|An artist's vision of the proposed new stadium for the San Diego Chargers|
The shiny, happy $1.1 billion dollar San Diego football stadium proposed this week by the nine-member advisory group appointed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer is a damn good plan. It's an intelligently crafted plan, a surprisingly fair plan. It works. That's precisely why it will surely be rejected by San Diego's own nattering nabobs of negativism (hey, you don't have to like Spiro Agnew to steal his best line).
“We developed a financing plan that would actually succeed in this unique San Diego environment, ensuring that it is fair for the Chargers and other tenants, fair for the city and county, and fair for taxpayers,” Adam Day, chairman of the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG), said on Monday as he introduced the details of the proposal at a much-anticipated press conference.
Adam's right. There are no tax increases in this proposal or increases to the city's general fund. And it doesn't rely on development to pay for it. Yes, there is a serious drought here and that will demand extra money from taxpayers to provide more water. But this city is in much better financial shape than it was just a few short years ago.
We can very easily do this, people. But will we? The task force notes that because no new taxes would be imposed, a two-thirds vote of the public would not be required. But Faulconer has said that he will call for a vote (all we need is 50 percent) anyway because he wants to let San Diego voters make the final decision.
Big mistake, Kevin. I know, I know, it's morally repugnant and un-American of me to say that voters should not be given the option. But they shouldn't, 'cuz, well, they don't know what's good for them. I'm only half kidding.
For those of you who love the San Diego Opera (but never go) and adore our public libraries (but never go), but you think football is icky and that this new stadium is an extravagant, meaningless expense that will result in schools closing, rec' centers being boarded up, skies falling and people panicking in the streets, please get a grip.
This stadium plan does not represent a crippling public burden. The public money component? It's $7 million a year from San Diego (city) and the same amount from San Diego County to pay for $121 million from each in bonds over 30 years.
The San Diego City Council approves stuff like this regularly without a public vote and without any calamities. Let it work. Let it happen. It will be painless for you, and it will make many, many people very, very happy.
The rest of the money for the stadium would come from the Chargers ($300 million), the sale to a developer of 75 acres at the Mission Valley site, the current home of Qualcomm Stadium ($225 million), the National Football League ($200 million), bondable construction capital from the team’s rent ($173 million), and personal-seat licenses (PSL) and ticket and parking surcharges (more than $100 million).
Yep, it's all very workable. This is realistic, despite what you will undoubtedly hear from the Charger brass. This proposal just makes far too much sense to work in this city.
Memo to the Spanos Family: Accept This Plan, and Enjoy Your Life
Not only will the San Diego citizenry inevitably make false and absurd assumptions about this proposal and probably vote against it, the Chargers' owners, too, will undoubtedly find something in it about which to whine and complain.
The Chargers wanted to build the new stadium downtown, not in Mission Valley, for example. And they wanted to spend $200 million, not $300 million. You get the idea.
But I have some very friendly advice for you, Spanos family: Just zip your lips and accept it. Fork over the $300 million, then sit back and enjoy the rest of your lives in America's Finest City, where you will be hailed as heroes.
Embrace it, Dean Spanos. This is your last chance to remain ensconced in the most beautiful big city in the country, a city that has been so very good to the Chargers for the last 54 years. This is your golden 11th-hour opportunity to repair the crumbling goodwill between you and the people of San Diego.
If you sabotage this thing, if you say this plan is unworkable, which it isn't, and you end up bolting to Carson or Inglewood, you will become the Art Modell of the West Coast. Modell, of course, was the longtime owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns who, despite enjoying support from the public and pols in Cleveland for a new stadium, bailed on that very loyal city and its hapless sports fans and took his team to Baltimore and renamed it the Ravens.
An appropriate new name, The Ravens, since Modell was for ever more treated by Clevelanders as if he were an evil figure in an Edgar Allen Poe novel. He could not set foot in Cleveland without fearing for his life. He was to that city what Salman Rushdie is to Mecca.
Dean Spanos will be in the same sinking boat if he muddies this fresh deal. San Diego will forgive all if he accepts this proposal, or even if he negotiates it hard but in good faith. The football is now in your hands, Dean. You gave up the daily grind of team ownership to your kids this past week. But you're still the man. You can now throw the game-winning touchdown pass, or punt.
Modern Sports is Culture
Here's the thing that many of my beloved intellectual and artsy San Diego friends will never fully appreciate: In America in the 21st century, sports is culture. It is an integral and profound part of a large American city's image, ethos and lifestyle. And it is uniquely uniting.
There are very few things that bring disparate and typically unfamiliar elements of a big city population together more effectively than a professional or college sports team, especially when that team is winning.
It's no small thing. Sports are fun, and they create a camaraderie and a good vibe in a city that few other things can. I'm not a big fan of subsidizing billionaire sports owners, either. But I am big on sports and what they can do for a city. And this new stadium is the only thing that will keep this team here. A team that has been a huge part of San Diego for 54 years and a big part of my life for the past 31 years.
I can tell you that in my section at Qualcomm Stadium, where I had season tickets for many years, there were people of all races, religions, political parties and ages, and we were all one voice. We all got along great. Why? Because we had a common bond: the team on that field.
From what I've seen of the new stadium plan, this beautiful open-air stadium and the surrounding development will be something San Diegans will point to with pride for the next 50-plus years. It will be a beacon in the center of Mission Valley that will also enhance the nearby San Diego River, which for so long has been neglected.
And it won't break anyone's bank. Not the city. Not the taxpayers. Not the Chargers. Not the NFL. And not the fans, though a chunk of the burden does fall on future fans with a spike in tickets and parking.
These planners even saved room for tailgating, which is a hugely popular tradition here. I was frankly stunned at how smartly this thing was crafted, given the fact that it was created in such a short time frame and in large part by a bureaucrats and Faulconer cronies.
To their credit, they came up with an almost-brilliant framework. It'll be debated, challenged and changed, for sure, but it works.
San Diego's Nattering Nabobs
Despite all the positives, though, there will always be San Diegans who will find a reason to say no to anything to do with spending public money on sports. San Diego is the eighth largest city in the nation, and we like to think of our city as a hip, vital, contemporary metropolis with a thriving inner city. To some degree, that is true. Just look at the Gaslamp District, which is booming. Or Little Italy. Or Bankers' Hill.
But San Diego can still at times feel like a small, provincial, reactionary, visionless burg. It's a minor miracle that Petco Park was built downtown. But that was a perfect storm. Give credit to Larry Lucchino's genius, and the timing of the World Series, and the fact that Downtown's East Village was a dump.
The baseball stadium has obviously been an enormous success downtown. The new football stadium in Mission Valley will be, too. And if we build it, they will come. San Diegans, that is. It's up to Chargers ownership, first, then the San Diego electorate. I'm depending on you.