Three weeks into the baseball season, and we finally have something interesting going on in the East Village. Sadly for the Padres, it’s going on a few blocks away from Petco Park.
Hours before the Padres suffered yet another lackluster loss on Saturday, the Chargers took over the ceremonial first pitch. A political first pitch, that is.
The Chargers began their signature drive to put their downtown stadium plan on the ballot with an old-fashioned pep rally. There was quarterback Philip Rivers dropping “dagummits.” There was all-time great running back LaDainian Tomlinson evoking the memory of Junior Seau while noting the 55-year history of the Chargers in this community.
Like the proposed initiative itself, the rally was short on details but long on ambition.
The Chargers intend to move into the Padres’ neighborhood, with or without a welcome wagon from Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the San Diego political powers that be.
The pep rally served to move the conversation out of council chambers and board rooms and into living rooms. Unable or unwilling to work a deal with government for a new home downtown, the Chargers are going straight to the people.
The Chargers’ proposal, under the guise of a citizens’ initiative, is to build a $1.8 billion complex with a 65,000-seat stadium and convention facilities. The team needs 66,447 valid signatures from San Diego voters by mid-June to put their plan on the November ballot.
The Chargers and NFL, under the plan, would contribute $650 million toward the project. The initiative calls for a 4 percent increase, from 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent, in the transient occupancy tax in order to finance $1.15 billion in bonds necessary to finance the balance of the project.
“We have several big objectives we have to attain before the end of the year,” Chargers chairman Dean Spanos told the 4,000 fans gathered at the rally. “Obviously, one is to get these signatures in a very short period of time, get it on the ballot for Nov. 8 and win this thing. Once we win it, I assure you there is going to be a stadium right where we’re sitting right here!”
With this initiative limited to voters in the city of San Diego, most North County residents are simply interested bystanders on this one. For San Diegans, the question comes down to whether you see this as corporate welfare or a clever way to make tourists foot the bill for a worthy investment in San Diego’s future.
Whichever spin resonates with the voters come November — Chargers coach Mike McCoy didn’t come up with the game plan to collect signatures, so we can reasonably assume the initiative will make it to the ballot — will determine whether the Chargers have a fairly straightforward path to downtown or whether we’re back to square one.
Square one leaves the Chargers at the mercy of city leaders whom Spanos and Co. have already stiff-armed, or puts Los Angeles back in play. When NFL owners approved the St. Louis Rams’ move back to L.A., they gave the Chargers first option to join the Rams in their under- construction stadium in Inglewood.
The Chargers’ failed pursuit of a home in another L.A.-area locale, the armpit that is Carson, has left some so skeptical of the Spanos family that they believe the downtown initiative is a huge misdirection play. The skeptics say the Chargers are trying to force a vote that ultimately will fail in November. That way they can collect another season of season ticket sales in San Diego, then claim they have no option but to head to L.A.
The fact the camera- shy Spanos is out and about, stumping for the East Village plan, shows that revisiting the idea of having Rams owner Stan Kroenke as a landlord appeals to Spanos even less than another half-century in Mission Valley does.
Even more telling was the appearance of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the Saturday pep rally. Goodell’s forte is applying pressure on politicians and cutting deals. Cicero, he is not.
Yet there he was, pumping the Chargers’ plan and shaking hands with the plebeians. By doing so, he was sending a direct message that the NFL wants the Chargers in San Diego, that L.A. belongs to t he Rams.
If this whole thing is a charade, Goodell would have stayed home.
“The Chargers do belong in San Diego,”
Goodell told the crowd.
Knowing rhetoric alone doesn’t accomplish a thing, Goodell also dangled the NFL’s best carrot: Should the Chargers get their new stadium, he vowed, San Diego gets a Super Bowl.
In advance of the rally, the Chargers released drawings of the proposed “convadium.” Pretty pictures indeed. And the inclusion of a roof means the Super Bowl would not be the only major event San Diego could land.
The details of the Chargers’ project are about as thin as the paper displaying those stadium sketches. Hoteliers who are backing San Diego politicians are lined up in opposition. Another initiative, backed by Cory Briggs and former council member Donna Frye, has a head start on the Chargers’ plan and figures to confuse voters. Still unclear is whether the plan will require two-thirds approval or a simple majority.
All that suggests Melvin Gordon has a better chance of finding the end zone than the Chargers do of finding themselves in East Village. Perhaps, but it’s a lot more comforting having their future in the hands of San Diego voters than it was having their future in the hands of 30 billionaires.
Shaun O’Neill is a freelance writer and longtime North County resident. He welcomes comments and story suggestions at email@example.com