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Chargers fans and many other San Diegans recently have heard a lot about a wonky campaign finance topic called the two-thirds voter threshold. It’s a statewide approval requirement that ballot measures need to meet when asking voters to increase their taxes to pay for something like a stadium.
A year ago, the Chargers said they would not participate in any “half-baked scheme” that attempts to avoid the two-thirds requirement. But now the team says it’s looking for ways to avoid that very requirement and supporting the so-called Citizens’ Plan created by environmental attorney Cory Briggs. That initiative claims to require only a simple majority rather than two-thirds voter approval. Saying something is true, however, doesn’t make it so.
At best, Briggs’ measure and the accompanying rhetoric are contradictory.
On one hand, he assures San Diegans that the money the measure would raise would be spent only on the Convention Center and not the stadium, and that we do not need to worry that these tax dollars would be siphoned off for other uses, as has happened in the past. If that were true, the measure would require the two-thirds majority. On the other hand, he says two-thirds is not needed because the measure does not guarantee funding. Which is it? It can’t be both, no matter how much the Chargers would like it to be.
There is a reason why there is a two-thirds requirement for tax increases in California. They are typically used as a funding stream for some sort of bonded indebtedness that encumbers future generations. Because our children will be paying for something far into the future that we are building today, it makes sense to think long and hard about what is being built and whether our children will be paying for something that will be useless in 30 years.
Briggs’ measure also appears to violate California’s single-subject rule, which says citizen initiatives can only make one request of voters. This initiative, as written, dangles several Christmas ornaments in front of voters. It asks us, among other things, to sell the existing Mission Valley site and require that a portion of the property be set aside for something called an Urban Rivers Scientific Interpretive Center.
The plan, as proposed, calls for a non-contiguous convention center to be built jointly in downtown San Diego with a stadium, and I simply can’t see the wisdom in combining the two. The thought seems to be that some large conventions might want to use that stadium for opening ceremonies or other really big all-hands gatherings of their attendees. But conventions – particularly the big ones – typically book four to five years in advance, and the NFL releases its game schedule annually. What happens if a convention is already booked when the NFL wants the stadium? Does a convention booking trump the NFL?
And as far as parking, what happens when there is an important game at the same time as a large convention like Comic-Con, which quickly went on the record opposing the Briggs/Chargers plan? Downtown is hard enough to get around as it is.
Overall, it makes the most sense to build a new stadium in Mission Valley along with, possibly, a sports arena for hockey, basketball, concerts and other events. It could include a multi-level shared parking area, and free up the surrounding land for development and an expanded river park. Access to mass transit already exists, and some student-oriented housing units could be built to help ease the mini-dorm issue near San Diego State University.
Voters ultimately will decide. Trying to sell them on the idea that a tax increase to build a stadium and convention center requires a simple majority rather than two-thirds is not a recipe for success.
April Boling is a campaign finance expert, a board member and former board chair of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and former board chair of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation. She also is a board member of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. She is a CPA and small business owner in San Diego.