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STADIUM TALK: San Diego Has To Play for 2016

It's time for City and County of San Diego to stop with the façade. There is not going to be a deal in 2015 with the terms and certainty the NFL and Chargers want. It's time to focus on 2016.

JMI Realty's Proposed Stadium / Convention Center
JMI Realty's Proposed Stadium / Convention Center

Here is the bottom line, as I see it:

There is no solution the Chargers and/or the NFL will accept in San Diego for 2015. Stop trying to come up with one. Much as people want the Chargers to accept San Diego's idea, they are a private business and are under no obligation to accept it.

All of the options presented by San Diego for getting around the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) carry a significant degree of risk from a successful lawsuit, or take too long to complete for a vote in 2015.

Furthermore, no deal in San Diego can beat the deal the Chargers have put together with the Raiders in Carson. Until that option disappears, there's no reason for the Chargers and/or Raiders to negotiate in good faith with their home markets. The Chargers and Raiders are going to see how Los Angeles plays out this year. They'd be stupid to do otherwise.

San Diego's focus must be on a deal which stops the team from immediately joining the Rams in Inglewood.

That can only happen once you let go of 2015, and get serious about 2016.

Exhausting the Alternatives to an EIR for 2015

San Diego had to exhaust all of the possibilities that existed for getting around the need for a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Mission Valley stadium. Those possibilities were:

  • Prepare a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said in February that an EIR usually takes 12-18 months to prepare. I'm not going to say the City can't complete one by October, but it would require a Herculean effort by San Diego to pull off.
  • Launch a Citizen's Initiative. This was the route the Chargers took to get the closed landfill in Carson entitled for a stadium. Because San Diego is substantially larger than Carson, more signatures are required, and more time is needed to certify those signatures. The Chargers concluded this couldn't be done for a Special Election until April 2016 (if started in June 2015, meaning at least 9-10 months).
  • Receive an exemption from the State Legislature. This exemption could not be made effective until January - which means a vote couldn't happen until the exemption was in place.
  • Pursue a Categorical Exemption. This stipulates that an EIR isn't necessary, because the new structure would be replacing an existing structure at the location of the same size and purpose. This could work for a new stadium, but not for any additional development of the Qualcomm site - which then creates problems for the land sale element in the financing plan proposed by the Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG). It's also more vulnerable to (not to say begging for) a legal challenge.

Once those possibilities were exhausted, the Chargers concluded that none of them provided a solid way around an EIR in time for a 2015 vote. Given the presence of the CEQA experts retained by the Chargers (Latham & Watkins), they probably knew it in advance.

San Diego failed what Fabiani might call a "real-world stress test" by saying "one of those could work" (i.e. meeting CEQA requirements in time for a 2015 vote). Instead, they should've been right next to the Chargers, similarly concluding that "none of these are likely to work."

In other words, Fabiani set a trap for San Diego to walk into. The trap was encouraging San Diego to actively pursue a stadium vote in 2015. By doubling down on a public vote once the Chargers walked away from negotiations, and then complaining about the Chargers' tactics, San Diego has only abetted Fabiani's narrative regarding San Diego's inability to get a deal done, going so far as to call the Mayor's approach "remarkably unsophisticated."

Do not engage with Fabiani, unless you can change the narrative. Like I said back in February about tangling with Fabiani:

This is a fish handing the filet knife to the fisherman. This is precisely how Fabiani gets to go on local radio and television for the next few weeks and tell the world how the "City is pursuing political cover as usual" or "The City is more interested in pointing fingers than working towards a solution" or "If this is the attitude of people who work for the Mayor, there's no way we can reach a deal in San Diego."

Stadium PR Battle, Round One: Chargers Win 2/18/15

Or back in May about tangling with Fabiani:

"Accommodate the Chargers wherever possible. Solicit their input, When the Chargers don't participate, or try to pooh-pooh the process, just ignore them and the NFL's attempts to manufacture pressure. Keep moving forward."

Call the Carson Bluff, 5/6/15

The goal isn't (or shouldn't be) to rush a plan to the ballot which has serious financing and/or legal questions.

The goal is (or should be) to provide a clear and concrete stadium proposal to the Chargers and the NFL.

That can't happen until 2016. The whole point of San Diego exploring EIR options was to prove to everyone there was no way to get a clear and concrete deal in place by the end of 2015.

San Diego Was Always Playing for 2016

A vote on a stadium wasn't ever supposed to happen in 2015. That was assured the moment Mayor Faulconer committed to the creation of a task force back in January. Remember, the original timeline for a completed report from CSAG was Fall 2015. That lines up pretty well for for a vote in November 2016, and allows time for a completed EIR (or ballot initiative), site selection, financing negotiations, and public review.

Furthermore, the Inglewood project had been announced less than 2 weeks before the Mayor's State of the City Address. This means Faulconer had already accepted the calculated risk of the Chargers re-locating to Los Angeles and joining the Inglewood project before a 2016 vote could take place.

Faulconer was playing for 2016 from the outset. Based on the information he (and we) had at the time, playing for 2016 appeared to be the correct decision. The Chargers themselves have said their best chance to pass a vote is the General Election in November 2016.

"A special election will not lead to a successful result. The turnout in special elections ia always extremely low, and the voters who do turn out in special elections in San Diego are inclined to vote against major public projects such as this one. Out only hope for success at the ballot box would be a high-turnout, general election - and unfortunately the next one of those elections is in November 2016."

Mark Fabiani to 4/24/15

It goes without saying that the NFL likely knows all of this as well.

What accelerated the Chargers' timetable (for Carson), as well as CSAG's finish date, was finding out the Inglewood project could break ground in December 2015. The Carson announcement happened on February 20th.

If the Chargers wanted a Special Election for a stadium in 2015, it seems they would've made that clear to everyone in December 2014 or January 2015. This is because (again, according to Fabiani), it would take about 9-10 months for a Citizens' Initiative to make the ballot. A deal needed to be in place no later than early-to-mid February 2015 to make a ballot by December 2015.

Assuming the Chargers told Faulconer they needed a deal that fast, and Faulconer went ahead with the task force idea anyway, he a) is incompetent, b) misread the Chargers' desperation as heavy-handed leverage, or c) decided the task was impossible, and is engaged in political cover, as Fabiani has asserted.

However, if the Chargers told the Mayor they needed a deal fast, they were (publicly) cavalier about it. For instance, the Chargers could've blasted the Mayor for committing to a 2016 process the day after his State of the City Address. Instead, the Chargers blasted him (indirectly, using Stephen Cushman) for not pursuing the downtown JMI Proposal. No mention of an accelerated timeline was made then, nor during Fabiani's initial remarks to CSAG (although it was too late for 2015 at that point).

What is Gained by San Diego Playing for 2016

If San Diego has a clear and concrete plan in place for a vote in 2016, with a legitimate chance to pass a vote, the Chargers' narrative is shot. In other words, the NFL has a legitimate reason to keep the team in San Diego for another year.

Playing for 2016 also allows San Diego and the Chargers to proceed on two fronts, and even possibly have two or three legitimate options in place to keep the team in San Diego.

Plan A: Allow the Chargers to fund a ballot initiative for their preferred plan downtown (the JMI proposed stadium / convention center) with the TOT increase they want. If the Chargers start in the next month or two, it could make the June 2016 Primary Election. If that can't happen, for whatever reason (e.g. the team wants to wait for LA to shake itself out, it's dead on arrival with voters, etc.), then...

Plan B: San Diego will work on Downtown and Mission Valley plans without a specific tax increase as a fallback measure. San Diego could have financing plans in place agreed to by the team (assuming the team is actually negotiating in good faith), have completed and certified EIRs for both locations in place by next fall, which allows for a vote in November 2016 on whichever site is selected. If the vote passes, fine. If not, San Diego will have done their best, and the Chargers can go to Los Angeles in 2017.

Two or three clear and concrete stadium solutions in 2016 sounds a hell of a lot better than one rushed plan in 2015 which no one is satisfied with, no one has had time to review, is vulnerable to legal challenges, and is likely to fail at the ballot.

In Closing

San Diego needs to stop attacking the Chargers in regards to Fabiani's tactics. His job is to get the best possible deal for the Chargers, not play nice with San Diego. Also, if San Diego gets a chance to keep the Chargers in 2016, they'll need Fabiani's help to push a deal across the finish line.

Furthermore, the goal isn't to come up with a plan which entails high risk, low upside, and needs everything to go absolutely perfectly to be successful. The goal is to come up with a plan (or plans) which are realistic, attainable, and agreeable to both parties. Attacking Fabiani, while tactically sound, has obscured that ultimate goal.

By committing themselves to 2016, as they did at the outset of this process, San Diego can provide options with the certainty the Chargers and the NFL want. Providing certainty is the key in asking the NFL to choose the Inglewood site this fall, and asking the NFL and Chargers to give San Diego their best chance.