How much will it cost San Diego taxpayers to lose the Chargers to Los Angeles?
That's the question being bandied about privately at city hall, where an avalanche of bad news and insider lobbying allegations has hit the administration of mayor Kevin Faulconer, an ex–public relations man who has been attempting to sell a much happier version of the troubled border metropolis.
Even the Republican's staunchest supporters, mega-developer Douglas Manchester and his U-T San Diego, who helped elect Faulconer with a combination of big money and devastating attacks on his Democratic mayoral foes, appear close to turning out the lights on hopes to keep the football team here.
"This all feels like Kabuki — staged theater," says an April 15 U-T editorial. "America’s most popular pro sports league is used to getting what it wants, and it wants a team or two in the Los Angeles megalopolis as soon as possible."
The paper continues, "the Spanos family knows a successful NFL franchise in L.A. would be worth double what one would be worth in San Diego, even if the team had a publicly subsidized new stadium here."
Manchester's motives for advancing that dire view have been questioned by some inside media observers, who believe his anti–San Diego Chargers talk is linked to the prospective sale of the newspaper to Los Angeles interests in the form of Democratic billionaire Ron Burkle or the Los Angeles Times itself, owned by Chicago-based Tribune Publishing.
As first reported here last September, another would-be suitor is Point Loma yachtsman and real estate mogul Malin Burnham, who has sought to organize a nonprofit corporation to take control of the ailing daily.
Meanwhile Faulconer, in cooperation with self-styled sports fanatic and Republican county supervisor Ron Roberts, known for his extensive collection of Padres paraphernalia, has tapped city and county taxpayers for $500,000 to pay lawyers, consultants, and investment bankers assisting the mayor's stadium task force.
That cash is guaranteed to disappear, whether or not the football team does likewise.
The infusion of tax money into his stadium efforts represents a flip-flop for Faulconer, whose January 30 news release announcing formation of the mayoral Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group pledged that the task force, which conducts its business behind closed doors, "will not receive funding from the City of San Diego."
Another thicket of legal and ethical questions for the mayor looms in the form of his longtime GOP political consultant Jason Roe.
As first reported here January 20, Roe, considered by many to be Faulconer's political and policy brain, is a lobbyist for Delaware North, the giant food service company vying with other big national vendors to take over food and beverage operations at Qualcomm stadium.
Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani subsequently questioned Roe's involvement in the behind-the-scenes activities of Faulconer's stadium task force.
"What legal and ethical issues are raised by Mr. Roe's dual role as an apparent de facto Task Force member and as a registered lobbyist for the Delaware North company, which is bidding to become the new concessionaire at Qualcomm Stadium and, potentially, at any new stadium in San Diego?" asked Fabiani in a February letter to the mayor.
"Putting the legal and ethical issues aside for a moment, what sense does it make to have someone who is your chief advisor on political matters, and who advises a potential stadium vendor on business matters, play any sort of role with the 'independent' Task Force?"
Continued Fabiani, "Have you asked the City Attorney for an opinion on the propriety of Mr. Roe's intensive involvement with the Task Force's work? If you have not yet asked for such an opinion from the City Attorney, do you intend to do so?"
The mayor did not respond to the queries.
In an April 6 letter to Ronald Villa — the city's deputy chief operations officer — incumbent Qualcomm food-and-beverage provider Centerplate, which is seeking to obtain the new contract, again raised the Roe question.
"As you know, during the 90 minutes allotted to Centerplate for its presentation, not one member of the selection committee asked a single question regarding any one of the five different financial proposals put forth by Centerplate in its [request for proposal] response," says the letter from Centerplate chief legal and talent officer Keith B.W. King.
"Nor was Centerplate ever asked whether it would match or beat any other offer that appeared to be 'very aggressive' or otherwise.”
The missive continued, "Further troubling are the recent allegations raised about [Delaware North's] lobbyist and his apparent connection to the Mayor's office.”
Said King, “The fact that the committee failed to ask Centerplate a single question regarding any one of its five financial proposals and that during Centerplate's presentation, at least one of the committee members in attendance unexpectedly and without explanation left the presentation only to return a short while later, only serves to call the entire selection process into question."
Added the letter, "Also, at no time was Centerplate advised that it could bring food exhibits into the presentation (as [Delaware North] apparently was able to do), as we were advised there was to be no food sampling. In fact, and more specifically, the City's general manager advised Centerplate representatives not to bring food samples as it could be viewed as 'an unfair advantage' to the company (at least one other City official along with the consultant advised Centerplate that food sampling would not be permitted at the presentation). So the question remains, why would the committee permit DNC the opportunity to create, as the City's general manager put it, 'an unfair advantage' while instructing the competition otherwise?"
Whether or not the charges against Roe and the mayor are the idle allegations of disgruntled players in the major-money stadium game, federal investigators have by some accounts taken an interest in the matter.
The feds’ gaze may also land on the city council’s Budget and Government Efficiency Committee, which voted 3-2 on April 15 to send the Faulconer administration’s Delaware North deal to the full city council.
Critics had earlier questioned Faulconer's ability to get a fair shake for city taxpayers, and a possible $6 million rebate for Delaware North and a "lost profit" payoff clause if the Chargers leave town may raise eyebrows further.
According to the mayor's proposed five-year arrangement with the vendor: "If, during Agreement Years One through Four, the [Chargers play] less than ten home games at the Stadium (including, pre-season, regular season and play-off games), and if [Delaware North] is not then, and has not for the previous eight months been, in default of this Agreement, then City will negotiate in good faith to reach an agreed upon credit for possible lost profit due to said 'shortened' (meaning less than ten (10) home games were played) Agreement Year."
In addition, the contract says that Delaware North will put up $6 million "for the purchase of new Food and Beverage Equipment, Leasehold Improvements for the Food and Beverage Facilities. Smallwares, uniforms, office computers and office furniture for use exclusively at the Stadium."
A refund clause adds, "If this Agreement is terminated for any reason other than a default by [Delaware North], the City will pay to [Delaware North] the unamortized portion of the Capital Investment and Pre-Opening Expenses, if any, which remains on the date of termination within 60 days."
Update 4/21/15, 2:30 p.m.
According to Matt Awbrey of the mayor’s office, the taxpayer-paid consultants hired by the city and county "do not report to the Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group. These experts will vet the financial recommendations the group makes when they are released in May."