The top candidates vying to represent downtown aren’t interested in a downtown convadium or having the public help pay for it.

City Council contenders Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward believe an East Village stadium would eliminate promising possibilities for valuable downtown plots and rob the city of resources they think should go elsewhere.

“People in District 3, people who I engage with, they love to watch football, but they are tired of having to pay and lose neighborhood services because of football,” Bernal said.

The two Democrats have spent weeks knocking on doors in District 3, which includes downtown, North Park and several other mid-city neighborhoods. Both say the message has been clear: San Diegans don’t want the city to up its investment in the Chargers.

Ward’s taken this position for months. Bernal’s stance has shifted. At a Voice of San Diego event last June, Bernal said he supported a new multi-purpose Chargers stadium in Mission Valley and the financing plan etched out by the mayor’s task force. (Mayor Kevin Faulconer has since pushed another financing plan.)

Bernal says the groundswell of feedback as he’s gotten in District 3 changed his mind.

Meanwhile, current District 3 City Councilman Todd Gloria is careful not to reject the downtown stadium proposal outright. He said there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. But he questions the Chargers’ decision to pursue an East Village site despite an easier road to a new Mission Valley stadium.

The two candidates to replace Gloria outright pan the downtown stadium proposal though they have different takes on the so-called Citizens’ Plan, a series of policy changes that could pave the way for a new stadium.

Both last week criticized the Chargers’ convadium proposal, which counts on increasing hotel taxes from 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent to help pay for the $1.8 billion combination stadium-convention center.

Ward worries a hotel-tax hike for this purpose could hamper future efforts to raise taxes for infrastructure or public-safety needs.

“We just have so many other priorities that are facing us at the moment as San Diegans,” Ward said. “Our budget priorities ought to align with fixing those issues first.”

Bernal’s most concerned with potential missed opportunities for East Village and the convadium proposal’s impact on the prospect of expanding the Convention Center at its existing location.

Bernal is adamant that a contiguous expansion is a necessity. He worries the conversation about the convadium could preclude or delay the attached expansion that convention organizers and Convention Center Corp. officials prefer.

“The industry is saying, ‘We want a contiguous space,’” Bernal said.

For that reason, Bernal also opposes the Citizens’ Plan, which aims to raise hotel taxes from 12.5 to 15.5 percent. That measure could ease the path to a new stadium but bars a waterfront Convention Center expansion.

Ward favors a contiguous expansion but is far less committed to it. He declined to say whether he’d support the Citizens’ Plan.

Ward said the plan, pushed by prominent progressives including environmental attorney Cory Briggs and former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, comes with some benefits, including additional revenue for general services. But Ward said he’d like to see how that measure and other conversations play out between now and November, when backers are hoping to place it on the ballot, before he decides whether to support it.

What Ward will say is that while he believes a contiguous Convention Center expansion may be better for the convention industry, he also thinks expansion proponents should be looking at alternatives.

“I prefer it to be contiguous but I am realistically convinced that that is not feasible in the near future,” Ward said. “So what? We get nothing unless we shift our focus and look for other opportunities.”

He’s optimistic the Convention Center Corp. or perhaps the East Village People, a resident group looking at alternatives to the convadium, can come up with a viable option.

Both Bernal and Ward say they’re closely following that group’s discussions. Like its leaders, they fear lost opportunities should an area that’s now an MTS bus yard be transformed into a convadium.

They’d prefer to see  mixed-use developments hospitable to tech workers and public spaces. That was the vision of the 2006 downtown community plan.

And if the Chargers stay, both candidates think Mission Valley would be a better fit – without additional help from city taxpayers.

Gloria has a similar opinion.

“Going forward, I’d hope that any new stadium proposal could reduce or eliminate the city’s required contributions because there are many other more urgent needs for the our limited taxpayer dollars, such as repairing our neighborhood infrastructure,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this post identified Cory Briggs as a Democrat. He is registered as a decline to state voter. 

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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