For months, we’ve been told that the county of San Diego’s requirement to hold a public vote before spending money on a new stadium is no big deal. It’s a policy that simply can be changed.

When the chairman of the mayor’s task force on the stadium insisted his plan would require no public vote — despite the significant investment by the county — he said it was basically a meager formality. His plan called for the county to invest $121 million in a new stadium.

“Nothing in our plan legally or financially requires a vote,” Adam Day, chairman of the task force, told reporters.

That has turned out to be utter nonsense.

Recently, the mayor asked the county to come in on what he’s framing as a crucial investment in the effort to keep the Chargers and the county said no — pointing to its requirement to hold a public vote before spending any money on the actual stadium.

The county has already chipped in $250,000 on experts to come up with a plan but it is drawing a line before it helps with the effort to actually build a facility. It’s unclear whether county supervisors are at all willing to waive their policy that county residents first sign off on money for the stadium. One of the five supervisors is opposed, one is supportive and the rest are noncommittal.

The City Council’s independent budget analyst, or IBA, reports that Mayor Kevin Faulconer approached the county about chipping in on Tuesday’s vote to spend $2.1 million on an environmental impact report.

Faulconer believes that rushing the report through and proving to the NFL it won’t be an obstacle is the last best shot he has at keeping the Chargers in town. He thinks the NFL will see what is being done and compel the Chargers to return to the negotiating table.

Thus, the City Council is facing a tough dilemma. The mayor is saying that if it refuses to approve this effort, the Chargers are all but gone. And it’s the Council’s fault. On the other hand, there’s no financing plan for a new stadium to be found, and the costly report would siphon money that could be spent on other city needs – in fact, it may even result in eliminating one of the major sources of funding for the stadium, adjacent development on the Qualcomm site.

What’s more, the Chargers are opposed to the environmental study and the county — the city’s supposed partner in this effort — is unwilling to help.

The IBA’s report says that her staff spoke to the city’s lead negotiator, Christopher Melvin, from the firm Nixon Peabody, and got to the heart of the significance of Tuesday’s vote.

“According to Melvin, if the City cannot tell NFL owners in August that the City has made significant progress on an EIR and completed conceptual architectural drawings, potentially allowing for a January election, the NFL is likely to view the City as having backpedaled on its commitments, and that this would likely prove ‘fatal’ to the City’s efforts to keep the Chargers in San Diego,” the IBA wrote.

That dire warning was apparently not very compelling to the county.

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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