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All the talk opposing the Chargers’ plan for a new convadium in East Village now is turning into political action.
A new committee called “No Downtown Stadium – Jobs and Streets First” is getting ready to launch a political campaign against the Chargers ballot measure, which has not yet qualified for the November ballot. The principals of the group include Rob Quigley, the well-known architect who designed the Main Library in East Village. Lani Lutar, a lobbyist and former CEO of the Taxpayers Association along with April Boling are also principals. More may join.
Wayne Raffesberger, an attorney and Point Loma neighborhood activist, is working with the group as well.
Raffesberger confirmed he’s working on the plan but would not share much else. He had also helped organize the so-called East Village People, a group of architects, developers and urbanists who gathered to present an alternate village of housing and walkable streets for the area the Chargers are eyeing. The group is planning to hire Tony Manolatos and John Hoy as spokespeople and consultants. Hoy has run campaigns for years in San Diego, mostly for Republicans and Manolatos was the mayor’s spokesman for his task force on the Chargers problem.
“It will be an official political campaign committee, and will be backed by a very broad coalition of groups, including non-profits, neighborhood associations, property owners, tourism industry folks, urban planners, business groups, architects, taxpayers groups, etc,” Raffesberger wrote in an email.
April Boling is also helping organize the effort. Boling is the treasurer for most right-of-center political campaigns in San Diego and has been an outspoken critic on social media and in op-eds of the Chargers plan.
“Yes, we’re trying to organize a coalition and it’s turning out not to be as difficult as we thought. It’s a pretty diverse group of people. There’s a lot not to like about this plan,” she said.
The Chargers ballot measure would increase the city’s hotel-room tax from effectively 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent. All of the extra money generated by the increase would fund construction of a $1.8 billion facility many of us are calling a convadium because it would, in theory, serve not only sports interests with a stadium but could also hold conventions and large gatherings.
“I just don’t think it’s a good deal for San Diego,” Boling said. “I’m not opposed to a subsidy for a stadium. I’m not opposed to a reasonable increase to the [hotel-room] tax. But we ought to get the project we want, not what the Spanoses want.”
The Spanos family owns the Chargers and did unilaterally decide on the East Village location for the site. Since then, a smattering of congressmen and one of the largest labor organizations in town – the Building Trades Council – joined the effort. And it was that alliance with labor that generated more opposition from contractor groups opposed to project labor agreements – deals for major construction projects that provide for local-hire guarantees, a baseline standard for benefits and funnel the workers through union halls.
“The Chargers not only want to build a stadium, they want to build it exclusively with an agreement that discriminates against the nonunion workers that stand behind me,” said Eric Christen of the Coalition of Fair Employment in Construction at a recent press conference. Christen’s group is expected to work with the opposition to the Chargers plan.
“The efforts of this anti-stadium group are both dishonest and baseless and these contractors have a history of creating bad jobs and cheating their workers,” wrote the Building Trades union’s business manager, Tom Lemmon. He got into a confrontation with the leader of the Republican Party at Christen’s press conference.
But Lemmon’s support wasn’t enough to bring progressive politicians on board the stadium plan.
Most politicians who have taken a stance on the plan have not just declined to support it but actively attacked it. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has yet to take a position but it seems unlikely he will support it.
U.S. Rep. Scott Peters got on the radio, however, to make the case for it. He said he sees the same potential for it as what came from Petco Park, and he touted what freeing up the Mission Valley site of Qualcomm Stadium might mean for the universities in town or development.
“We all ought to be thinking now about how should the convention center look? How should the street front look? How can we make this a really great project?” he told the Mighty 1090.
He said since it was likely going to be on the ballot, politicians and other leaders should work to make it the best possible project now, even if they don’t support it. He also directly took aim at anyone who frames it as a question of priorities in the city.
“What great city sits around and says: ‘Should we keep the Bears or pave the streets? Should we keep the Red Sox or pave the streets?’” he said.
Boling said it was wrong to let the Chargers dictate so much of what should happen with a major public investment and East Village just isn’t the place for the project.
Chargers fan groups have taken to assuming opposition to the plan is generated by a so-called “hotelier cabal.” Boling said if hotels were the only ones concerned with the plan, she wouldn’t worry about it.
“It’s the wrong location, too much public subsidy and I just think it’s a bad idea,” she said.
The Chargers declined to comment via special counsel Mark Fabiani.
Correction: An earlier version of the article reported that Wayne Raffesberger was the chairman of the group. That was incorrect. The article has been updated with the actual principals setting up the official campaign committee. Also the description of a project labor agreement was slightly tweaked to clarify they set a baseline standard of benefits.