City Attorney muddies Chargers issues with erroneous stateme

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#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

By Mark Fabiani
Friday, November 4, 2005

San Diego's continuing political and economic instability has created significant uncertainty for all taxpayers. This uncertainty is especially damaging to businesses, such as the San Diego Chargers, that are now seeking to attract significant new capital for major projects. Potential investment partners understandably prefer to delay decisions until the vacant mayoral and City Council seats are permanently filled, the possibility of bankruptcy recedes, the long-delayed audits are completed, the outer boundaries of the pension problem are determined and solutions outlined, and investigations by the SEC and others are concluded.

Under these difficult circumstances, the last thing the city needs is for its chief legal officer to create even more uncertainty by making erroneous statements. Yet that is exactly what the Chargers are up against. City Attorney Mike Aguirre has apparently taken it upon himself to poison the investment atmosphere even more and thus to destroy any last chance that the Chargers have of attracting an investment partner.

Let's focus on the most important -- and most damaging -- of Aguirre's erroneous statements:

At the Oct. 19 City Council committee hearing during which the Chargers presented their proposal for redeveloping the Qualcomm site, Aguirre openly questioned the Feb. 8, 2006 deadline for presenting a final ballot measure to the city. Aguirre said the deadline for qualifying a ballot measure could be as late as August if the City Council voted to place the proposal before voters. Aguirre's statement is incorrect.

Here are the facts: The City Council is required by law to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for any project the council votes to place on the ballot. For a project with important environmental impacts, such as the stadium redevelopment project, this means the City Council must certify an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before voting to place such a project on the ballot. Because the City Council decided to end negotiations with the Chargers in February 2005, the city has not even begun an EIR, and there is no possibility that a legally sufficient document could be prepared and certified before August 2006. And the fact that the downtown Padres ballpark initiative was placed before the voters in 1998 without a certified EIR is irrelevant. In 2001, three years after the Padres ballpark was approved, the California Supreme Court ruled in Friends of Sierra Madre v. City of Sierra Madre that "CEQA compliance was required, as ballot measure was generated by (the) city council in exercise of its discretion, rather than by voter petition." (105 Cal.Rptr.2d 214.) In the wake of the 2001 Sierra Madre case, the Padres' 1998 ballpark initiative could never qualify for the ballot today without a certified EIR.

Sierra Madre is a landmark case, and Aguirre should have been aware of it. Indeed, after the City Council committee meeting, one of Aguirre's aides asked for the name of the Chargers' lawyer responsible for evaluating CEQA compliance. The Chargers provided the lawyer's name, phone number and e-mail on the spot. Yet no one from Aguirre's office ever contacted the Chargers' attorney.

Aguirre's statement is damaging for two reasons. First, just as the Chargers work to persuade development partners to sign on before Feb. 8, these same potential partners read that the city's chief legal officer believes that they can wait until next August to make a decision. Second, Aguirre's statement further muddies the already murky waters by implying that the Chargers have not been forthright about the Feb. 8 deadline.

But Aguirre's misstatements do not stop here; in fact they go on and on and on. Here is just a sampler:

* The ticket guarantee: Aguirre says the city "did not get rid of the ticket guarantee." Most other people in San Diego (except perhaps for Bruce Henderson) seem to be happy to admit that the ticket guarantee was eliminated in August 2004 and that, for two football seasons now, the city has not purchased a single ticket. Why would Aguirre make such a blatant misstatement? Could it be because he knows the public disliked the ticket guarantee with a passion, and that some people might be fooled into thinking that it still exists as the result of some underhanded deal?
* Negotiating with the Chargers: Aguirre says he wants to meet with the team to discuss ideas. But he conveniently fails to mention that it was the City Council -- with Aguirre sitting in as city attorney -- that voted to terminate negotiations with the Chargers on Feb. 7.
* The city's new lease with the Chargers: Aguirre said the Chargers are required by the lease to place a stadium initiative on the ballot. Section 3.2 of the lease says exactly the opposite. But Aguirre didn't let the facts get in the way of a good story, and he went on to question whether the Chargers had met the lease's "affirmative obligation" to notify the city of inquiries from other cities. Aguirre did not know, until he was publicly corrected by a reporter, that the Chargers have sent at least seven such notifications to the City Attorney's Office.
* Masquerading business and labor leaders: Aguirre accused the "ticket guarantee group" of being "masqueraders" who were somehow acting on behalf of the Chargers. This surely must have come as a surprise to the leaders of the group that helped negotiate the end of the ticket guarantee: Jerry Butkiewicz, the Secretary/Treasurer and Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, Dan Shea, one of San Diego's most successful and civic-minded business people, and Mitch Mitchell, a leader of the local Chamber of Commerce and recently named a top executive with San Diego Gas & Electric and SoCal Gas Co.
* Political demagoguery instead of factual debate: Aguirre has said that "if the only component that the Chargers are asking the city to provide, as part of their overall plan, is the transfer of the 60 acres at the Qualcomm site, then it is a mystery to me why that proposition can't be put forward to the people of San Diego on schedule." No serious person who is genuinely interested in finding a real solution would ever make such a statement about a project that would be one of the largest, most important ever undertaken in San Diego. The simple fact is that the close, willing cooperation of the city of San Diego would be absolutely necessary to complete successfully a $3 billion, privately financed redevelopment project at the Qualcomm site. The list of necessary city actions is practically endless and includes helping complete an EIR; certifying the EIR; refraining from suing to block the project; subdividing the land; participating with state and federal authorities to implement a wide variety of complex and expensive transportation and infrastructure improvements to be paid for by the Chargers and a development partner; helping enforce the ballot measure if the city declares bankruptcy; and working to defend the ballot measure against challenges by third parties. How can Aguirre credibly claim to want to be part of the solution when he so badly misrepresents the challenges that must be overcome?
* After watching Aguirre's performance on the Chargers issue for the last few weeks, we now have a far better understanding of the answer Aguirre gave to a Wall Street Journal reporter's question about the San Diego crisis: "Asked whether he might be making the situation worse, Mr. Aguirre says: 'I sometimes wonder that myself.'" And we certainly appreciate more fully the words of the widely respected former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt, who said of Aguirre: "Never in eight years in Washington have I experienced the kind of petty, personal, sneering commentary made by this elected official."

For our part, the Chargers are determined to forge ahead with efforts to find a development partner -- no matter how much more difficult and problematic those efforts have been made by Aguirre. And we remain committed to working with everyone in San Diego who is willing to debate our ideas on the merits -- with facts and honest arguments.