This week, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer endorsed Measure C, the ballot initiative that would raise San Diego’s hotel room tax to build a football stadium mashed up with a convention center.
The Chargers wrote Measure C. They have spent almost $5 million placing it on the ballot and campaigning for its passage.
But did you know it’s not actually for the Chargers?
If you read the initiative, you might be surprised to learn the Chargers aren’t mentioned at all. They’re not supposed to be the ones guaranteed to benefit from the project. That would be illegal.
Here’s the California Constitution:
No amendment to the Constitution, and no statute proposed to the electors by the Legislature or by initiative, that names any individual to hold any office, or names or identifies any private corporation to perform any function or to have any power or duty, may be submitted to the electors or have any effect.
For example, I couldn’t do a ballot measure that says: Pass this and Scott Lewis and 50,000 of his friends get $100 bucks each.
Thus, the initiative actually reads like this:
A professional football team.
Could be any local professional football team. All they would need is $650 million on hand to invest in this facility.
Maybe the Xolos in Tijuana could give it a go.
It is a futbol team!
The mayor, though, is making the radical assumption that the Chargers will be the ones who benefit from the deal.
And so he made a deal with the Chargers. He got the team to promise, in a letter, that they would not leave the city on the hook if the building costs too much and that the city’s general fund would be protected. The team also pinky promised to make sure the building fits into the fabric of East Village as best it can and to stay until the convadium’s debt is paid off.
Here’s what the mayor told me about the promises he extracted from the team:
I’ve said if the Chargers don’t agree to all of these principles and all these safeguards, I’m not going to support it. As you probably know, there are so many future votes and areas of action by the Council and myself that would be required if Measure C passes, having these commitments in writing — this is not a document the Chargers have ever produced before — was very important to me. Guys like Scott Lewis can hold us all accountable when something is in writing.
This reminded us of something that happened exactly six years ago. A tax increase was on the ballot, Proposition D. Much like what the mayor did this week, in October 2010, the City Council rushed to try to put an informal agreement together to make it more attractive to foes.
“It’s not an ordinance, it’s not in the city charter … what is binding is the language in Proposition D,” Faulconer said of the 2010 agreement. He said that the City Council would change, new leaders would come in, but the only thing that wouldn’t change is the actual language of the ballot measure. The resolution, no matter how attractive it was, would not be enough to persuade him to support the tax hike.
Now, though, he’s decided he can support a tax hike specifically because of the nonbinding letter he was able to extract from the Chargers.
Measure C represents the first tax increase the mayor has supported as an elected official. It’s a hotel room tax hike to support a football team and related convention center.
The Chargers letter means nothing legally. They’re not even supposed to be guaranteed to get the new stadium. That they are already negotiating about it is kind of a funny parody of that line in the California Constitution.
What’s more, the Chargers have a long history of forcing the city to abide by the letter of the law and contracts the team makes with the city. They’re so good at it, in fact, the city has found itself paying the Chargers to play at Qualcomm Stadium because of how poorly it set up some of those agreements.
This whole saga started 13 years ago when the Chargers interpreted the exact wording of the contract that they believed allowed them to leave San Diego unless a new stadium was built. The city had to redo the lease.
It’s not hard to picture a scenario where the mayor and Chargers have a falling out (I know, no way, right?) and the team, having won a vote, puts intense pressure on the mayor not to let it fall apart.
We would remember the letter Faulconer got from the team, and I’m sure we would throw a fit if the Chargers reneged or the mayor buckled.
But that’s all we could do.