Remember a couple weeks ago when San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer asked the county of San Diego to help the city pay for this rushed environmental impact report for a new stadium?
Remember how the county said no? It had, county officials reasoned, to hold a vote of the people before it invested any money in the stadium. Remember how city taxpayers therefore got to pay for this little bet while the county gets to pretend it’s an equal partner here?
Well, turns out, the county doesn’t need to have a countywide public vote after all if county supervisors decide they want to invest in a new stadium for the Chargers.
That’s at least the interpretation of the county counsel and County Supervisor Ron Roberts. They’ve found a novel route around the requirement. “Vote,” it appears, can mean anything where people, you know, vote.
Here’s the policy in question: “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 a recent reminder from County Counsel Thomas Montgomery.
I asked Roberts what made him so confident that he could persuade his colleagues to dump the policy. After all, that would have to happen for his offer to the NFL to help build a stadium to be real.
To satisfy the National Football League, there’s apparently enough time for the city of San Diego to vote but not the whole county.
Roberts said the requirement that there be a vote doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a requirement to have a countywide vote. In other words, the city could vote and satisfy the county’s requirement.
“A public vote could be a vote of the people of San Diego. I feel comfortable and I think the county counsel has accepted that would satisfy the requirements as stated in that prior action,” Roberts said.
He added that if three supervisors want to fund a new stadium, those three can also change the policy. But this interpretation spares them the awkward effort of having to throw out this 18-year-old policy now to prove to the NFL they can do the deal.
I caught up with Montgomery just to double-check. Nearly 10 years ago, county staff had again reminded the Board of Supervisors that it was “required” to hold a public vote before using resources to build a stadium. Could the vote really be just a vote of anyone? A single city? Heck, just a little homeowners association?
Here was our exchange:
Montgomery: “The policy just calls for a vote. It’s for the board to decide what that vote would have to be. All it is is a board policy. There’s no ordinance or anything. It’s just an action the board took. And so it’s for the board to interpret what kind of vote they think would be needed.”
Lewis: “So it’s not, like, a law?”
Montgomery: “No, no, it’s just an action they took a number of years ago.”
Lewis: “What would be the consequences of violating a policy like this?”
Montgomery: “There isn’t really a consequence.”
Lewis: “So it doesn’t mean anything?”
Montgomery: “It’s a policy they established that staff has to follow but board can change at any time.”
Tuesday, the county approved $500,000 more to pay for the legal and financial advice it’s getting on the stadium. But since that’s not actually going toward the building of a stadium, it doesn’t trigger the board policy requiring a vote.
If San Diego ever does march seriously toward building a stadium, you will start to see once impenetrable barriers to the goal fall, one by one.
It appears that one of the first has just fallen.
Along with it, the chance that countywide voters would get a say in what could involve big general fund investments in the new stadium.