In the News
April 21, 2016
By The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board
s the Chargers begin a signature-gathering drive to qualify the team's new stadium proposal for a public vote in November, area politicians are weighing in on the plan.
U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, have submitted pieces to The San Diego Union-Tribune. They are below. Others will surely follow. We'll print them here as we receive them. If you are an elected official or campaigning to be one and would like to add your voice to this discussion, please email your op-ed to firstname.lastname@example.org. To be considered, your submissions must be 700-750 words and exclusive to the Union-Tribune. For more details, read our policy.
San Diego has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to solve, in one fell swoop, a long list of persistent civic problems. We have the chance, finally, to build a badly-needed convention center expansion in an environmentally responsible way, with an indisputably legal financing plan. We can solve the long-running legal dispute over funding for tourism promotion, so that our region can once again compete to win visitors from all over the world. We can finally build a new stadium for Super Bowls, for the Chargers, and – when combined with the new convention center expansion – for the world’s largest and most prestigious events. We can, at long last, free up the 166 publicly-owned acres in Mission Valley for a riverfront park and for the benefit of our local universities. And we can do this all, with voter approval, and without putting a single general fund dollar at risk.
All of this could be possible because of two separate citizens’ initiatives – one proposed by the Chargers, and one proposed by a coalition led by Donna Frye. These two initiatives are an unsurprising response to the failure of San Diego local government to solve, or even confront, these prominent and long-standing challenges.
Yet even now that these issues have been forced to the forefront of public debate by the citizens’ groups, there are few signs of engaged leadership by our local elected officials. And that’s too bad, because we know from experience here in San Diego that active leadership and engagement will produce better results than will knee-jerk opposition or silence.
Take Petco Park as an example where leaders engaged the community and built an anchor for a now thriving part of downtown that produces revenue and entertainment opportunities that benefit the entire region.
On the other hand, consider the Navy Broadway complex, which just finally won approval after more than two decades of debate. Opponents of the project decided early on to fight it to the death. They decided not to engage in an attempt to change the project – even though they had the means and the leverage.
The result was a project that remains unacceptable to opponents. To be sure, the current design is better than what currently sits on the development site downtown. But had opponents engaged – rather than to try to kill it outright – the results could have been so much better for San Diego.
We can apply what we’ve learned to the two citizens’ initiatives that may be on the November ballot. If local officials are willing to lead and engage in the process in a productive way, we could achieve great things for San Diego’s future: a new riverfront park in Mission Valley; a new combination stadium-convention center downtown; new opportunities for local universities on the remaining land in Mission Valley; and a clearly legal way to fund tourism marketing and the convention center expansion without risk to local taxpayers.
Unfortunately, we are already seeing tell-tale signs of lack of leadership and engagement. A few local leaders have denounced one or both of the citizens’ initiatives, seemingly without even taking the time to read them. Others appear to be fixing for a fight to the death against the combination stadium-convention facility instead of expressing a willingness to engage in designing a community-project interface that would enhance downtown. Instead of yelling no from the sidelines, by collaborating together we could ensure that any stadium-convention center building downtown creates a vibrant streetscape that would enhance the East Village.
So, let’s not re-run the same movie we’ve seen too many times in San Diego, where projects die because of a lack of leadership or are ultimately built in sub-optimal ways without constructive engagement of opponents. We have a chance to work together to ensure the results of the November election are crafted and shaped in ways that allow us to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity for change. Let’s make it work.
During what was a miserable 2015 season for this Chargers fan, by far the most difficult game to endure was one of only four victories the team earned all year. On December 20, they manhandled the Miami Dolphins 30-14, but there was no joy in Qualcomm Stadiumduring what appeared to be the franchise’s final home game. Ever.
Philip Rivers said he choked back tears in the huddle, while Eric Weddle actually cried in the end zone. Some players mingled with fans until hours after the game, while “Stay Just a Little Bit Longer” played over the loudspeaker. Sports Illustrated described the scene as a “beautiful funeral”, but I didn’t see the beauty in losing our football team.
All that changed on January 12.
After the NFL’s owners voted to approve the move of the Rams to Los Angeles, they simultaneously opened a one-year window to keep the Chargers in San Diego.
The instant they rendered their clear – but temporary – judgment, it provided San Diego what it lost in December: an overtime session to get the Chargers back on their rightful home turf and in a brand new stadium.
Currently, a citywide ballot initiative is taking shape to finance both a new $1 billion football stadium and a $600 million expansion of our convention center. An additional assessment on hotel bills would finance the convention center, the Chargers and the NFL will commit $650 million and $350 million in bonds will be raised by a new city agency supported by the hotel taxes.
The Chargers would have to pay for any of the stadium’s cost overruns.
While two-thirds of the stadium will be paid for by the NFL/Chargers, most of the new revenue will go towards the convention center expansion. One hundred percent percent of the taxes will be collected from conventioneers, tourists and other visitors, while 100 percent of the revenue will benefit the city and its people.
Once finished, the city, not the Chargers, will own the stadium.
I'm confident voters can be persuaded if the measure benefits the community while encouraging and promoting a more profitable city economy. I hope the initiative earns the support of San Diegans and inspires them with a vision of what we can accomplish. After all, we’ve done it before.
The civic consensus that created Petco Park represented more than just the construction of a baseball stadium that rivals any other. It was a bold departure from the era of multi-sport stadiums that produced shared baseball/football complexes in cities like Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. All have long since been abandoned and replaced with modern facilities that are a big hit with fans who knew their teams were playing in – and they were paying for – a substandard stadium experience.
Chargers fans know this as well. Do any Padres fans wish they were still back at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium?
To many young people Petco Park is just a given as part of downtown San Diego. But for years, San Diego saw a drumbeat of those who wouldn’t budge from the status quo; 1998’s Proposition C changed all that.
Many civic leaders and taxpayer interest groups objected to it based on the theory that they were protecting the rank-and-file San Diego taxpayer.
But Proposition C was “about more than a ballpark”, and it persuaded skeptical voters with a vision of a state-of-the-art baseball stadium and a transformed East Village – both of which came true.
We can do it again. This expanded convention center and world-class stadium is not just for the occasional Super Bowl, but will also be a top choice for concerts and other live events.
To be sure, politicians often say they know better than the voters. In this case, they have an opportunity to persuade them this project has the potential to move our world-class city in a profound direction.
All too often, voters are asked to support a tax with only a vague promise of benefits – a road here or a school there. But in this case, we know exactly what will be built and all the benefits San Diego can gain. Just as with Proposition C, I believe voters will make the right decision.
The 2015 football season was shrouded by the imminent departure of the Chargers –and it didn't seem like anything could stop it. But now the field of play is wide open and there's a game plan I believe can pull off a great win.
Let's not defer for a later possession that might never happen.