Future of NFL in San Diego could ride on Nov. 8 vote
On Nov. 8, voters will choose a new president, members of Congress, and, in California, decide if marijuana should be legalized for recreational use, and if the death penalty should be abolished or instead, streamlined and speeded up.
Closer to home, city of San Diego residents will also decide on a ballot measure that could determine the future of professional football in the city. Measure C asks voters to approve a hike in the hotel tax to finance construction of a new $1.8 billion football stadium and convention center complex in downtown San Diego.
To some, the best option for keeping the Chargers is to build a new stadium on the same property as Mission Valley’s Qualcomm Stadium, the team’s current home.
“It’s a real simple, common sense issue. Downtown, with the convention center and Petco Park and other businesses and attractions, is way too crowded to add a stadium,” said Christian Clews, who owns and operates a Carmel Valley horse ranch, and also sits on the Carmel Valley Community Planning Group.
Clews said he plans to vote against Measure C, even though he describes himself as a “die-hard Charger fan” and season ticket holder, because traffic, parking and other concerns make the downtown option “foolish.”
But another Carmel Valley resident, Mighty 1090 sports radio host Scott Kaplan, is convinced the downtown stadium plan is a good deal for the city, fans and the team, and plans to mark his ballot in favor of Measure C.
“I consider myself a strong supporter of keeping the NFL in San Diego and bringing a world-class facility to San Diego to host events that it currently is not in line to get,” said Kaplan, such as major conventions, concerts and even the Super Bowl. “I’m not pro-Charger in all this, I’m pro San Diego.”
Because Measure C calls for a hotel tax increase from 12.5 to 16.5 percent, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has issued an opinion that a two-thirds majority is required for passage. A ruling in an unrelated, pending California Supreme Court case could mean that only a simple majority is needed. But absent that development, even supporters, such as Kaplan, concede that a two-thirds majority in support of Measure C is “a very low probability.”
Instead, they are hoping for a strong, 50-percent plus showing that would indicate support for keeping the team, and perhaps spur a new round of negotiations between the Chargers and the city.
“It creates a pathway to some adult-like conversation between the Chargers and the city of San Diego,” Kaplan said.
Clews also wants the city to be able to host future Super Bowls and other major events, and he is convinced Mission Valley is the place to do it. He agrees with Kaplan and many others in town that the existing stadium is past its prime, though, and should be replaced with a state-of-the-art venue.
“We have the ability to host all of (those events) in Mission Valley with minimal impact to surrounding businesses and residences,” Clews said. “Downtown, the negative impacts outweigh the benefits.”
For Clews, one strike against the downtown plan would be the elimination of a large parking area around the stadium, spelling the end of a cherished tradition - pre-game tailgate parties.
“Why would we give up one of the great aspects of the game?” he said. He was unimpressed by the potential of San Diego Bay views from the new stadium’s seats. “The only view I care about is 100 yards long and green with white stripes on it.”
Kaplan, though, points to a corollary benefit of locating the new stadium downtown, in addition to keeping the Chargers and creating a new top-flight venue for major events: freeing up the Mission Valley land now occupied by Qualcomm Stadium for an expansion of either San Diego State University or UC San Diego. Either would provide major economic benefits to the city, he said.
According to the Measure C ballot language, the Chargers have estimated the total price tag for the downtown stadium and convention center would be $1.8 million. Of that amount, the team and the NFL would contribute $650 million. The city would sell bonds to pay the rest of the costs, and cover annual debt service through the estimated $100 million per year generated by the hotel tax increase. The annual tax increase would also cover ongoing maintenance and operations costs for the stadium, which would seat 65,000 fans and be expandable to 75,000 seats.
Under the measure, the Chargers would commit to playing in the new stadium, which would be located within a 10-block area east of Petco Park, for 30 years.
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