It came as a bit of a shock last week when City Attorney Jan Goldsmith laid out a plan for producing a plan that might lead to a plan for a new football stadium.

Why the surprise? It included a countywide vote as one of the final steps.

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Mayor Kevin Faulconer has pledged to city of San Diego voters that they would get to vote on the plan he and his task force produced. But nobody had discussed a vote for the whole county.

I worried the city already gave this away in negotiations with county leaders to get them to announce a partnership.

That would be bad. The only idea the county has floated about participating on a stadium project is to give the city a loan — some kind of bridge loan that would help us build a stadium and some homes before the property taxes from new homes on the land came through.

Loans are good. They come in handy sometimes, like when you want to buy a house, a car or a stadium.

But you have to pay loans back, ostensibly with interest. Why should residents outside the city limits get to decide whether residents inside the city limits go into debt to the county?

So I went on a little hunt to figure out where this came from and I’ve come back with a better idea of how the county of San Diego might help the city build a stadium — or might not.

First stop, the city attorney. His spokesman, Gerry Braun, said the city attorney simply outlined a path, not the path that had to be followed. He didn’t actually know if the county participation would warrant a vote.

But he did help me see where the idea came from. Turns out, the county Board of Supervisors has already decided it has to hold a vote. The county’s lawyer reminded them of this when they announced they would form a partnership with the city last week.

“On December 9, 1997, this Board decided that its policy would be to have an election before County resources may be used to support the development or renovation of any Professional Sports Facility,” reads the memo on the partnership.

In other words, if the county helps at all with a new stadium, county voters get a vote.

The way that reads, it makes you wonder if what the county has already done to hire lawyers and stadium consultants shouldn’t itself trigger this vote requirement. The county’s lawyer says no.

They’re not actually going to build a stadium, you see.

“Rather, the use of these experts is for the limited purpose of only providing advice to the County and City of issues that may arise in response to the Task Force, the City and the Subcommittee’s discussions with the Chargers or other parties concerning any possibilities and alternatives associated with a stadium,” the board agenda item explains.

I asked County Supervisor Ron Roberts’ spokesman to help me understand his boss’ idea for the loan and whether it would trigger a countywide vote.

Turns out, this idea of a loan has gotten a little out of control, in Roberts’ team’s opinion.

“We were surprised the idea got so much traction,” said Tim McClain, Roberts’ spokesman. Roberts mentioned it to the press after a meeting with the mayor’s task force and suddenly it turned into a major headline — as though it was a breakthrough. It was not at all, and the county is far from even proposing it as a real idea.

McClain said Roberts isn’t even advocating it to his colleagues right now.

It seems that the closer we get to an actual proposal, the more it dissolves away.

So how might the county participate? County leaders don’t seem so interested in speculating, so I’ll have to.

In Councilman Scott Sherman’s vision for a new Mission Valley development and stadium at the Qualcomm site, there is an assumption that the county would forfeit its claim to property taxes in the area.

This is the idea that keeps coming up. It’s called tax increment: Rather than the new property taxes that will come from new homes and other development in the area going to fund city and county services, the money would be kept in the immediate district and used to pay off bonds that the city would take out to build infrastructure.

The city and county can do this in one of two ways: They can just sign an agreement that the county would send over its share of the new property taxes. Or they can make it official in a so-called Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District, or EIFD.

What’s the difference? In an EIFD, the city and county would be bound under a new quasi-agency. They would both have seats on the board that oversees investment in Mission Valley.

The advantage is that, unlike a mere agreement, the EIFD would be more official in the eyes of Wall Street — it would be easier to borrow money.

However, if they want borrow money, they would need a 55 percent vote of approval from all the residents of boundaries of the infrastructure district as they define it.

Since there are no residents of the Qualcomm Stadium site, that might not be an issue. But Mission Valley as a whole is probably in need a full-scale infrastructure plan and financing effort — especially it if it is to add up to 16,000 more residential units in the next decade, including a new plan at the stadium site.

Sherman’s idea, however, is already wobbling. It says the city would need to sell the land under Qualcomm Stadium in several phases over about 10 years. This is interesting because it would switch a vote for the stadium from advisory to mandatory — the city cannot sell that much land without a vote of the people.

But Gary London, the analyst behind it, says he wrote it wrong.

“I should have said land value, not land sale,” he told me.

OK then. Now this is interesting for another reason: If the city doesn’t sell the land to a developer, then the city would likely give a developer a long-term lease. This means that most of the housing units on the lease would have to be for-rent rather than for sale. If not, it gets super complicated.

What’s more, the mayor’s task force immediately criticized Sherman’s plan. The highest density version of Sherman’s plan is apparently way more development than the task force plans to recommend.

And yet, even the highest density version of the plan is barely enough if not enough to cover a $1 billion stadium plan, certainly far less than what would be needed with large infrastructure investments to cover all the new roads and transit accommodations needed to make Mission Valley at all manageable.

I think London makes a lot of sense when he considers that challenge.

“Why do we, as taxpayers, find ourselves in the place of trying to fill that gap?” he said.

Good question. For now, that’s the position the NFL has demanded and that politicians have accepted.

Scott Lewis

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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