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.
What's really amazing is the sportscasters, like Billy Ray Smith, who prides himself on apparently making fun of Bruce Henderson. When he has the ability to sit down in front of the audience and make snide remarks and all of that. The media has to ask themselves, you know, when they showed such glee after the verdict, everyone was smiling and happy like it was a great day. Is that really professional the way that they slanted so much of the television? - and I don't mean everybody - Is that really a professional approach? And shouldn't we have more faith in objectivity?
Should professional journalism be relegated only to the alternative media in town? Or should it be - isn't it going to be a better, more sophisticated community if we all are more professional in the way we do things? Sponsoring the rally for the Chargers? I mean, all the media in one form or another was involved in that. Talk about taking sides. And these are important issues, and this is not how it is being handled in cities like New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles - there's more balance. To me it is even more important that we develop a more professional approach in our community than if we even have a football team.
What we are really measuring in San Diego are not the things that really matter. The things that really matter are the quality of life for families, what kind of schools do our kids go to, how safe is it here, what's the quality of our air, the quality of our ocean and the water - what's the nature of civility in our discussions with each other, how healthy is our democracy, what's our library like? These are the things that really matter.
And what we are tending to do is use false substitutes for the things that really matter. I think that this is not over yet; there is much more involved here than just the stadium. Maybe the thing that has happened here is that the stadium has surfaced as a problem, and it has drawn everybody together on it as an issue, and people have shown some of their bad side. Upon reflection they will probably have some second thoughts about it. And maybe once we get past all that, we can evolve into a more sophisticated and refined place.
We also need to have a much more direct involvement by the citizens in the city council because there has been a lovefest going on down there while a lot of bad things have been going on. Everyone has been applauding, 'Isn't it great that everybody gets along and there is consensus and everything?' When you look at it, though, the result is not so good. It's not good to have that kind of common denominator consensus that really isn't compromising between hard interests.
Any reaction to Padres' owner John Moores's comment that the sponsors of the referendum ought to apologize?
You know, Mr. Moores had done such a good job. I really admired him for holding his cool, but I think that...he really managed in one statement to shoot himself major league in the foot. I think he set back any prospect that he has for a new stadium tremendously by alienating the people who were our supporters. And I think that - I know that what he wanted to do was to try to knock us out because he knows that that battle is looming, and this is all part of the behind-the-scenes deal-making that is taking place. Where now we are going to have to build him a stadium so that he can make lots of money for the Padres. We are going to see the same thing - they are going to have the same drum and bugle corps out pushing everyone aside who wants to question why we want to make millionaires richer.
Why can't we just enjoy the game? Why do we have to make so much money from it, and why do we just have to unleash the greed factor? I think this was his first move to try and quell the opponents to the second chapter of the overall plan. The first part of it - again, without much candor from the mayor - was to force through the grandiose changes for the stadium to accommodate the Chargers, and then the second phase is going to be millions more for a new facility for the Padres. And the thing I can't understand is, I went to most of the Charger games last year, and I went to a lot of the Padres games, and I still don't understand why the stadium couldn't accommodate for several more years the Chargers and the Padres.
So what about a remedy? The opponents do a referendum and the City says no, this is not our interpretation, they give it to the judge, and he looks at it very narrowly and says, 'Sorry, I am not going to give you a remedy here.' So isn't that the end of it?
Well, I think that that takes us to another important aspect of direct democracy, which is the recall. The City started to do damage by trying to interfere with the referendum, gathering of signatures, the use of investigators by the city attorney's office - the city attorney representing the vested interest against the people and their right to vote. It will always be remembered that the city attorney, when faced with a choice between supporting the right to vote and supporting the vested interests - supported the vested interests. So he's the attorney for the vested interest. And then going through this whole thing of making a mockery of the referendum - that we repeal it, and they go ahead and do it anyway because of the cost overrun provision. And now if they are going to come up with a new plan - if they took the literal reading of the judge's approach, they probably wouldn't have to come up with a new plan - but if they come up with a new plan, and then they don't put it on the ballot - you see, these things are related to each other; you have to keep your attention. It's like follow the bouncing ball - we think that the best way to do it now is to recall.
The mayor, the members of the city council, the city attorney, I think we need to clean them all out - fire the city attorney - my choice for city attorney is Chuck Abdelnour. He has proven himself to be someone that can be trusted. And bring in a whole new city council and a new mayor and a new city attorney. I think if that could happen, then this terrible experience with the Chargers would certainly be better.