The view from the city box
Life in the city’s Qualcomm stadium box is not as civil as it used to be, judging by recent remarks recorded in the minutes of the stadium's advisory board.
During the group's September meeting, chairman Rudy Castruita, retired superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education, suggested that his fellow members "attend a Chargers game and sign up for a seat in the City Box to experience what that is like."
"There is also a buffet at a cost of $25 per person. Board Members would also have the opportunity to see how the Stadium operates."
That drew a response from boardmember Jesse Durfee, former chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party.
During his attendance, Durfee said, he saw people in the box who "could barely walk due to their alcohol consumption, an issue that should be addressed (alcohol is provided with the Buffet)."
In reply, according to the minutes, stadium general manager Mike McSweeney "recommended a review of the alcohol policy for the City Box. A recommendation would be to possibly remove the alcohol from the buffet package” and require that it be purchased separately, “with a drink limit."
Another advisory boardmember, John Thomson, inquired about the possibility of cutting off drinkers who have had too much, the policy elsewhere in the stadium.
"Mike replied that there is usually one attendant in the City Box that handles buffet payments and wristbands. The attendant should notify Security when they observe disorderly behavior.
“Durfee suggested when tickets are sent out a code of conduct should accompany it.”
"Rudy stated that behaviors in the City Box have progressively gotten worse and requested Mike to address these issues with the City Council and include the suggestions from the Board Members."
In days of yore, the city council's luxury box at Qualcomm was a place of genteel legislative commerce, a posh retreat for councilmembers and their political backers to enjoy free football games and bargain food and booze far above the raging hoi polloi in the stands below.
A typical example came back in December 1996, on the eve of the controversial $80 million expansion of the now venerable stadium.
As wrecking and construction crews massed in the parking lot, boisterous city-council members, along with city manager Jack McGrory and city attorney Casey Gwinn, as well as Union-Tribune editor-in-chief Herb Klein, gathered for the Holiday Bowl.
As reported here at the time, "The presence of a reporter and photographer outside the city box so unnerved two members of the Holiday Bowl staff that they alerted security and threatened arrests.
“Cooler heads on the bowl committee intervened, and the guards warned the photographer not to 'touch that big cake or those champagne bottles.'
"Bowl officials said cake and champagne for the council came courtesy of the taxpayer-subsidized bowl committee."
The free and easy living continued until 2008, when the state's Fair Political Practices Commission ruled that the freebies were not an official part of doing city business and must be declared as taxable gifts or income on legally required state financial disclosures. No longer could the officials party in style without public notice or paying the taxman.
Seeing the light, then-mayor Jerry Sanders started handing out his tickets to the Armed Services YMCA and the Navy hospital, according to a January 2009 Union-Tribune editorial, which called for selling both the Qualcomm box and the city box at downtown's Petco Park.
Earlier this year, current mayor Kevin Faulconer announced he was negotiating to sell rights to the Qualcomm box to the Chargers, the primary stadium tenant.
"Negotiations with the Chargers aren’t expected to get serious until after their season ends early next year, because it would be chaotic to make an in-season policy change," according to a U-T San Diego report this October, which recounted that "all four council members who’ve used the perk this year are Democrats."
Many of the freebies have gone to the military, members of planning groups, and charities, but there have been a few exceptions.
As reported here in June 2013, District 8 councilman David Alvarez gave ten free tickets in the city's Petco Park box valued at $87.69 each to the Fullerton-based law firm of Jones & Mayer.
Firm owner Richard Jones gave a total of $1000 to Alvarez's 2010 city-council campaign, according to city financial disclosures. Neither man returned calls seeking comment.