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If City Attorney Jan Goldsmith had gotten his way, the mayor would have said nothing when his stadium task force presented its report last month.
The big public reveal of the task force’s ideas — the largest gathering of media for a report’s release I’ve ever seen — would not have happened either.
That was one of the requests the city attorney made in an email to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani April 28. After several weeks of haggling for it, the mayor’s office agreed to release the email and responses to it.
You can read it here.
The emails demonstrate the city attorney was nervous about the media attention the mayor’s task force and Chargers were getting.
“There have been concerns raised by the parties about the high level of distractions that could interfere with the ability to have fruitful discussions,” Goldsmith wrote to the mayor’s team and Fabiani before offering a series of proposals:
• Negotiations between the city and county’s official consultants on the matter would start immediately, trumping the task force’s work.
• The Chargers and city would freeze out the media. “It is OK to express the desire to keep the Chargers in San Diego and state that the parties are talking, but beyond that, let’s keep a lid on it as far as media comments,” Goldsmith wrote.
• And crucially, the task force would also be asked to simply turn in its report to the mayor, release it to the public and not say a word about it. “If they violate the understanding I will be authorized to issue a statement explaining the request that was made and express disappointment.”
• When the task force turned in its report, the mayor would do nothing but thank them.
The Chargers immediately agreed. Both the team and Goldsmith seem to be dismissive of the contribution of the mayor’s task force, called the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group.
The mayor’s team, however, insisted that the task force be allowed to complete its work first and that it would be difficult to ask the group to stay quiet.
“That is not conducive to an open relationship with the press and public,” wrote Stephen Puetz, the mayor’s chief of staff. Puetz also reveals that the Chargers canceled a meeting with the mayor after a task force member appeared on sports radio.
Depending on how you look at it, the suggestions from Goldsmith could be seen as genuine efforts to fill a leadership vacuum and reset the city’s relationship with the Chargers. Or they undermined the mayor’s position and exposed the city attorney as collaborating too closely with the Chargers.
The Chargers quickly agreed with Goldsmith that talks need not wait for the task force.
“The emails show that the city attorney’s office was trying to get the parties together in one room for discussions. We are pleased that the parties are now meeting,” said the city attorney’s spokesman, Gerry Braun, in a statement.
The most important part of the emails is that question of timeline. The Chargers and city attorney appear to think waiting for the task force was a waste of time. The mayor’s spokesman pointed out to me today that nothing got delayed and the Chargers owner and mayor did end up meeting. But negotiators the city hired were put on hold.
The question of speed has dogged the mayor for nearly six months.
During his state of the city address in January, the mayor initially envisioned the task force as working until September or October. But when the Chargers announced they were working with the Raiders to build a stadium in Carson, near Los Angeles, the task force agreed to rapidly speed up its work.
It still wasn’t fast enough for the Chargers. Once the city and county hired professional negotiators, Fabiani told me, the team would have preferred to begin.
“At the time the city attorney made his offer, the Chargers thought that starting talks immediately with the city’s experts was a good idea — and now, in hindsight, given everything that’s happened, it certainly seems that the city attorney’s idea was correct,” Fabiani wrote to me in an emailed statement.
Fabiani declined to elaborate but he and the NFL’s vice president, Eric Grubman, have previously discussed the accelerated timeline they’re managing as the Chargers, Rams and Raiders establish plans in the Los Angeles area. The race to be the team or one of two in Los Angeles appears to not be one the Chargers want to lose.
NFL owners are scheduled to meet in August to discuss the plans in L.A., San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis. “The next owners meeting had been set for October, but with the potential for a franchise — or three — moving to L.A., an additional meeting has been scheduled,” wrote the L.A. Times.
If owners are intent on selecting a team to take the Los Angeles market by the New Year, it’s very hard to see how the city could provide certainty on all the things the Chargers and NFL are demanding.
The mix of public-private funding options outlined by the mayor’s task force is probably workable. But there remain significant questions about two major issues: When, to whom and for how much the city could sell land around Qualcomm Stadium. And when a public vote could occur.
In other words, in addition to demanding a big public subsidy for the new stadium, the Chargers are demanding that it happen very soon and that its funding be much more certain than it realistically can be in that time.
Even, for instance, if the city were to immediately put the land for sale around Qualcomm Stadium, it’s unclear who would pay the $225 million or more for it without zoning changes. And even if someone would, it’s not clear why much of that money, if not all of it, would actually belong to the city’s water department and couldn’t be used to fund a new stadium.
At the same time, if there’s a chance that a vote of the people could throw out the plan the city, county and Chargers create, then such a vote would have to happen very soon to conform to this timeline from the NFL. It’s difficult to picture how that comes together.
The timeline, of course, may be impossible to meet by design.
Update: The mayor’s communications director, Matt Awbrey, sent in this statement: “This email shows the mayor’s office and city attorney made many attempts to get both parties together. We are pleased that meetings are now happening.”