Over the past several weeks, the city of San Diego has seen an increase in the number of advertisements regarding the mayoral race between Democrat David Alvarez and Republican Kevin Faulconer. Both have essential levied the same charge at each other, the charge of being in the pocket of wealthy campaign contributors (unions in Alvarez's case, businessmen in Faulconer's case). Similarly, both candidates have made also the exact same comments about a new stadium in San Diego for the Chargers.
Let's see if you can actually tell the candidates apart by reading the quotes below (and no cheating by clicking on the linked article first):
Candidate A: "I don't believe public funds are necessary and it's important that we bring all creative ideas to the table. I'm going to roll up my sleeves on a host of issues, primarily our streets and our infrastructure, but we can do multiple things at a time. And I'm confident that if we can put together a plan and a package that protects taxpayers that voters will have the ultimate say, that therein lies the ability to be successful."
Candidate B: "I think we can build a new stadium for the Chargers without using public subsidies. I don't support that. I think our general fund is already constrained enough. We need to provide fire and police protection, build more parks, make sure our libraries and our roads are up to standards and so that's where our dollars need to go. I think at the end of the day the voters will need to help decide what the fate is of the Chargers stadium."
Way to lead, fellas.
Here's the thing. There is an idea out there that seems to meet some of these requirements, and it's also an idea which could have helped either candidate run a less recycled campaign. The idea involves selling the Qualcomm and Sports Arena sites, and using the revenue generated from the land sale to pay the public portion of a new stadium. By failing to even mention the idea, Alvarez and Faulconer failed to stake a position which could have swung what's become a hotly contested race.
A Good Idea
This plan has one major selling point which either candidate could have milked as a positive: lots and lots of jobs. Yes, many of them are temporary. But there would be construction jobs involved in the demolition of Qualcomm Stadium and the Sport Arena, and the construction of a new stadium. The jobs would run longer than normal because the Qualcomm site and Sports Arena site would then be razed, and then new construction goes in their place. Add in new tax revenue generated by whatever businesses or homes go in those places. That's incoming tax revenue to the General Fund from two locations, at least one of which otherwise loses money during the year.
The Chargers situation going into 2014 is more palatable than in November 2012. During that time, the Chargers removed a Head Coach and General Manager combination which had become toxic to the community. This was followed by an exciting 2013 season in which the Chargers reached the playoffs for the first time in 3 years, and won a playoff game for the first time since in 5 years. There was a great opportunity to ride the bandwagon which came with an unexpected postseason run, and the failure to take advantage by either candidate was a mistake.
Whether it actually creates the economic impact touted by the NFL or not, how many people would have preferred to spend January in San Diego for the Super Bowl?
Before I go further, and as an aside, I agree that private sports franchise owners should pay for their own stadiums. That said, I feel confident stating that the Spanos family will not ever propose building a new stadium at 100% private cost, and the inescapable conclusion is the City and County of San Diego will be involved in paying at least a portion of the costs of a new stadium if the Chargers are to remain in San Diego.
Now, back to our mayoral candidacy fail...
How this idea could have specifically helped Faulconer
As a conservative, any pro stadium comments Faulconer gives are smart because one of his primary financial backers is Doug Manchester. Beyond that fact, Faulconer could have presented this idea with an pro-austerity view. This deal would not have increased public debt, because the land sale is better than using bonds and paying interest, and there's no raising of taxes to help pay for it.
How this idea could have specifically helped Alvarez
As a progressive, an Alvarez endorsement plays well to his union backing, because there would be potential union jobs associated with the construction of a new stadium, as well as the demolition of the other sites and any new construction that followed. By not issuing bonds or raising taxes, Alvarez gets to avoid the "tax and spend liberal" tag that would have come otherwise.
Based on their public statements, neither Alvarez or Faulconer seems particularly interested in addressing the stadium question, and it seems to be conventional wisdom that any pro-stadium comments are guaranteed to be a political liability. It's my hope that once this recall election is finished, one of these two candidates surprises me by actually tackling this issue head-on, instead of running for cover and using it as an easy talking point.
(By the way, Candidate A is Faulconer, Candidate B is Alvarez).