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Council Approves $2.1 Million For Chargers Stadium Environmental Review

Photo credit: MEIS

A rendering of the proposed Chargers stadium in Mission Valley. It was created by MEIS, a New York-based stadium architecture and design firm.

The City Council Tuesday will be asked to establish a proposed football stadium in Mission Valley as a project in the city of San Diego's capital improvement program, an action that would open up a funding stream to pay for an environmental review and consultants.

The San Diego City Council approved on a 6-3 vote Tuesday spending $2.1 million on an environmental study of a proposed replacement stadium for the Chargers in Mission Valley. Opposing the plan were council members David Alvarez, Marti Emerald and Todd Gloria,

The action appropriates $1.2 million for environmental consultant AECOM Technical Services Inc., with an additional $380,000 for city staff time and $200,000 for a conceptual stadium design. The rest will be held for contingencies.

A $2.1 million reimbursement from the state to the city that was received in July, but not budgeted, will cover the expenses. That money would otherwise go into the city's general fund.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer told the council that the study was a "crucial" step toward scheduling a public vote in January, around the time when the National Football League might vote on whether to bring a team back to Los Angeles — the nation's second-largest market.

After the vote, he issued a statement that the said the council's "vote demonstrates that we are committed to keeping professional football in our region."

"Regardless of what ultimately happens with the team, this environmental impact report is valuable to taxpayers. Whether a new stadium is built or Qualcomm Stadium is simply demolished, this environmental analysis can be used," Faulconer said.

The city is pushing forward with a study of a stadium's environmental impact despite a negative response from the Chargers. A team spokesman has said that the expedited environmental impact report process the city is going for is not legally defensible.

The team has wanted a new stadium for nearly 15 years and has acquired land in the Los Angeles County suburb of Carson to build a facility jointly with the Oakland Raiders.

Christopher Melvin of Nixon Peabody, the consulting firm hired by the city and county of San Diego to engage in negotiations with the Chargers, said the NFL was focused on the accelerated EIR that would allow for the public vote. The NFL also encouraged the city to continue with its study of the Mission Valley site.

"We committed to the NFL that the city and the county of San Diego are highly motivated to keeping the Chargers in San Diego," Melvin said.

"The NFL appreciates that — they recognized the commitment of the city and the county — and they encouraged us to move the ball forward, to continue our work such that we would be able to have that vote in January," Melvin said.

Melvin said NFL officials are coming to San Diego on July 28 and will allow the city to make a presentation to owners at an Aug. 10 meeting.

An advisory group formed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer earlier this year recommended construction of a 65,000-seat facility adjacent to the current Qualcomm Stadium, which would be leveled to make way for development. The task force also came up with ways to generate $1.4 billion to fund the project.

The mayor's office confirmed Tuesday that one of those funding sources is no longer on the table. The city and county will not depend on ancillary development to fund construction of a new stadium, according to mayoral spokesman Matt Awbrey.

Lawyer Cory Briggs, who has filed multiple lawsuits against the city in recent years, told the council the city will have to sell or privatize property, or dip into its general fund — which pays for basic municipal services, something the state's environmental laws require to be disclosed.

"The problem here is you're not telling the public exactly what needs to be done, and that plays right into the Chargers' negotiating position, and it's absolutely stupid for you to take that bait," Briggs said.

However, Awbrey pointed out that financing recommendations issued by Faulconer's advisory group still more than cover the estimated $1.1 billion construction cost, even without the extra development.

But Alvarez, one of the no votes for going forward, said “without a financing plan for this project, we are simply not being serious in our stadium reconstruction efforts."

"I could not, in good conscience, support spending $2 million of taxpayer money without a financing plan or any information as to how this stadium will be built," he said in a statement after the council vote.

Emerald said the city needs to focus its attention on neighborhoods and services, with millions of dollars needed for municipal facilities, repairing roads and bridges, building parks and investing in public safety.

"The Chargers say they want no part of this and I say it's time to listen — take them seriously and let them go to Carson," Emerald said. "Let them wrangle for a spot in the Los Angeles NFL market, and if they don't get it, they'll come back."

Gloria said that San Diego has been "getting played" throughout the stadium process, and the EIR gets the city no closer to keeping the team.

If the league adheres to its own policies, the Raiders would be the team that returns to Los Angeles because San Diego and St. Louis have made "good faith" efforts to keep their teams, Gloria said.

City officials said that even if the Chargers do move, Qualcomm Stadium remains a liability, costing $10 million a year in maintenance. A new facility would have to be constructed for San Diego State University, the Holiday and Poinsettia bowls, and special events like international soccer matches, an eventuality that would be covered in the environmental study.

Chargers fan David Agranoff told the council he lived in Portland, Oregon, for a while and watched his team's games with other transplants.

"And seeing the Chargers and rooting for the Chargers connected us back to the place that we considered home," Agranoff said. "And you can't put a price on what that fabric means to a community."

After the meeting, San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts said he will ask the Board of Supervisors at its Aug. 4 meeting "to approve a $500,000 expenditure of funds to offset the costs of negotiating an agreement with the Chargers and NFL, if the Chargers return to active discussions."

City and county officials agreed several months ago to split the cost of hiring legal and financial consultants to negotiate a plan for a new stadium with the Chargers. The team broke off the discussions last month in a disagreement over an expedited timeline for the environmental report.

The city and county governments have, so far, committed $250,000 each for the expert team. The county, citing policy, is not contributing to the cost of the environmental report.

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