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San Diego Union-Tribune

DON BAUDER

Questions better than answers at Chargers meeting

January 18, 2003

Abstract:
I couldn't help ruminating on that profound truth Thursday night at a meeting of the Chargers task force, as Chargers spinmeister Mark Fabiani declared that the city's $200 million contribution to a new stadium for the team would not cost the taxpayers a thing and would not touch the general fund.

The Chargers want to be considerate to their neighbors. "New stadiums are designed to control noise," claimed [Mark Steele]. Yeah. The Denver Broncos' new digs were deliberately designed to maximize noise to frustrate opposing quarterbacks.

One ardent supporter of a Chargers subsidy denounced "naysayers and obstructionists" who think owners should pay for their own stadiums. (We obstructionists, who opposed the 60,000-seat guarantee, and said that the proposed development to pay for the ballpark would not come through, keep wondering why the pro- corporate-welfare crowd keeps using that pejorative "obstructionists.")



Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Jan 18, 2003

Mark Twain defined a gold mine as a hole in the ground with a liar on the top.

I couldn't help ruminating on that profound truth Thursday night at a meeting of the Chargers task force, as Chargers spinmeister Mark Fabiani declared that the city's $200 million contribution to a new stadium for the team would not cost the taxpayers a thing and would not touch the general fund.

"Brand-new sources of revenue are trapped under the asphalt" of the Qualcomm site, quoth Fabiani.

It will be transformed into housing, office buildings, retail buildings and a hotel that will magically throw off property, transient occupancy and sales taxes sufficient to pay for the stadium.

We heard that with the ballpark, too. Whatever happened to all those buildings, anyway? And we heard that the Qualcomm Stadium makeover of 1997 was to pay for itself, too.

Yesterday, I called two prominent sports economists, and asked them if taxes from new development have ever, anywhere, at any time paid for a new stadium.

"No," said Rodney D. Fort, professor of economics at Washington State University, and author of the new textbook Sports Economics. "The idea that there would be no cost to the general fund -- I have yet to find that in a publicly financed facility."

He is aware of San Diego's problem with financing the ballpark, as well as the 60,000-seat guarantee fiasco. "Fool me once," he chuckled, and he didn't have to finish the aphorism.

"No," agreed Dennis Coates, an economics professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "Nobody has actually done that. They just come up with the money from elsewhere."

Among many things, the supposed new tax money -- if it eventuates -- has to go to provide infrastructure and service support for the new structures themselves.

And at Thursday's meeting, Fabiani had to admit that the Chargers' new plan has not yet taken infrastructure costs into account. Nor have the team's planners studied day-to-day costs, such as for fire and police protection.

Also, "The traffic issue hasn't been dealt with," confessed an architect on the project, Mark Steele. Parking? "It's something we will have to work through." Hmmm.

But the Chargers want to be considerate to their neighbors. "New stadiums are designed to control noise," claimed Steele. Yeah. The Denver Broncos' new digs were deliberately designed to maximize noise to frustrate opposing quarterbacks.

The task force had asked the team for its financial information: Can it show that it is at a competitive disadvantage because it is playing at Qualcomm Stadium? The team refused to provide the information. Nor would it turn over details on a marketing study it purportedly did.

Several task force members wondered whether, if the development would be such a wonderful deal, the A.G. Spanos Cos., one of the nation's largest apartment developers, would be willing to take on the risk.
"We're not interested in being the developer," said Fabiani, although if the city wanted it, "We would be open-minded." Hmmm.
Generally, most task force members did a good job raising penetrating questions about this obviously ill-conceived proposal.
Occasionally, emotions got away.
Patti Roscoe denounced the "fear tactics of gloom and doomers" who believe public money should be spent on schools and infrastructure, rather than on subsidizing billionaires' stadiums. But then, Roscoe's travel business is making money off the Super Bowl, and she is president of the San Diego International Sports Council, the group that earlier had an equally unworkable proposal for development of the Qualcomm site.

The public had its input. One supporter of a Chargers subsidy lamented that he had heard one person say that in light of the state's massive budgetary shortfall and the threat of curtailing important services in financially strapped San Diego, the city should shelve the project.

"That's heinous," he thundered. Heinous? Sounds sane to me.

One ardent supporter of a Chargers subsidy denounced "naysayers and obstructionists" who think owners should pay for their own stadiums. (We obstructionists, who opposed the 60,000-seat guarantee, and said that the proposed development to pay for the ballpark would not come through, keep wondering why the pro- corporate-welfare crowd keeps using that pejorative "obstructionists.")

The supporter waxed poetic: "Sunday is a day for spiritual endeavor and a day for football," chanted he. "The Chargers are a local religion."

That about summed up the intellectual tenor of the meeting.

Don Bauder: (619) 293-1523; don.bauder@uniontrib.com

 



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