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As the Chargers prepare for another season, we’re getting ready for another round of bold claims and lively discussion about the team’s decade-long search for a new stadium.
Mayor Jerry Sanders has been working on a deal with the team but the situation remains largely unchanged from when he first took office. The team is still searching for a financing plan on a suitable piece of land. Voters will be electing Sanders’ successor in November, either City Councilman Carl DeMaio or Congressman Bob Filner.
Let’s look back at the Fact Checks we’ve already done about the stadium search and other Chargers-related issues. I had forgotten, for example, that we once fact checked a backfield legend about a shift in the team’s offensive strategy.
The claims below are listed by categorically and chronologically. To read our full analysis of a claim, click on the rating.
How the Chargers Could Leave Town
The Chargers are often connected with stadium plans in Los Angeles. In part, that’s because the team is generally considered to have the easiest route out of its current lease of all NFL teams that desire a new stadium.
Claim: “It’s no secret that [the Chargers] could leave San Diego for another city, virtually any time they choose,” Sanders said Jan. 13, 2010. Our Rating: Mostly True. The team could leave outside a three-month window each year, but then it would be in breach of its contract with the city.
Claim: “The Chargers are literally just a check away from leaving Qualcomm Stadium: between February 1 and April 30 of every year from now through 2020, the Chargers can get out of their lease by writing a check to the city of San Diego — this year, the amount is about $26 million, and it decreases annually,” Fanhouse reported Nov. 15, 2010. Our Rating: True. However, the Chargers aren’t necessarily a check away from moving to another town. The team would also need the league’s blessing.
Claim: The Chargers can end their lease at Qualcomm Stadium “if they pay off the bonds used to expand Qualcomm Stadium in 1997,” ESPN reported Jan. 29, 2011. Our Rating: False. If the Chargers had left in 2011, the city would’ve still been stuck with $25 million in debt from the expansion.
Public Money the Chargers Wanted for a New Stadium
The team and its boosters frequently talked about the state government’s redevelopment program as a possible source of stadium funding. When controversy erupted over that program, the Chargers stadium played a key role in the conversation.
Claim: “We ensured billions of dollars of San Diego taxpayer money will remain in San Diego as opposed to being sent to Sacramento,” Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher said Oct. 23, 2010. Our Rating: Misleading. The taxpayer money — redevelopment funds the Chargers hoped to tap for a new stadium — would’ve otherwise flowed to the city, the county, schools and other local agencies.
Claim: “If you’re named (in the lawsuit) then you simply can’t be in redevelopment no matter what,” Sanders said July 11, 2011. Our Rating: False. At the time, California cities were suing the state to preserve redevelopment funds. To justify why San Diego hadn’t joined the lawsuit, Sanders cited a nonfatal “poison pill.”
Claim: “Our (stadium) discussions have been complicated by the elimination of redevelopment funds,” Sanders said Aug. 10, 2011. Our Rating: Mostly True. State lawmakers killed funding eyed by the Chargers but also established a route for San Diego to resurrect the money.
Claim: “The city is suing the state to retain those (redevelopment) funds,” Councilman Todd Gloria said Sept. 21, 2011. Our Rating: False. San Diego stayed out of the legal battle that eventually resulted in the death of redevelopment agencies.
Weighing Public and Other Sources of Stadium Funding
The Chargers have pushed for some form of contribution from the public, whether that be in the form of direct subsidies, land or help with zoning and infrastructure.
Claim: “The average subsidy in the NFL is about 65 percent of the costs of a stadium is paid for by the public,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said Aug. 17, 2011. Our Rating: True. The figure accurately reflects a study by a Harvard professor who specializes in urban planning.
Claim: “(Alex) Spanos is on the list of the 400 richest people in the United States, with a fortune estimated at more than $1 billion,” columnist Ron Carrico wrote for the Daily Transcript Oct. 17, 2011. Our Rating: Mostly True. Spanos, the team’s owner, and his immediate family ranked 375th in the nation.
Claim: “The NFL bylaws … prohibit public ownership (partial or otherwise) of NFL teams,” Fletcher wrote Dec. 8, 2011. Our Rating: True. NFL rules wouldn’t allow the Chargers to raise money for a new stadium by selling part of the team to the city or fans.
The Stadium’s Age and Maintenance Needs
A principal argument by stadium supporters is that Qualcomm Stadium is old and outdated, and needs to be replaced to keep the team competitive.
Claim: “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,” Fabiani wrote Dec. 12, 2009. Our Rating: Misleading. Fabiani’s estimate assumed the city would lose much more than the data projected.
Claim: “The stadium’s the oldest one in the country and it’s the second oldest while I was there,” former San Diego Mayor Susan Golding said June 23, 2011. Our Rating: False. We found at least four stadiums used by NFL teams that are older than Qualcomm Stadium.
What Happens Without the Chargers and Qualcomm Stadium
Claim: “If the Chargers disappear tomorrow and the city decided to tear down Qualcomm, San Diego State would lose its Division I-A sports status. Not just in football, but across the board. Because you have to have a Division I-A football team to have a Division I-A sports status. And to have that you have to have a stadium over a certain size,” Fabiani said May 19, 2010. Our Rating: Misleading. Fabiani presented one scenario that wouldn’t automatically happen.
Playing Football and Watching it, Too
Claim: “The things that happened in San Diego, everything was taken away from me. There wasn’t an emphasis on running the football anymore,” LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers’ former running back, said April 2, 2010. Our Rating: True. When Norv Turner became coach, the Chargers tried passing the football more often.
Claim: “Teams are allowed to buy unused tickets at 34 cents on the dollar — the visiting team’s share — and declare a sellout,” former U-T San Diego sports columnist Tim Sullivan wrote Sept. 18, 2011. Our Rating: True. Teams can buy tickets at a discount to prevent local television blackouts.
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