San Diego A day after last week's ruling on the stadium case, plaintiff's attorney Michael Aguirre sat down for an interview, portions of which follow. I take it your view was that by ruling the way he did, the judge negated the referendum, or what you argued was the people's right to vote on the entire Chargers agreement?
What he did was he said [the City] could proceed ahead without the Chargers agreement to pay the rent by simply starting the construction, which would trigger the cost overrun provision, and that would give somehow the City the authority to proceed ahead.... And what the judge basically said was that there's a binding agreement, but it doesn't have to be followed....
The judge said - Oh, once you start construction then the City can do whatever it wants. It can spend $150 million, it can spend $10 million, it really doesn't make any difference. And although the court said that it couldn't interpret the contract - it did interpret the contract, and what the court said was essentially that the City had the ability to make a change in a contract simply by starting construction - which is in direct violation of the Charter Section 98 and the Municipal Code Section that requires any alteration of that profound a nature to be approved by the city council.
The whole question was, did the City have the authority to start the construction? And what the judge said was that once you start the construction you have the authority to start the construction. And I think that was a very serious error because the City, number one, didn't have that authority - because that was a substantial alteration, and you have to have that approved by the city council, which it wasn't. And secondly, the people had inserted themselves into the situation by virtue of the referendum, and so any change of that type could not be done because the City was basically frozen by the filing of the referendum.
Does that create a precedent?
What the judge essentially ruled and what I'm worried about in the future is that whenever you have a project that they will be able to cite what the judge did here and say that the City doesn't have to comply with the alterations provisions of the charter. They can just simply - if someone decides that they want another $15 or $20 million, they'll just use the cost overrun section, skip giving the people the right to say anything else beyond that, and they'll just proceed full-speed ahead. That's a very dangerous ground.
Do you think that the NFL influenced the judge?
I think that - I have my own opinion - but I think that it was clear that certainly the proceedings, the way in which they were organized, was very much influenced by the media. Because normally, I was told that this was a trial, and that the judge would be determining issues of fact, which I think he did. But yet he says in his opinion that he's not issuing a statement of decision because it was only his review of the law. I don't agree with that...just in the way it was orchestrated where he had apparently written the order ahead of time.
You know, it is unusual in an instance where you have a trial for the jury to already have the verdict before you walk into the courtroom. And in this instance the judge was playing the role of the jury. Remembering that the idea is for the judge to keep an open mind until the proceedings are done, and I think that it would be fair to say also [that] normally you get a tentative decision at the time that you show up, and then you get an opportunity to direct and focus your arguments on what the judge has ruled. In this instance - we were all shooting in the dark.
So can you do anything about that?
Well, you know, that's something that we are considering. We are going to have to think it through very, very carefully because of the ruling on the cost overrun approach. And the ability of the council to hide from the people and to disconnect themselves from the people except for elections, and then to have the elections basically controlled by the media and the big- money people. Which is what happened here.
I think that the Union-Tribune to some extent gave very fair coverage. But the overemphasis of the loss of the Super Bowl, and as it turns out that was more threat than it was reality, as you saw on the last day. The lack of respect for the decision-making process I think is really something that the Union is going to - not today, and I have a great deal of personal regard for the people that run the Union-Tribune - I think that not today and not tomorrow, but somewhere in the back of their minds I know that their consciences are going to bother them at the editorial level about whether they were heavy-handed and whether they manipulated or educated the people.
I would say that there was more manipulation than education. And I think that they got what they wanted. But you know, sometimes the worst thing that can happen is that you get what you have asked for. And they have gotten a whole lot more than what they wanted. It was the same attitude on the part of the power structure that ignored the warning signs and the same kind of loose approach to the rules that eventually resulted in the collapse of Home Fed and Great American that destroyed any of the real local major banking facilities in San Diego.
You've been critical of Susan Golding.
How vigorous can the negotiations be when Mayor Golding is flying in Spanos's plane and sipping champagne with him during the negotiations? That doesn't seem much like negotiating to me. I wouldn't mind the sipping of the champagne after the negotiations. I don't think that riding in the airplane is ever appropriate because of what it conveys and the impression it gives. I think that the citizens, now their only choice, their only resolve is to engage in recall, and they need to look across the board at that. It's going to be difficult because they are going to be going up against the big propaganda machine that has been welded together.