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San Diego Union-Tribune

NORBERTO SANTANA JR. & RAY HUARD

Chargers apply trigger clause; council members rip decision

March 5, 2003

Abstract:
"The Chargers' action is a slap in the face of the Chargers task force, who put in hundreds of hours, the San Diego City Council and the people of San Diego," Mayor Dick Murphy said. "I am personally outraged.

[Dean Spanos] sent letters yesterday to the City Council and season- ticket holders, and took out a full-page ad in today's Union- Tribune. In the letter to fans, Spanos called the trigger notice "the agreed upon process for finding a way to ensure the future of the Chargers and the Super Bowl in San Diego."

Murphy's reaction was a departure from how the mayor has handled the Chargers issue since it emerged nearly a year ago, when the team threatened to leave San Diego for Los Angeles unless the team had a stadium built. Murphy has preached patience, urging the Chargers and others to avoid confrontation as the task force worked to find a way to meet the team's desire for a stadium.



Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Mar 5, 2003

Editions vary | For chart see microfilm.

The San Diego Chargers yesterday activated a trigger clause that allows the team to shop itself to other cities.

The decision angered the mayor, prompted talk of lawsuits and had City Council members questioning the team's commitment to stay in San Diego.

The team's action came two days before the council is to receive a final report from a task force that recommends the city talk to the team about a new stadium.

A hearing on the report has been scheduled for March 18, but the council also will probably be hiring a law firm that day to represent the city against the Chargers.

"The Chargers' action is a slap in the face of the Chargers task force, who put in hundreds of hours, the San Diego City Council and the people of San Diego," Mayor Dick Murphy said. "I am personally outraged.

"My guess is they either don't care or they have the most inept public relations operation in San Diego. What they've done is probably the most counterproductive that they could do."

Chargers President Dean Spanos tried to downplay the relocation implications of the trigger notice, saying the team doesn't intend to talk to other cities.

Under the team's 1995 lease of Qualcomm Stadium with the city, the Chargers can reopen negotiations once every four years until 2020 if they meet a financial formula balancing player salaries against National Football League revenues.

The 60-day notification window normally opens Dec. 1, but the City Council and the Chargers agreed this year to delay it to March 1 so the Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues could complete its work.

Spanos sent letters yesterday to the City Council and season- ticket holders, and took out a full-page ad in today's Union- Tribune. In the letter to fans, Spanos called the trigger notice "the agreed upon process for finding a way to ensure the future of the Chargers and the Super Bowl in San Diego."

"While the Chargers have the ability under the lease to have discussions with other cities, we have no intention of talking to any other city as we begin a negotiation process with the City of San Diego," Spanos wrote.

Mark Fabiani, special counsel to Spanos, said the offer to talk exclusively to San Diego is not legally binding. It also is not mentioned in the formal notification sent by the Chargers' attorney to the city.

"There's nothing more at this point we could do," Fabiani said.

The chairman of the task force questioned how the team handled its announcement.

"The Chargers have made the situation much more difficult," said David Watson, an attorney and a former planning commissioner. "They've taken a controversial process and made it confrontational. This city now will be forced to exercise its rights and remedies under the existing contract and prepare for litigation."

Watson said Fabiani called him Monday to ask about how to handle the trigger notice.

Watson said he advised against triggering, but he told Fabiani, "if they felt they absolutely had to, they should do it after the City Council hearing, they should include a commitment not to negotiate with any other cities and offer to immediately suspend all deadlines so the city didn't have to gear up for litigation."

"None of those are actually in the formal trigger notice," Watson said. "It tells me that the city is going to have to prepare to challenge the actual trigger notice."

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, which supports the Chargers' stadium drive, tried to stay positive, despite the outrage expressed by Murphy and others.

"It will be incumbent on the council to keep the discussion moving in the appropriate direction regarding the future of the Chargers in the city of San Diego," said Mitch Mitchell, a vice president at the chamber. "Ultimately, you have to put aside all the emotional issues regarding what's good for the city, the citizens and the region in the short and long term."

Murphy said the city would not negotiate with the Chargers until after the March 18 public hearing.

The city will now focus on auditing the Chargers' books, Murphy said, and hiring "outside counsel to be prepared if this goes to litigation (so) that we have our own gladiators."

Murphy's reaction was a departure from how the mayor has handled the Chargers issue since it emerged nearly a year ago, when the team threatened to leave San Diego for Los Angeles unless the team had a stadium built. Murphy has preached patience, urging the Chargers and others to avoid confrontation as the task force worked to find a way to meet the team's desire for a stadium.

Council members were unanimous in criticizing the team's decision:

Jim Madaffer: "What idiots. This is a real slap to the citizens of San Diego. I'm disappointed, disgusted and still question whether they can trigger in the first place. The ink is barely dry with the task force's report and they pull this stunt. Have they just been stringing us along?"

Brian Maienschein: "I think it's a real slap in the face to the work of the task force. They couldn't even wait until the task force issued its final report or came to the City Council. It just really has the appearance of their continued disregard for working out a solution."

Donna Frye: "I think they have no respect for the people of San Diego or the process. We should be taking all legal actions necessary to protect the city's and taxpayers' legal interests."

Toni Atkins: "I don't understand their public strategy. . . . It makes me wonder about the (Chargers') respect for the process and whether there is a good-faith effort."

Ralph Inzunza Jr.: "I think the Chargers want to put us in a crisis mode, and I think they want to squeeze us into a deal. . . . I think this will backfire on them."

Michael Zucchet: "The city should look at all the means at our disposal to enforce the existing contract. Looking at their books is just the tip of the iceberg."

Scott Peters: "I'm dumbfounded by the Chargers' public relations strategy. . . . It's really difficult to reconcile this strategy with the statements they've made -- that they want to stay in San Diego."

Now that the team has invoked the trigger, a 90-day window opens where the the city and Chargers can renegotiate, and the team can begin shopping itself to other cities. If no agreement is reached by June 4, an 18-month window opens in which the team can continue talking to other cities and San Diego retains a 90-day window to match any offers.

Over the past year, Chargers officials say, they have been courted twice by stadium developers in Los Angeles. Most recently, attention has focused on Pasadena and renovating the Rose Bowl, with Pasadena officials working to build support among NFL owners.

San Diego's citizens task force rejected a team proposal to have the city pay for half of a $400 million stadium redevelopment project. Instead, the panel recommended the city lease the 166- acre Qualcomm Stadium site to the Chargers, with team owners bearing the costs of a new stadium. The panel said no general-fund money should be used and recommended restricting public investment to stadium-related improvements such as roads and parks.

In his letter to the council, Spanos said the team is prepared to begin exploring the possibility of having the Chargers "pay for 100 percent of the cost of a new stadium."



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