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I’m a football fan. I love the Chargers and have been a season ticket holder since 1993. I want the team to remain in San Diego. But I do not support the Chargers’ plan because it is unfair to San Diego taxpayers, threatens our tourism economy, ignores our most pressing needs and exposes the city to financial pitfalls similar to the pension crisis.
The Chargers’ plan includes a huge tax increase to pay for a new stadium and a Convention Center annex that would likely drive Comic-Con and other large conventions out of San Diego.
What the Chargers’ plan lacks is just as important as what it includes, a point City Councilman Chris Cate made recently. It does not include a thorough financing plan. In other words, the team’s $1.8 billion price tag – more than $1 billion of which is public money – is just a guess, and there is no cap on the public’s contribution.
The renderings the team released are another guess. In other words, the Chargers have not settled on the building’s design. That’s important because design drives costs.
The voters I talk to do not understand why the Chargers walked away from a plan in Mission Valley that had the support of Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Supervisor Ron Roberts. That plan wasn’t perfect. It included a public subsidy I did not support. But it did not raise taxes, threaten our tourism economy or expose San Diego taxpayers to decades of unknown financial risks.
I cannot stress this enough: If the Chargers’ proposed tax increase fails to pay for the public’s share of the facility, the city would have to redirect money from neighborhood services like police, fire and parks. The city would have but one other option: default on the loan payments.
If this sounds like those pension deals gone awry and the infamous Chargers ticket guarantee that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, you get the picture.
San Diego taxpayers would be forced to backfill shortfalls, and the Chargers’ decision to tie its tax plan to our tourism economy makes us vulnerable.
The team’s proposal relies on a robust economy, but we know when the economy slows fewer people travel to San Diego. Fewer heads in beds at our hotels means the tax revenue earmarked for the convadium would fall short of expectations.
The Chargers included the Convention Center annex in their plan because they know stadiums generally do not generate profit for cities. The theory is the annex would serve as the project’s economic engine, but our tourism leaders have said the annex is a bad investment.
San Diego’s Tourism Authority and Convention Center officials have said they strongly prefer an on-site expansion of the existing Convention Center, not an annex several blocks away. Our largest conventions, including Comic-Con and the American College of Surgeons, have said the same thing.
Keep in mind, the Port and the Coastal Commission have approved an on-site expansion of the Convention Center.
The Chargers’ measure would give San Diego one of the highest hotel taxes in the country. Without verified financial assumptions to support that tax increase – another important piece of information missing from the Chargers’ plan – we’re exposing San Diegans to significant financial risks.
Instead, we should protect our tourism economy, which employs 181,000 San Diegans.
The hotel tax the city collects is your money. We should invest it wisely.
We have too many pressing needs in our neighborhoods to raise taxes to pay for a football stadium, and a convention center annex almost no one in the tourism industry wants. If San Diego voters are going to raise taxes – and that’s a big if – they’re more likely to do so to recruit and retain more police officers and 911 dispatchers, repair our roads, create a locally controlled water supply, open more parks and libraries and maintain the ones we have. Balboa Park, for example, needs approximately $300 million in maintenance.
There are so many more important things we should be doing with your tax dollars other than maxing out the city’s credit card for a convadium and then taking decades to pay it off.
Our family loves going to Chargers games and tailgating with friends. I recently had to explain to my youngest son why the Chargers’ plan isn’t good for San Diego. He understood. Voters will, too.
I’m hopeful we can then turn our attention to a workable plan that protects San Diego taxpayers and our tourism economy, and keeps the Chargers where they belong.
Ray Ellis is a community volunteer, small business owner and Carmel Valley resident running for San Diego City Council District 1.