SDUT: Chargers won’t attempt November ballot measure

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

Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani, the team’s point man in trying to find development partners to get a new stadium complex built, said Monday the team will not try to get its proposal on the November ballot.

The deadline to qualify for the ballot is Feb. 8.

Fabiani, in a released statement, said it has become too difficult to find development partners for the project that he says would require $800 million in up-front private investments to develop the land at the current site of Qualcomm Satadium and its parking lot, build the stadium, pay off bonds and make traffic improvements.

Fabiani said one of the obstacles in making progress has been “key city officials who do not want to cooperate.”

Fabiani specifically named City Attorney Michael Aguirre, an outspoken opponent of the stadium project. Fabiani said Aguirre “will do or say whatever it takes to stand in the way of a redevelopment plan.”

Fabiani said the Chargers will continue to “do everything possible to keep the Chargers in the San Diego area,” and that under the team’s lease agreement with the city it can legally explore options within San Diego County other than Qualcomm Stadium as of January 2007.

“We will now reassess whether it makes sense to continue to pursue the Qualcomm redevelopment concept in light of the city’s (financial) situation,” he said.

Then this parting shot: “If the Chargers are forced to leave San Diego, there can be no doubt that Mike Aguirre will be to blame.”

At a news conference at City Hall to respond to the Chargers, Aguirre called Fabiani’s comments “rhetoric” and “spin.”

“It’s unfortunate that he cannot just accept responsibility that they were unable to get a partner,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre said the Chargers’ announcement doesn’t mean the issue can’t still be negotiated and possibly placed before voters in 2007.

Mayor Jerry Sanders and other city officials have said they want to have a dialogue with the team, which they want to stay in San Diego. In November, the City Council named a negotiating group to meet with the team, but only one meeting has been held.

Sanders said he has talked with Chargers President Dean Spanos twice since winning election in November, with the most recent conversation occurring Friday. Sanders said he wants to accompany the city’s negotiators this week to a meeting with team officials to determine the best way to move forward on the team’s concerns.

“We’ve been pretty busy here, but the Chargers are an important part of what we want to do in the first several months because we’ve got time frames involved here,” Sanders said Friday.

Fabiani said the team has spoken with about 100 representatives from businesses interested in becoming a development partner. He said that only about 10 of them have the financial heft to shoulder a project that may require about $800 million in upfront investment.

The ballot language must be submitted to the City Clerk’s Office by Feb. 8 so the Chargers can begin gathering the names of more than 60,000 registered voters to qualify for a November election. The petitions would have to be turned in by early June.

To make the February deadline for filing the ballot language with the city, the team will need to sign a development agreement with a business partner and also obtain the partner’s approval of the ballot language. Fabiani said that is a lot of work to do in a short time.

“We would need a minimum of a couple of weeks to finalize the ballot language,” Fabiani said. “This is a difficult environment in which to make this deal. It is what it is. There’s no hiding the ball from anyone.”

Under its lease, the team can begin talking with other cities about relocating on Jan. 1. The Chargers can leave town after the 2008 season by paying off the balance of $60 million in bonds the city issued in 1997 to expand Qualcomm Stadium.

Fabiani said another option is placing an initiative on the ballot in 2008, but he did not say the team is committed to that idea.

The Chargers are proposing construction of a $450 million stadium at the city-owned 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley – a plan that would require them to play in Qualcomm while a stadium is built elsewhere on the property. The new stadium would be owned by the city, which would not be required to provide any cash for the deal.

In return, what the Chargers want voters to approve is the city giving the team 60 acres at the Qualcomm Stadium site for free. The team and its development partner then would build 6,000 condominiums, a hotel, offices and retail shops.

Elsewhere on the property, the team and its partner would develop a 30-acre park and a 4,000-space parking garage. The team also would pay off more than $50 million still owed on bonds issued for the stadium’s previous expansion.

Rounding out the plan, the team and its partner would pay up to $175 million for traffic improvements connected to the proposed project.

Fabiani said the city would receive more than $5 million a year in sales and hotel room taxes once the development is completed. It also would benefit from the elimination of the $5.8 million-a-year payment the city makes on the stadium expansion bonds, as well as cutting maintenance costs the city pays on the aging Qualcomm Stadium, he said.

In November, in a demonstration of concern about keeping the team, the City Council voted to spend $100,000 for a lawyer to join city negotiators in working with the Chargers. Fabiani held one face-to-face meeting with Paul Jacobs, the Denver-based lawyer and sports business consultant the city contracted with, but no other meetings have been held.

City Attorney Aguirre, a member of the city’s negotiating group who has urged the Chargers to put their plan to a public vote, declined to comment for this story.

“It’s because there is nothing I can say right now that would be helpful to this situation,” Aguirre said.

Councilwoman Donna Frye and Council President Scott Peters, who are among the city’s negotiators on the Chargers issue, said the mayoral election, the transition to a strong-mayor form of government, the city’s budget crisis and other issues have overshadowed the stadium proposal.

“If the Chargers don’t have a development partner, there might not be a project – so meeting with them might be moot,” said Frye, whose council district includes Qualcomm Stadium.

Peters said the stadium issue, while thorny, is easier to deal with than the city’s pension fund, which has a deficit of at least $1.4 billion.

He said the Chargers need to come up with a plan that taxpayers can support and put it on the ballot.

“The issue of finding a development partner is the Chargers’ issue – not the city’s issue,” said Peters, who is council president under the city’s new strong-mayor form of government. “We’ve got no control over what deal they are offering to other private entities.”

The Chargers won’t have full City Council support for their plan. During last year’s mayoral campaign, Sanders and Frye said they opposed giving away city land.

Fabiani said the city’s pension-related financial problems and political turmoil last year, led by the voluntary resignation of a mayor and the forced departure of two council members convicted in a federal corruption case, have made it difficult to get a commitment from a development partner.

There is also the heavy outlay of investment money before the partners can begin building condominiums and the other commercial developments that are the profit centers in the project.

Fabiani said the team and its partner would share an expense list that includes $450 million for the stadium; $175 million in overpass and other traffic improvements; $70 million for a parking garage; $5 million to demolish the current stadium; more than $50 million to retire the bond debt on the stadium expansion; and $10 million for anticipated litigation costs.

Besides the initial investment, potential development partners also have stated concerns about San Diego’s housing market and whether it could easily absorb another 6,000 condominiums, Fabiani said.

Even if the ballot initiative were approved by voters in November, construction on the condominiums probably would not start until 2010 or later, and prospective investors have wondered whether housing prices will be more or less what they are today, he said.

“We’re assuming the market will stay strong,” Fabiani said. “We’d like to sell them for what downtown condos are going for today.”

Exactly how many voter signatures will be needed for the ballot measure is unclear.

Bonnie Stone, the city’s deputy director of elections, said the city’s Municipal Code said the number of required signatures is 10 percent of the number of registered voters at the time of the most recent district or citywide general election.

A general election was held in November 2004 and a mayoral runoff was held in November 2005. Stone said her office has requested a legal opinion from the City Attorney’s Office to determine which election should be the basis for a Chargers petition drive.

If the November 2004 election is appropriate, the Chargers would need 67,220 signatures of registered voters. If November 2005 is judged the appropriate basis, the team would need 60,542 signatures.