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Chargers vs. San Diego: The Tipping Point

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Just like any marriage on the ropes, the relationship between the City of San Diego and the Chargers has devolved into an ugly spectacle. Now it's time for both parties to move forward together, or walk away.

The proposed new Chargers stadium in Mission Valley
The proposed new Chargers stadium in Mission Valley

This is always the worst part of a potential breakup.

The dirty laundry gets aired. The public sniping comes from both parties. Those caught in the middle are implicitly (or explicitly) encouraged to take sides and point fingers.

In the case of City and County officials, they don't want to be penalized by voters if the Chargers leave San Diego. In the case of the Chargers, they don't want to annihilate a majority of their San Diego fanbase.

At the end of the day, only one positive has come from the airing of grievances. Both sides know exactly where they stand with each other.

So, let's take some time to look at how it got to this point, and what might be necessary to salvage this relationship.

The Last Two Years of the Chargers Stadium Search

Compounding Mistakes

Everyone should read Scott Lewis' excellent work on the email imbroglio for Voice of San Diego.

The long and short of the story is that City Attorney Jan Goldsmith sought to withhold the emails from public view, as he was concerned that releasing the emails could potentially derail potential negotiations between the City/County and Chargers.

I didn't find the content all that upsetting. In my opinion, it was a snapshot of a relationship in extremis.

Between the emails, and then Kevin Acee's column in Friday's San Diego Union Tribune, I think we all get that these two sides simply have no trust or respect for how the the other side handles their business. Both sides have made mistakes, and the mistakes have compounded to create this situation.

Mistakes made by the City of San Diego:

  1. Mayor Faulconer and his staff got in over their heads the moment they didn't realize how much pressure the Chargers were under to make a deal, and assumed it was primarily an attempt by the Chargers to manufacture leverage.
  2. A better understanding of the situation by Falconer and his staff could have led to an earlier City/County partnership, earlier hiring of negotiating experts, who then could've worked with CSAG to produce a polished offer in shorter time.
  3. Instead of ignoring all of the noise coming from the Chargers, the City has instead chosen to respond in kind, which abets the Chargers "We have to Los Angeles" narrative.

Mistakes made by the Chargers:

  1. The Chargers assumed they would not have immediate competition for Los Angeles, and allowed Kroenke's Inglewood project to overtake them.
  2. The Chargers, based on Faulconer's (and/or his staff's) misreading of the situation and his decision to appoint a task force (a decision I was critical of in January), decided the Mayor had no real interest in finding a stadium solution, and set about demonstrating to the NFL that the team had no choice but to leave San Diego.
  3. Despite the Spanos family's repeated assertions that they want to stay in San Diego, the "We have to go to Los Angeles" narrative pushed by Fabiani has been overwhelming, and has ultimately convinced many people that the team has no interest in staying in San Diego.
So, that leaves the following problems:

With the Carson stadium project entitled (and likely some assurance there will be a landing spot in Inglewood), there's little-to-no-reason for the Chargers to engage with San Diego. In fact, any progress with San Diego endangers the convincing narrative which Fabiani has constructed.

That narrative (San Diego's inability to make a deal) is the foundation of the case the Chargers will make to the NFL, when asking the league's owners to choose Carson over Kroenke's Inglewood project.

On the other hand, if the City and County are convinced the Chargers want out, what's the point of engaging in negotiations to begin with?

Salvaging the Process

First of all, the City/County has to understand that the Chargers have, in essence, been guaranteed a spot in Los Angeles. The NFL has said they do not want more than 2 teams in Southern California. This means that if there are 2 teams in Los Angeles, one of them will be the Chargers (I don't see the Chargers being forced to move out of Southern California).

Second of all, the City/County has to understand that it's possible that there's no realistic offer which can be made to keep the Chargers in San Diego.

The other part of this comes down to the Chargers.

The Chargers not stating what it will take to stay in San Diego seems to me like someone threatening to leave their spouse/partner while showing off pictures of their potential romantic options. Then, when the spouse asks what they need to do to save the relationship, the angry partner says "if you don't know, then I'm not telling you."

If they want to stay in San Diego, they have to have an idea of what it will take for them to consider staying. And it is their responsibility to tell San Diego what they want. Mission Valley, Downtown, Convention Center, Stand-Alone, whatever.

All that said, I take it as a positive sign that the Chargers intend to bring some of their legal and financial experts to the next scheduled meeting with City/County officials. According to Vincent Bonsignore of the LA Daily News, the Chargers are bringing George Mihlsten, a well-regarded expert on California land use and ballot initiative law.

Furthermore, while many would argue it wasn't worth the time spent, the CSAG did serve one critical purpose. Their final report generated major interest in the community regarding a potential stadium solution. Also, because the proposal came from a publicly appointed group, it doesn't carry as much baggage as a proposal made by the Chargers might have.

Lastly, if both sides would just enjoy a nice heaping cup of STFU (as was suggested by Goldsmith) it would probably do wonders for the process. That also means both sides need to quit leaking information to friendly members of the media or political groups under cover of anonymity, such as the following:

In Closing

On one hand, we could be seeing the death rattle of the decades-long relationship between the Chargers and San Diego. There's plenty of evidence to suggest these two groups simply can't work together in a toxic environment they've screwed up together to create.

All of the ugliness of the past several days at least lets both sides understand precisely where they stand with each other. Frankly, the time crunch for both the Chargers and the City/County should provide a dose of clarity to a situation which has dragged on for far too long.

There is yet another opportunity here for the City/County and Chargers to put aside their contentious past, and take steps together to try and work out a solution for San Diego.

But if it's going to happen, it needs to happen really, really, really soon.