September 7, 2007

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

(Editors Note: It is with great pleasure that we are able to introduce a biweekly column by former Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla. As a former Mayor, Coastal Commission member, and Chula Vista City Councilman, Steve offers nearly 20 years of community and political involvement that he will be able to share with you our readers and bring insight into what often times can be complex issues in a fashion that our readers will better understand them. This week Steve tackles the issue of the San Diego Chargers football stadium.)

By Steve Padilla

Ticket – buying football fans make the decision to spend considerable disposable income to enjoy what is now widely regarded as America’s sport. Those attending the occasional game or who have season tickets aren’t exactly your average American fans. They have the means to spend what can be hundreds of dollars for a small family outing to a game, or much more for seats at every home game.

There is no real return on their investment, no magical boost bringing long-term high wage jobs or big industrial investments other than in advertising and skyboxes. No, contrary to NFL claims - just excitement, pride and enjoyment for a much beloved, time- honored and uniquely American game. The list is long of noted economists who point out the real benefits of a super bowl-ready stadium wash with the costs to a community to maintain one. Nothing necessarily wrong with that anyway.

Much like the occasional game or season ticket holders, the people in our region need to make a basic inescapable decision: Is it worth spending some public resources, in whatever form, in order to keep the excitement, pride and enjoyment of this sport in the form of the San Diego Chargers, here in our region, in our home? Should the entire county share any public cost?

Our leaders must keep these questions front and center now, not just when a specific project is suggested. You know what they say; if you can’t handle the idea of being on the field, don’t try out for the team.

Ask business and civic supporters and they will tell you to keep it down, speak softly, lower your voice. Like pouring fine wine, we will discuss no “subsidy” before its time.

Ask detractors, and taxpayer watchdogs and they will tell you hell no they won’t lower their voice, private enterprise – private risk. No public money for wealthy sports franchises.

Ever watch a game with a casual observer? You know, someone unfamiliar with the subtle signals and strategies on the field? Sure, all eyes gaze upon the same scene; the field, the players, lights and glitz. But not all eyes see the same game. The same could be said of efforts to keep the San Diego Chargers in the San Diego region. It is halftime and adjustments are definitely in order, the second half could be intense.

Studies will soon be released which address the possible development of stadiums at locations in Chula Vista and Oceanside.

All potential sites embrace the idea of using large private residential and commercial development to subsidize a portion of the costs, but they depend on residential and commercial real estate markets. Today’s residential market is in the toilet, construction costs are skyrocketing, local governments have less revenue and are tightening their belts. Cities are hard pressed to give away any value, whether lowering leasing or land costs, waiving fees, or providing access. All this has meant costs of a new stadium have risen from $400 million a few years ago to more than $1 Billion today.

Oceanside offers some public land and a smaller site. The financing may require the involvement of the City and County of San Diego working together or to perhaps lead a regional Joint Power’s Authority to spread public help throughout the region. That’s like asking the Capulet’s and Montague’s to swap spit. Don’t get me wrong – that first date will probably need to happen.

Chula Vista’s eastern location offers some public land as part of a regional University. The land is plentiful but one of the only public highways connecting the site will be a toll-road.

Bay-front sites in Chula Vista bring special hurdles. First, changing the character of a large master plan – five years in the making – may to say the least, ruffle some feathers among a delicate coalition of supporters. Environmental issues and a power plant mean state regulators and the Coastal Commission must sign-off. They’re a tough crowd, trust me-I know.

Meanwhile, esteemed leaders of the regional establishment and captains of industry in San Diego, have quietly been preparing a plan to salvage a new stadium concept at the Mission Valley site while bailing out and removing an awkward Sports Arena in the Midway District.

A lot happening, all without real progress exploring region-wide public partnership, or talking straight to the citizens of this region, who must make the same decision those ticket holders do every game or every season – public partnership for the glory of this game – or not. Dean Spanos told me once very directly – “It’s a business, plain and simple.” His family has not achieved the successes they have by seeing it otherwise, nor by beating around the bush.

I’m a fan, and a native of San Diego. I want them here in our region, and hope we will work collaboratively to help make it happen. Most of all, I want our regional leaders to include this topic in the conversation now and not later – and stop trying to pretend that no public partnership will be necessary – because it most likely will be.

So sit back, feast your eyes on the games, as the season gets under way. And keep one on what’s happening in the backfield.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at: spadilla@aquariusgroup.org

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