Next week, the mayor’s Chargers stadium task force is expected to end its task forcing and release a plan to pay for a new football facility in Mission Valley.
These are 10 big questions we’ll be looking for the task force’s plan to answer.
How much public money?
I’m old enough to remember when the only viable political position in San Diego was to pledge no public money for a Chargers stadium.
This was always a lie.
It was always going to take lots of taxpayer dollars to put together a stadium plan. That’s just the way it works if you want to play ball with the NFL.
Throughout this process, the Chargers and the NFL have held firm that they’re only going to contribute $400 million to a stadium, which has been estimated to cost as much as $1.5 billion. Do the math, and that’s a public payout of roughly $1 billion.
So what’s the total cost for the stadium and how much are we on the hook for?
Where’s the public money coming from?
A few months ago, the city and county linked arms and said they were going to do this stadium thing together.
This means we should expect the county to put some skin in the game. San Diego State’s football team plays at Qualcomm Stadium now, and the university also could throw in some cash for a new facility.
What’s the breakdown between city money, county money and state money?
What kind of public money is it?
All of it is taxpayer money, sure. But there are lots of different kinds.
The plan could involve what’s known as an enhanced infrastructure financing district, which would formally pledge future tax revenues from surrounding stadium development to the project. Or it could involve a loan from the county to the city. Or it could be straight cash, homey.
The type of public money reveals what we’re potentially giving up in favor of a stadium. If it’s an infrastructure financing district, that means we’ll be building a stadium instead of future parks or fire stations. If it’s cash, that means less money for existing parks and fire stations. And if the county’s contribution is a loan the city has to repay with interest, then that’s not much of a contribution at all. City taxpayers would be ultimately picking up a much higher burden.
What’s the city budget on the hook for?
When the plan is announced, you will hear politicians and task force members say something like “no general fund money” or “no new general fund money” will be spent on the stadium.
This, too, will be a lie.
The general fund is the part of the city’s budget that pays for police, fire and other day-to-day concerns. The “no new general fund money” pledge will be said if the financial plan includes roughly $12 million a year in general fund money. This is the amount the city currently spends to subsidize Qualcomm Stadium each year, and the task force might want to redirect that cash to a new facility.
The “no general fund money” pledge will be trumpeted if the city is relying on future tax revenue from development to pay for the stadium. This ignores two things. First, if the city decided to turn Qualcomm Stadium over to development and not build a stadium, all the future tax money would go to police, fire, parks and other general fund concerns. And it ignores that the city’s day-to-day budget will likely be the backstop if certain revenue projections fail to materialize.
Consider what happened at Petco Park. The city is now spending millions of dollars a year from the general fund to run the facility even though city leaders promised that wouldn’t happen.
How much development?
It seems certain that the financial plan will involve some level of development in what’s now the stadium’s giant parking lot. New development means new tax dollars that could help pay for the stadium without having to raise taxes.
More new development, of course, means more money. But in April when a city councilman unveiled a plan that relied on lots of development, the task force shot it down as being too dense. Mission Valley has a ton of new projects already on the table.
The NFL has also said any plan that relies on development is a non-starter because it will take too long to happen. The task force has tried to tamp down those concerns, but the amount of new development will be key to the plan’s viability to the public and to the team.
Where’s the private money coming from and who’s getting it?
The 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara cost much less in public money than many others. That’s because the plan relied on significant private financing from fans in the form of personal seat licenses and from a big naming rights deal from jean giant Levi’s.
No one expects Santa Clara’s level of private money here, but those revenue sources should account for something.
A local think tank estimated the San Diego market could support $100 million to $150 million from people buying seat licenses, essentially the right to buy tickets. How much a naming deal could contribute matters, too. The region’s biggest company, Qualcomm, doesn’t appear to have any interest in a new stadium.
The Chargers also have made noise that personal seat licenses, naming rights and other private dollars should count toward the team’s contribution to the new stadium.
How all this is sorted out matters greatly to what the public will have to spend.
Who’s responsible for the stadium’s upkeep and who gets the money from its events?
Right now, the city pays to run the stadium. It also gets money from events at the stadium. It costs the city a lot more to run Qualcomm than it’s getting back from events.
A task force member has already said the city will be on the hook for operating and maintaining a new stadium, something it hasn’t done a good job of at the existing one.
What’s in the fine print?
The city’s past stadium deals have included all sorts of clauses that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. We’re probably not at the point where we’re talking about contracts, but anything resembling a formal deal could have hidden costs for the public.
Are we having a vote? When?
Every politician in San Diego for time immemorial has pledged to have a public vote on any stadium deal. Depending on the details of the plan the task force releases, a vote might even be required by law.
But the NFL has said recently that the city’s timeline for a vote won’t work. The league could be making a decision on relocation to Los Angeles as soon as the end of the year. So June 2016, the next scheduled election, could be too late.
Will the task force propose a vote next June? Or a special election sooner? Or go so far as to say no vote at all?
What are we giving up by building a stadium?
City leaders are going to try to pretend that a new stadium won’t cost us a dime. It will. And spending money on a stadium means we won’t be spending it elsewhere, on more library hours or police and fire services.
There’s also a cost in terms of opportunities. A public vote on a stadium could crowd out other public votes that would involve taxpayer dollars for services. The stadium has already sucked up lots of attention. A long-discussed ballot measure for November 2016 to upgrade the city’s rotting infrastructure, for instance, is withering away with inaction.