December 1, 2006

National City Spotlight:

Wait! Read This Before Sending in That Stadium Survey

By Ted Godshalk

A voter survey released before the recent November election detailed the dissatisfaction residents have toward National City’s politicians. The survey by GIS Strategy Research found that only 37% of voters polled feel that city government can be trusted, and that just 32% said they would vote for an incumbent in November’s election.

On November 7th, more than half of National City’s 15,000 registered voters stayed home and 64% of the votes for mayor (4528) were cast against “incumbent” Ron Morrison. Thus it appears that Ron Morrison effectively “mobilized his base,” as the Sunday political talk show hosts say. His 36% share, 2573 votes, closely matches the pre-election findings. But surveys are not always this reliable.

With the election over, residents are being asked to participate in another civic process. This time, a city-authored survey is in the mail.

Without any binding authority, and some would say without all the facts before them, residents and businesses are being asked to submit their opinion about a very important and potentially huge proposal. The proposal, previously called Inzunza’s pipe dream, is a football stadium on National City’s bay front. At this time, the subject of my concern is the survey itself. Here’s why.

First, residents and business people I have talked to are either a little agog at the grandiose suggestion of a Chargers stadium in National City, or they are skeptically jaded and look suspiciously at the obvious media manipulation being orchestrated by National City, the Chargers, and the local media. These three well-organized teams have definite opinions on this kind of thing since there is a direct connection to their financial bottom-lines. Local newspapers, television stations, and radio stations, sell oodles of media space and airtime associated with the current professional football team. It keeps readers and viewers hooked. The Union-Tribune and the stations have a vested interest in keeping the Chargers in town and that leads to loads of bias in their coverage of the stadium issue. Losing the Bolts to San Antonio, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles would mean the newspaper would be a little less exciting on Monday mornings and the Five o’clock News would have more cat- up- the tree and kitchen’s- on- fire stories anchoring their reports. Local media interests desperately want to keep the team here, and if it is in little National City then so be it.

Second, the Chargers want to keep the stadium issue as bright as a baby blue throwback jersey on the back of a fan with a fistful of dollars. The buzz about a new stadium sells tickets and hot dogs as people begin to salivate about a new “football experience.” The Chargers also know that just talking about talking to other cities lights up the hallways and cubicles in downtown San Diego. As much as they want us to believe Qualcomm Stadium will not be considered as a future venue for pro football, the SD politicians, the business barons and the Chargers know that a deal can be struck when it’s fourth down and one week to go on some imaginary deadline. Any talk of National City, or Chula Vista for that matter, only helps to keep the heat on San Diego. The City of National City plays this game at its own risk, perhaps badly mismatched and gambling with its future prospects.

Third, for the City of National City, the stadium issue is tied to the new sales tax increase so famously pushed by most of the current players on the podium. During the campaign debates you will remember, Morrison called the sales tax increase a “necessary evil.” I cringe when I hear something called evil and yet so vigorously trumpeted. The City Council has promised to search for new revenue to pay their bills. In fact, increasing municipal income by any means necessary has become the main game plan, and eminent domain remains in their playbook. Contrary to rosy projections, many studies show that stadiums do not provide much revenue for a city, and this is one reason major cities are letting new stadiums go to the second-tier suburban cities.

This brings us to the survey that is being sent out in National City. We hear that numerous groups have seen the survey in advance of its release to the public. The NC Chamber of Commerce, for one, has surveyed the survey and censored the survey and sent the survey back to City Hall. The Port District and their tenants known loosely as the Working Waterfront Group has also surveyed the survey and they supposedly attempted to sink it with a salvo of slurs about its slant. Hissss.

It seems just about everyone has seen this survey in advance and taken the opportunity to comment on it or corrupt it. Everyone except the residents. The residents deserve the chance to study the serious urban planning issues of their bay front in an open and unbiased manner, but this survey is a pitiful attempt at a difficult job. Reaching out for people’s opinion should be government’s highest priority, and it must be done correctly. Anything less is a disservice.

From what I have heard, the survey has only two questions. $19,000 only gets us two questions about what we want to see on our waterfront for the next fifty years? I can think of at least ten pertinent questions that should be asked. For your consideration:

# 1: Are regional interests more important than the city’s residents’ interests?

# 2: Should wealthy sports franchises, or any business, cash in on private property through the use of National City’s eminent domain laws?

# 3: Does the Port District provide a benefit for all NC residents?

# 4: Should the Port District control property development in National City?

# 5: Should National City legally challenge the Port District’s ownership of non-tidelands property?

# 6: Should NC disengage from the Port District?

# 7: Can the City of National City really manage anything as big as a stadium, a sports arena, or a large tourist area, and will there be a benefit to the residents from these?

# 8: What do you think the Working Waterfront businesses want, and what should they be willing to give back to the residents of NC for the privilege of locking up our bay front?

# 9: Should the City Council and Mayor of National City carry out long term urban planning for the bay front rather than committing to one proposal at this time?

# 10: Should the Port District modify its plans independently of National City and provide equal open space opportunities like those offered in San Diego and Coronado?

In conclusion, National City missed the chance to ask the residents what they wanted during the last election. A couple of well-phrased advisory votes could have helped everyone understand what the residents think. Why was this cost-effective outreach not taken? It was simply too politically complicated for the incumbents to run on a ticket fraught with so much potential controversy. In suits the powers that be to leave the important stuff off the table until after the election. The survey in your mailbox is flawed and serves the government, media, and business interests too much to be considered valid as a planning tool. A thorough set of questions could lead to something productive and the residents of National City deserve no less.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at paradisecreek@mac.com

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