other day I predicted U-T San Diego and its new owners would come out with a plan that would try to disrupt the mayor’s progress on a Convention Center expansion and new football stadium. But it certainly didn’t come out with what I was suspecting.
Take a minute and absorb the paper’s vision. They packaged it oddly: Two editorials came out, one emotional one and a reality based one. And here’s the overhead rendering.
They did not nuke the ongoing planning for a new Convention Center, as I predicted. Though the paper rejected the proposed expansion, they did not suggest a football stadium several blocks away would eliminate the need for the expansion.
Their vision is a different Convention Center expansion, a new stadium (with a retractable roof) and a new sports arena, some beaches, promenades and even an apparently huge “civic icon” all on land that currently houses the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.
It’s a pretty picture. But the paper glossed over major problems and left many unanswered questions. Here are my top five for now:
1) The Tenth Ave. Marine Terminal and Its Jobs? Here’s the plot of land in question as it looked last week:
This is hardly the first time someone’s dreamed of putting a football stadium on this land. In 2008, they even put a ballot measure on that would have put a roof on these importing/exporting facilities and put a stadium on top of that. (The U-T’s new CEO, John Lynch, was a major backer of the initiative. Voters annihilated it.)
That was one of the boldest attempts to try to satisfy both sides of this perpetual argument: Keep the jobs the port sustains here and put something fun there too! Most clear-thinking people who approach this issue have concluded it’s an either/or situation: If you want to put a stadium there, fine, but the jobs will be lost. Right now, the political power is with those jobs.
The U-T says the port must move what happens at Tenth Avenue south to South Bay facilities. For now? Those longshoremen jobs at the port must be “preserved in the short and medium term.” The paper went out of its way to say organized labor needed to be accommodated and features a reaction from Lorena Gonzalez, the head of the Labor Council.
But as she tweeted in a flurry Sunday, she was reacting positively to the principles of protecting those jobs and still getting everything they want.
The paper offers no explanation how it would do this. It waves off the challenge of moving these facilities south and merely hints that people have ideas about how it could happen.
Great. So in answer to the question about how they will protect the jobs Tenth Avenue currently supports, the paper says simply that you can protect the jobs the facility currently supports. Thanks! Hadn’t thought of that!
They’d have been better off just saying this is a better use for the land so shove it.
2) An Arena?? Both this, and the mayor’s vision for a new stadium at the bus yards east of Petco Park, include a retractable roof. Why have a roof in sunny San Diego? Because to pay for this, they’ll likely sell or otherwise leverage the current Sports Arena in Point Loma, which hosts concerts and other events.
But the U-T’s vision for the new waterfront includes a new sports arena in addition to a stadium with a roof. From what I can tell, the U-T doesn’t even touch on why this is needed except for briefly alluding to an “entertainment district” and Final Four college basketball. But that’s why there was a roof on the football stadium: To host events like this.
And it’s not a simple thing. An arena, like the Sprint Arena in Kansas City, can cost upward of $300 million. Might want to explain why you want it.
3) $1.5 billion?? Are You Nuts? The paper projects that its plan would cost $1.5 billion and it pretends like this is a very high number to swallow. But there’s no way it’s this cheap. Perhaps it is projecting a much easier Convention Center expansion than the $520 million one planned. Perhaps it’s thinking that the $1 billion other cities have spent on stadiums is just not likely here. Perhaps it thinks someone will just throw in an arena on top of all of that for free?
And then if we are to move port operations south to National City, who pays for dredging the bay? Or if they chop the Silver Strand, as the paper hinted at, who pays for that? We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars.
If you’re not talking about moving those jobs south, then just admit it, but don’t pretend it would be without cost.
It’s almost as if they just added up the bare minimum the facilities might cost alone.
It’s ludicrous. I’m not even going to dissect it more.
4) And The Hotel-Room Tax? The paper, in laying out its financial plan for this idea, relies mainly on the proposed hotel-room tax hike that is going forward to fund the Convention Center expansion.
The paper rightly calls this a tax increase instead of the garbage “self-assessment” language the mayor and other boosters use to describe the way they’re doing this. It’s a tax hike made possible under a complex agreement of hoteliers to raise their taxes and pass it along to consumers.
The Chargers and hotel workers both — both — believe this is an illegal effort. After all, as the U-T’s new publisher knows very well, raising hotel taxes is something only the voters can do.
But the paper, on its page of reactions to the plan, has a quote from Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani. “This is a bold and serious proposal that deserves a vigorous public debate,” he said.
I must have missed the part where he maintained his concern that it was also “illegal.”
Have the Chargers changed their minds about the law now that there’s a proposal they actually like?
No, Fabiani emailed Sunday reaffirming the team’s conviction.
“A public vote, which we’ve always said must occur, would be a legally permissible way to raise the hotel tax. So whatever changes are made to the hotel tax would be made by the voters, not by a vote of the hotel owners.”
The new publisher of the U-T, hotel developer Doug Manchester, notoriously killed a hotel-room tax hike many of his counterparts supported in 2004.
So now he’s proposing a new one go to the ballot? Or is he not on the same page with the Chargers?
5) This Is the Newspaper’s Priority? Many people, including the first commenter on the U-T editorial, were struck by this line in it: “Beginning today, realizing this bold vision is priority No. 1 for U-T San Diego. We hope it becomes your vision and your priority as well.”
The No. 1 priority for the newspaper is this? The commenter wondered where in the newspaper’s priorities was reporting the news accurately.
The paper quickly put up a response to that commenter: “That is our priority, each and every day. That is the focus and mission of the newsroom. This is an editorial campaign being launched by our publisher and the editorial pages, which is separate and distinct from the newsroom operations.”
It is hardly a new thing for the U-T to promote major projects. Without its relentless editorializing, and a major donation from its former publisher, it is hard to imagine the new downtown library rising as it is in East Village.
But to word it like this is very awkward. The paper’s newsroom staff will try to distance itself and claim this isn’t their top priority. This is what happens with unsigned editorials. Are they the voice of the whole organization or not?
And if not, they should probably say that.
The paper admirably acknowledges its vision may have some shortcomings and there were a lot of details to be hammered out.
But these aren’t details. The paper provided no new insight on deep, decades-old disagreements. It merely posits that problems can be solved because problems can be solved. It worries about a skeptical public unwilling to invest in big ideas because it has been misled so much and then immediately misleads on how expensive this big idea would be.
I like the drawings, and I think a lot of people will. But taxpayers are investors and they need to see business plans, especially as the rest of the city crumbles.
They’re asking for residents to come aboard on a big voyage. But they’re going to need to show they have better maps than this one before a lot of us will.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of voiceofsandiego.org. Please contact me if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
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