Chargers decide to pursue downtown stadium in last-ditch effort to remain in San Diego


The Chargers will ask San Diego voters to approve plans for a downtown stadium and convention center complex as the franchise makes one final attempt to remain in San Diego.

A firm hired by the Chargers will begin collecting the signatures of registered voters in hopes of getting a plan for the downtown project on the November ballot.

Tuesday’s decision came after Chargers chairman Dean Spanos and other team officials weighed the downtown project against pursuing a new stadium in Mission Valley near Qualcomm Stadium, the team’s home since 1967. In the end the Chargers decided the downtown project would attract more support from the community.

The ballot initiative campaign is the 10th – and in all likelihood final – attempt by the Chargers in a 15-year and more than $20 million pursuit of a viable local option to replace the dilapidated Qualcomm.

“The Chargers will begin collaborating immediately with the existing diverse citizens’ coalition led by Donna Frye and JMI Realty that has already been formed in favor of a downtown convention center expansion and educational and recreational uses in Mission Valley,” the Chargers said in a statement. “Our goal is to win voter approval in November 2016 for a downtown multi-use stadium/convention center facility and to facilitate the best possible community uses for the existing Mission Valley site. We will deliver regular reports to our fans and to the community about the progress we are making.

“We believe that a downtown multi-use facility will attract broad support from throughout our entire community. And we hope that, as our downtown proposal is developed and as the campaign for passage begins, those who have supported the Mission Valley site will keep an open mind and consider supporting what we believe is the best way to secure a permanent home for the Chargers in San Diego.”

The Chargers made the decision after discussions with San Diego City and County officials and local attorney and activist Corey Briggs. Briggs is also pushing a ballot measure for a project that would build on the downtown waterfront as well as expand the city’s convention center. The project would be paid by a hotel tax increase.

“We have spent the last month evaluating the leading San Diego stadium sites and
financing proposals,” the Chargers statement said. “During that time, led by Chargers Special Advisor Fred Maas, we have engaged in regular discussions with Mayor (Kevin) Faulconer, Supervisor (Ron) Roberts, City Attorney (Jan) Goldsmith, and City and County negotiators. And we have carefully evaluated the arguments made by the Mayor and others regarding the merits of the Mission Valley site. We agree that, in many respects, the arguments for Mission Valley are compelling.

“At the same time, we have considered the potential benefits to both the greater San
Diego region and the Chargers of a multi-use stadium/convention center facility downtown. The multi-use facility, when combined with Petco Park, the existing Convention Center, the Gaslamp Quarter, and a revitalized East Village, would create an unparalleled entertainment and sports district that will host Super Bowls and will ideally be a permanent home for Comic-Con and a Comic-Con museum.

“All of our research demonstrates that voters are more likely to approve a multi-use facility that would generate economic activity on hundreds of days per year, including by attracting major sporting and convention events that San Diego cannot now host. The downtown multi-use facility would also free up the existing Mission Valley site for potential use by educational institutions such as San Diego State and UCSD, as well as for a large riverfront park.”

Faulconer and Roberts, the San Diego County board of supervisors chairman, in a joint statement expressed skepticism about the Chargers’ decision.

“We want the Chargers to remain in San Diego. After consulting with numerous experts on stadium financing and conducting a large-scale public outreach effort last year we proposed a straight-forward plan to finance a modern NFL stadium at the existing Mission Valley site. That plan would build a new stadium without raising taxes. Most experts we’ve talked to have concluded that building a stadium Downtown – on land not owned by either the City or the Chargers – would increase costs by hundreds of millions of dollars and take years longer to complete. However, it now appears that the Chargers intend to pursue a stadium in Downtown. It remains unclear how the Chargers intend to finance a Downtown stadium. But it is abundantly clear that a ballot measure that raises taxes for a stadium must be approved by two-thirds of San Diego’s voters. This is an extremely high hurdle to clear. We remain committed to maintaining an open dialogue with the Chargers as we learn more details about their plan.”

The Chargers go into their campaign for the new stadium knowing they face an uphill battle to win public approval.

Two polls commissioned by the Chargers and conducted last year by two national firms, one including Peter Hart, who oversees the NBC/Wall Street Journal polling, present a vastly different picture. When asked if they favored $350 million from the general fund being used to pay for the proposed stadium, 65 percent of San Diego voters surveyed said no. Thirty-five percent said they favored using public funds to partially finance the project.

A poll conducted by Faulconer’s pollster in June found that 51 percent of respondents supported public funds being used to supply one-third of the financing of the new stadium. Forty-one percent said they opposed funding the project, with 8 percent undecided.

Under the terms of an agreement earlier this month in which the NFL’s owners gave the Chargers the option of joining the Rams in a $2.66 billion stadium in Inglewood, Spanos has until Jan. 15, 2017 to decide whether to relocate or stay in San Diego. The Chargers reached an agreement in principle with the Rams last month to play in the Hollywood Park, which is scheduled to be open in time for the 2019 NFL season.

Should public funding for a stadium in San Diego be approved by Nov. 15, the Chargers can request an extension on their Los Angeles option to Jan. 15, 2018 to deal with potential litigation, according to the NFL agreement. If the Chargers decide to stay in San Diego long term, the Raiders would then have a year-long option to relocate to the Inglewood stadium.

The NFL promised last month to give the Chargers and Raiders each $100 million grants for new stadium projects in their current markets. If the Chargers ultimately decide to relocate into the Los Angeles market, the team, like the Rams, would also have to pay a relocation fee of $650 million with related costs paid in $65 million annual installments over 10 years.

The Chargers recently hired political consultant Maas as a special advisor to Spanos on the ballot initiative. Maas has previously been the chairman and chief executive of Centre City Development Corporation, a downtown San Diego development group. He was an advisor to former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on a downtown sports and entertainment district.

The ballot initiative process, an avenue the Chargers didn’t have the time to pursue last year, is the same path used in passing the Inglewood stadium project and the Chargers’ and Raiders’ plans for a $1.75 billion venue in Carson. It also allows the Chargers to avoid the lengthy EIR process.

The Chargers have set a March 24 target to complete a drafted and vetted citizens initiative on a stadium that the team hopes will receive enough signatures to be placed on the ballot and ultimately approved by San Diego voters in the Nov. 8 election.

To get an initiative on the November ballot, the Chargers need to secure the valid signatures of 66,447 registered voters in San Diego, 10 percent of the registered voters in the last city-wide general election.

The proposed legislative act for the Chargers’ final stadium plan must be summed up in no more than 300 words for a notice of intention to be published in a daily general circulation newspaper. The Chargers have a March 25 target date for publication.

If the team hits that date, the Chargers would then file a series of required affidavits and statements with the City Clerk on April 4. Meeting the March 25 publication date would also allow the Chargers to begin circulating petitions on April 15. The team would then have 180 days to gather signatures. The team is hoping to secure between 90,000 and 100,000 signatures as a precaution against not getting enough valid signatures.

The Chargers would then file signed initiative petitions with the City Clerk’s office for verification. The clerk’s office has 30 days to verify the signatures. The team hopes to place the certification of signature verification results on the San Diego City Council docket by July 15. Aug. 2 is the last possible regular City Council meeting to place the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. Aug. 12 is the last day the Council can file a request with the San Diego Board of Supervisors to consolidate the measure with the statewide general election.

And this is where the San Diego process will likely differ with what happened with the Inglewood and Carson city councils. Under state law, if the initiatives gather enough valid signatures to be placed on the ballot, the local governing body can approve the measure outright without putting it up for election. That is what both the Inglewood and Carson councils did.

San Diego officials, however, have said repeatedly they believe any stadium plan requiring public financing should be placed on the ballot, a stance that has frustrated NFL officials.

As recently as an October meeting in San Diego, top NFL officials encouraged local officials to certify an EIR and then see what happens. Even if the San Diego city council did approve the initiative without an election there is the likelihood that citizen’s groups would target referendums against the council decision.

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