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In December 2015, the city and county of San Diego released a glossy, 41-page letter to the National Football League.
This was it.
Football team owners were about to decide whether to accept the Dean Spanos’ vision for a stadium in Los Angeles, or the Rams’ Stan Kroenke’s vision. It appeared to be the last chance San Diego had to keep the Chargers.
Two local leaders San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and County Supervisor Ron Roberts, signed the letter.
It was part sales pitch about San Diego and part assurance to league owners that an adequate stadium could arise. Key to that were the finances and the letter said the city and county made a “significant funding commitment” to a new stadium. The $200 million pledge from the city and $150 million from the county was “the largest public commitment to a multipurpose sports and entertainment venue in the history of the State of California.”
This week, almost two years later, Roberts admitted it was a complete fraud.
There was no commitment at all.
“Because the Chargers declined to negotiate on Mission Valley and instead abandoned San Diego for Los Angeles, I was never able to bring to the Board of Supervisors for consideration and approval a deal that would include a bridge loan to jump-start a new stadium,” Roberts said in a statement.
He was responding to the criticism Thursday from Nathan Fletcher and a coalition of Democrats that if the county of San Diego had $150 million available for the football stadium, it had money available for housing and the public health crisis plaguing the homeless population.
Roberts is saying two things in his statement.
One is that the claim the county committed to spend $150 million on a stadium is wrong because it never went to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote. And two, it’s wrong because it would have been just a loan, thus not an actual sacrifice.
The first point is a blatant, shameless acknowledgement of what I tried to nail down two years ago: The county’s commitment to financing a stadium was fake. The Chargers were absolutely right to dismiss it unless the supervisors voted to approve it.
The second point is even worse. Two years ago, in an aside to the press, Roberts mentioned the idea of the county’s investment being a loan, not a contribution to stadium construction. He never even clarified who would be the borrower of the loan. I and others immediately were taken aback — if it was considered a loan to the city, the idea that city taxpayers would plunk down the money and pay back the county’s “loan” was offensive.
But in the vacuum of news about whether the Chargers would leave, the idea of a new “loan” struck local reporters as a major development. It got so out of hand, the supervisor’s team had to walk it back. Other county leaders just shrugged their shoulders.
Nowhere in Roberts’ 2015 letter to the NFL was the county’s contribution described as a loan. In fact, quite the opposite:
The County has offered $150 million toward the cost of a new stadium, pending City voter approval. The County proposes to provide $125 million upfront in cash to help begin construction. An additional $25 million in cash would be available for the second year of construction.
Helpfully, Roberts has now confirmed this was a shameless lie. The county had not offered anything.
This isn’t my take. Here’s Dianne Jacob, Roberts’ colleague on the Board of Supervisors.
“Any suggestion that the county backed a $150 million giveaway for a Chargers stadium is a complete fabrication,” she wrote in a statement Thursday.
What is going on? Is this the post-truth world we’ve been hearing about?
Roberts’ statement to the NFL that the county of San Diego had committed to $150 million for a stadium is going to haunt him and his colleagues. You could not possibly come up with more obvious evidence that the county had money to burn as the region faces a severe housing shortage and homelessness crisis.
The claim that the county does not and cannot spend money on city “facilities” is only valid if you also conclude Roberts was trying to con the NFL and desperate Chargers fans two years ago.
They’d be better to admit the truth. As we found, they do have significant resources socked away in county coffers – up to $2 billion. Some of it is spoken for, but most represents political commitments – and politics can change.
If Roberts and his colleagues don’t want to use it for housing, that’s fine. But they should make that case. They can’t pretend it wasn’t there, nor can they pretend they didn’t let Roberts promise it to the NFL for two years with nothing close to the fuss they’re showing about hints it should help with this crisis.
(Update: A typo had the wrong number for the county’s reserves in a previous version of this story.)