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The event would be nothing short of remarkable: Labor groups, the Chargers, county leaders, a new San Diego mayor and Gov. Jerry Brown, all standing united behind a podium, pledging their support for a $1.5 billion waterfront stadium and arena plan recently proposed by the U-T San Diego.
John Lynch, the newspaper’s CEO, told a breakfast forum Thursday that he could envision that happening “very soon.”
“We have gotten a great deal of support from each one of those constituencies,” Lynch said. He reiterated the point several times during a 10-minute presentation and question-and-answer with roughly 60 people at a meeting of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3. “We have gotten the great leaders of our community behind this,” he said.
The county? “A very, very warm response.”
San Diego State? “Very excited.”
The Navy? “They’re open to many of the solutions that are out there.”
But what Lynch described as support might also be described as people being polite to the guy in charge of the region’s largest newspaper. Two months after the newspaper unveiled a vision for the city’s downtown waterfront south of the Convention Center and said time was of the essence in adopting it, no elected officials have formally endorsed the plan, adopted it as their own and started advocating for it. Some have signaled that they’d be open to it, but say it’s lacking so many details they haven’t formed concrete opinions.
The U-T’s vision called for a football stadium with a retractable roof, a sports arena, public park and beach at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, which today is used to unload cargo ships.
In print, the paper has acknowledged the lack of support. “[T]he plan we put forward is still not being addressed seriously by key players, said a March 6 editorial chastising Mayor Jerry Sanders for ignoring the idea.
The issue is a litmus test for the newspaper under its new CEO, Lynch, and Doug Manchester, the hotelier who bought the paper late last year. It’s their first public fight using the paper and a way to gauge how much power is left in its editorial page in the post-print age.
At the least, it has answered a question we posed after Manchester bought the paper for $110 million and said he wanted it to be a cheerleader for San Diego: Would he use the newspaper as a bullhorn or a bludgeon?
The answer: Bludgeon. The newspaper has repeatedly blasted the Unified Port of San Diego, the agency that manages the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal and vehemently opposes the newspaper plan. The U-T has accused the Port of “Enron-style finances” and backed up the attack with editorials, cartoons and news investigations.
Lynch continued that attack at the Thursday breakfast. What’s needed for the waterfront, Lynch said, is plenty of transparency. Particularly, he said, for the Port District and its finances.
When I talked to Lynch after the forum and pressed for details about the supporters he claimed, he wasn’t very transparent himself. Who at the county had been so receptive? “Those are private conversations,” he said. What had Gov. Jerry Brown said to indicate he supported the project? “We have people discussing that with them and several different folks covering that,” he said, noting that he hadn’t had those conversations himself.
I made a dozen calls to the players Lynch cited. Only the Chargers explicitly said they supported the U-T’s efforts.
“The paper has stirred up a vigorous debate around town, and ideas are emerging out of that debate that we hope will gain some serious traction,” said Mark Fabiani, a Chargers spokesman.
County Supervisor Ron Roberts also lauded it. He called the plan “visionary” but said he hasn’t formally endorsed it and didn’t want to derail current efforts focused on building a football stadium at a downtown bus yard adjacent to Petco Park.
“I like their plan,” Roberts said of the U-T. “I think it’s a concept that needs to be at least considered.”
Representatives of other leaders and groups said they hadn’t taken a position on it (San Diego State, county Supervisor Greg Cox, who represents the area, and Lorena Gonzalez, the head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, an umbrella labor group) or were open to it (mayoral candidates Bonnie Dumanis and Carl DeMaio). The Navy and Gov. Brown’s spokesman didn’t return calls.
Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0529.
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