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Stadium Foes, Chargers Stick To Game Plans As Measure C Goes To Voters

Stadium Foes, Chargers Stick To Game Plans As Measure C Goes To Voters

GUESTS:

Brent Beltrán, member, Barrios Against Stadiums

Marcela Escobar-Eck, land use consultant, Atlantis Group

Transcript

The 100-plus-page ballot measure is extensive, detailed and complicated. But the idea is straightforward: Vote yes on Measure C, and the city can build a stadium and convention center in the city's East Village.

That's where Charger spokesman Fred Maas joined us to talk about the plan.

He discussed the measure in the middle of the tailgate parking lot beside Petco Park, the sports facility that's home to the San Diego Padres. A large Metropolitan Transit Service bus yard, a brewery and the Wonderbread building are located nearby. All are in the project’s footprint and would be moved or torn down to make way for a new stadium and convention center structure.

1. Measure calls for shared funding

Measure C calls for an increase in region's hotel room tax. The tax would jump from 12.5 to 16.5 percent. That allows a city-created agency to borrow roughly $1.15 billion. The Chargers and the NFL would add $650 million.

"For cities like San Diego, that don't have the robust corporate base that Silicon Valley has, or the multibillionaire owner like you have in Los Angeles, you have different circumstances here. If you want to keep your team, there's going to have to be some investment," said Maas, a special consultant hired by the Chargers.

Maas is quick to stress that the taxpayer funding for the $1.8 billion project will come from out-of-town visitors. Locals won't pay at all, he argued, as long as they don't stay in a San Diego hotel.

The football team said there is a lot at stake for San Diego.

"It's an important fabric of who we are as a city and how we sell ourselves as a city," Maas said.

"Either we’re a tourist destination or we're America's finest city. And that means your sports teams. Your support for your sports teams. So if you want the Chargers to stay, you ought to vote for this," Maas said.

And the team needs plenty of votes.

The city attorney says Measure C creates a special tax which requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

"If you want to keep your team, there's going to have to be some investment," said Fred Maas, a special consultant hired by the Chargers.

In an effort to round up those votes, the team donated $4.4 million to the “Vote Yes on C” campaign. Some of that money is being spent on television spots. One ad features former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders.

"You know I think we should all support Prop C because it's more than football. It's about the future of the city, it's about the vision, a grand vision for the city, and it's about jobs and the economy," Sanders said in the ad.

If the vision argument isn't convincing, Chargers officials ask voters to consider money.

2. There are arguments for and against the financials

Photo credit: San Diego Chargers

An undated illustration of a proposed Chargers stadium in downtown San Diego.

The team argues the project will create demand for more local hotel rooms.

The Chargers hired consultant Rob Hunden to review the stadium and convention center idea. He concluded that the project will generate $750 million in new hotel room revenue over 10 years.

"I started out as a skeptic," Hunden said.

He worked with convention planners to evaluate if a convention center annex was a feasible business venture.

"So the more we got into it, we realized that, ‘Hey, this is a smart idea.’ They're not going to be overtaxing. They've got a pretty sound proposal in front of us, from everything we could tell," Hunden said.

But San Diego hotel owners balk at the sharp room tax hike.

The hotel industry hired its own consultant, Thomas Hazinski, who concluded the project creates $2.3 million a year in new hotel tax revenue, but the project's construction and operating costs would top $67 million a year.

And the San Diego Taxpayers Association won't support the plan because it fears the city's general fund might be tapped if revenues fall short of projections.

San Diego's Independent Budget Analyst reviewed the proposal because of a mandate to review the fiscal impact of all ballot measures going in front of voters. That fiscal review was full of uncertainty.

"We've seen scenarios where the project cash flows, in other words, the tourism occupancy tax increase is sufficient to cover the project related cost. Some of the tourism marketing funding that's promised and ultimately would flow some revenue to the city's general fund," said Jeff Kawar, deputy director of the Independent Budget Analyst's office.

"When you're looking at public dollars, you really need to have a discussion and negotiation," said April Boling, a member of the No Downtown Stadium group.

"Conversely, we've seen scenarios that are plausible scenarios where the (transient occupancy tax) increase would not be sufficient to cover the project-related cost," Kawar said.

3. Opponents are organized, but not well-funded

Some opponents have joined forces under the "No Downtown Stadium" banner.

They say San Diego's downtown region doesn't need a football stadium, calling the convention center add-on a Christmas tree ornament hung on the project to convince people to vote for the measure.

The group is not pleased how the Chargers put the plan together.

April Boling is a key member of the No Downtown Stadium group. Like others, she likens the stadium's convention center add-on to a Christmas tree ornament — something she says is designed to win votes. Boling wants to keep the Chargers in San Diego, but she's not pleased how the team's plan came together.

"When you're looking at public dollars, you really need to have a discussion and negotiation," Boling said.

Measure C opponents only raised a few thousand dollars, but Boling remains optimistic the proposal will be defeated.

"This is not a measure, I don't think, where people need to have it explained to them. Sometimes there are very complicated measures that are on the ballot that people don't quite know what to think about them so they need education. This is not one that needs education," Boling said.

Boling wants to see Measure C lose, soundly, by more than 50 percent. She worries the Chargers will pursue the downtown stadium plan if the measure fails to get two-thirds support on Election Day, but still rises above the 50 percent threshold.

Chargers officials say they are not considering what happens if the measure loses on Election Day. Consultant Maas said there is no plan B because they are only focused on passing Measure C.

Maas said the team depends on fans and the fans depend on their relationship with the team.

Photo by Associated Press

Football fans hold up a "Save Our Bolts" sign during an NFL football game between the San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars in San Diego, Sept. 18, 2016.

"It's the way they teach their children values about teamwork," Maas said. "Or the values of player like Antonio Gates or Philip Rivers, people who they're proud to have their kids wear their jerseys. We can't lose that. It's so important to who we are as a city and to those families. We owe it to them."

The downtown stadium convention center plan was born after NFL owners rejected the Charger's plan for a new stadium with the Raiders in a Los Angeles suburb. The team retains an option to move to Los Angeles after this season.

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