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When Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and County Supervisor Ron Roberts met with representatives from the NFL and the Chargers on July 28, the politicians’ paid consultants presented a slideshow.
On it, they included polling results they had gotten from the Lincoln Club of San Diego and pollster John Nienstedt from Competitive Edge. The poll showed 51 percent of respondents would support a government investment in a new stadium if it comprised one-third of a $1 billion or so facility. The support jumped higher when people were told it would not include a tax increase.
The politicians’ point? San Diego would support the plan they were offering the Chargers and NFL. It could work. If the team leaves, it’s not because we couldn’t put something together for it.
Roberts, Goldsmith and Faulconer refuse to reveal this plan to the public but it undoubtedly includes a substantial investment from the city’s and county’s general funds — the operational budgets they can use for most public safety, recreation and infrastructure needs.
The mayor and his allies also presented a sort of deadline. For their plan to work — for a public vote to be possible in January, in time to inform the NFL before it decides which team gets to move to Los Angeles — the San Diego City Council would need to begin talking about it in mid-September. And the mayor has said he won’t go forward with that unless the Chargers are on board. Thus, the Chargers would have to be on board by then.
The team would have to be fully invested in the effort. A successful campaign in that short of a time frame would require the team’s money as well.
The Chargers will not be on board by then, though. The moment the team signals that it is 100 percent committed to getting the mayor’s plan done and passed through voters, Carson leaders will likely drop their push. What’s more, NFL staff is not allowed to work with a city like Carson if a team isn’t leading.
The team would essentially have to give up its push for Los Angeles in about a month. All based on the promise in that slideshow that a majority of San Diegans is willing to support the mayor’s plan.
Were voters to reject that plan at the ballot box, the Chargers would be left without a stadium in Los Angeles and without a new stadium in San Diego.
Perhaps the team’s owners can console themselves with their riches, but it’s pretty clear this isn’t a risk they’re going to take.
In fact, different pollsters started calling San Diegans this week. Convention Center Corp. spokesman Steven Johnson reported Tuesday that he received a long call and interview from a pollster asking pointed questions about whether he would support a stadium investment even if it included general fund money.
I asked the Chargers’ Mark Fabiani whether the team was responsible for that poll. He didn’t deny it.
“In the past, we haven’t commented on reports that the Chargers have a poll in the field (and we have done a great many polls over the past 14 years of this effort),” he wrote in an email.
Of course it was the Chargers. The team is laying the foundation to explain why it won’t be going with the mayor’s plan. If its poll shows negative public reaction to general fund investments in a stadium, it will have the added benefit of being more evidence for the Chargers’ case to the NFL that the mayor’s plan is not viable and they have to move.
The Chargers recently reminded the NFL how hard it would be to persuade voters to sign off on a general fund investment.
“As you know, polling data shows that just a small minority of voters in California would support devoting General Fund money to stadium construction,” reads a memo to the NFL sent ahead of the July 28 meeting.
A proposal to invest general fund dollars into a stadium — and have it matched by the county — was exactly what former Mayor Jerry Sanders was presented after he hired his own consultants to come up with a plan. He was unwilling to bring it to the public.
The Chargers are clearly trying to move to Los Angeles. They might fail in that effort but that is their goal.
A few weeks ago, this was a bit of a stretch. But now, it is the accepted assumption of most of the actors in this effort. Roberts, the county supervisor, said on the radio the other day he had no doubt the Chargers would take the opportunity to move if the NFL let them have it. Goldsmith, the city attorney, said that the mayor’s plan he was working on was the Chargers’ worst nightmare. Why? Because the team is determined to leave and the plan would be so good and persuasive to the NFL that the league would force the team to stay.
It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen — at least not in the next month.
The mid-September deadline will come and go. The Chargers’ polling and other efforts to prove the plan is not viable is the latest bit of evidence in a mountain of it that they are not willing to give up the race to L.A.
They might lose the race, though, or the NFL could delay the race another year. If the Chargers lose the race to Los Angeles, then its worst nightmare will be real and the mayor will be in a position to get a solid deal with minimal taxpayer investments.
If the NFL delays a year, then everything resets. The league’s owners will hear the team and San Diego officials next week.
The owners might get a front seat in the polling wars going on behind the scene right now. The Lincoln Club — the group that did the poll the mayor used at his meeting with the NFL — has itself made the point that it looks like the Chargers are trying to leave.
The group also asked San Diegans who they would blame if the team leaves.
More than 65 percent of them said they would blame Chargers owner Dean Spanos.
I’m not particularly sure he cares. Regardless, he will have a different poll to show.