Despite the Chargers' losing season, negotiations over a new stadium (the results of which may or may not see the team leave the city) remain at the forefront of San Diego's political discussions.
During the January 13 mayoral debate at the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, the four leading mayoral candidates were asked to weigh in on the subject of a new stadium. Below are excerpts of their responses.
"The fact is, the Chargers want public money to pay for about 65 percent of the cost of building a stadium," the moderator said. "What are your thoughts on this? And do you support or oppose Mayor Sanders's current proposal for a new stadium?"
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher: "There’s an opportunity to really do something big and bold for San Diego, that repositions us for the future. I am not interested in building a box that you are going to use 8 to 12 [times] a year to play football in, but I am interested in building a regional asset that you use hundreds of days a year. Indianapolis can use their stadium 200 days a year, and no offense if you are from Indianapolis, but who wants to go there?
"Why don’t we do a sports-and-entertainment district or a sports-and-innovation district and look at EB-5 financing [by foreign investors], like other cities are doing?... Let’s have a conversation about what we do with the current Qualcomm site. Imagine the urban park that could run on the banks of the river.... How do you tie in all the pieces — housing, transit, and your other needs — to really do something great for San Diego moving forward? That’s the type of idea I can get excited about and get behind.
"The financing changes remarkably if you are talking about a box you use eight times a year for football versus an asset you use 350 days a year. There are multiple ways that you can try and finance this agreement without tapping into the city general fund. You take the best examples out there and you learn from the worst, like Cincinnati. It is a missed opportunity if you are just going to put a stadium there."
District attorney Bonnie Dumanis: "I love the Chargers. I am a Charger fan, except of course when we play the Patriots, and then I might have a problem. I want to fight to make sure the Chargers stay here in San Diego, and I support the mayor’s idea of a small sports-and-entertainment facility. I like the area where it is planned; but I cannot support taxpayer money going into that, taking away from the services like police and fire. We need to take care of our fiscal house before moving forward on anything else. On the other hand, we can be creative and think outside of the box and find ways to accomplish that private/public partnership that will [get the stadium built], create the economy, the jobs, and the excitement around that new innovation area."
Councilmember Carl DeMaio: "This is an issue that is going to land on your next mayor’s lap. We will probably have a good discussion about it in the next year about options and proposals, but it is really going to be the next mayor’s responsibility to conclude and implement a deal to keep the Chargers in San Diego. I believe that the Chargers are a regional and economic asset. Notwithstanding their uneven performance this season, we are still very proud of our hometown team....
"My walk-away position is very clear: If you are expecting taxpayers to foot more of the bill — we are a city in financial crisis, we cannot afford it. But if you are willing to entertain public/private partnerships, if you are willing to, as the mayor has proposed, use the facility in multiple ways for multiple purposes, we can make a business deal that can pencil out by getting thoughtful, creative, innovative people involved in this transaction. I am willing to work with the Chargers to accomplish that, but I am also very sober and realistic about the taxpayers' issues, so I will never sign a deal that is bad for the taxpayers."
Congressman Bob Filner has proposed that in exchange for public support, the city should get something in return, such as a percentage of the profits or a part ownership of the team. Because NFL rules would prohibit both of those options, he was asked to explain how his proposal would work.
Bob Filner: "Let me first say, I love the Chargers more than Bonnie, because I like them even against the Patriots.
"It would be great for a major-league city like ours to keep a major-league sports team, but when a billionaire owner wants a billion dollars from this city, I am going to say, 'No.' If they say, "Let us do something for the city," that is different. You can change the rules of the NFL — in fact, you can change the rules on their tax exemption if you chose to in the national legislature. But we need to have a deal for San Diego that works. No more taxpayer funds for this billionaire [Chargers] owner.
“I like Nathan’s answer so much that when I am elected mayor I am going to appoint him as the czar of our sports-and-entertainment industry," Filner added, drawing laughter from the crowd and a correction from Fletcher: “…sports-and-innovation. Get my slogan right, Bob.”
Pictured: (clockwise from top left) DeMaio, Dumanis, Filner, Fletcher