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San Diego Union-Tribune

Foolhardy move | Chargers alienate community by triggering

March 6, 2003

Abstract:
If, in fact, the Chargers are fully committed to staying in San Diego, why exercise the exit trigger at all? The team asserts that, in order to avoid lawsuits by litigious opponents of a new stadium, the trigger had to be pulled as a requirement for opening negotiations with the city. That view is not shared by the City Attorney's Office or other legal experts who say there is nothing to prevent the city and the team from holding talks without invoking the exit clause in the lease.

In spite of the Chargers' self-inflicted public relations blunder, we believe most San Diegans still recognize the team as a civic asset that should be preserved, provided it is done in a fiscally responsible manner. In the end, any deal must be approved by a majority of voters. Lamentably, the Chargers' decision to invoke the exit clause has alienated many of the very voters who will determine the team's future in San Diego.

Full Text:
The San Diego Union - Tribune; San Diego, Calif.; Mar 6, 2003;

By abruptly triggering the exit clause in their lease with the city, the Chargers have done incalculable injury to the already uncertain future of NFL football in San Diego -- and to the team's own self-interests. The risk now is that this foolhardy move will sabotage what had become a promising process aimed at building a new stadium and keeping the team here in a fiscally responsible way.

The decision to trigger prematurely the lease provisions allowing the team to court other cities is seen as an affront to San Diegans - - and, in particular, to the Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues. Only last week the panel, after months of diligent work, recommended a broad outline for redevelopment of the sprawling Qualcomm site in a way that would benefit both the team and the taxpayers.

Even mild-mannered Mayor Dick Murphy expressed outrage at the Chargers' move, and rightly so. Quite predictably, San Diegans in droves questioned whether owner Dean Spanos was acting in good faith in claiming he does not "intend to engage in discussions with other cities." Could it be a question of semantics?

If, in fact, the Chargers are fully committed to staying in San Diego, why exercise the exit trigger at all? The team asserts that, in order to avoid lawsuits by litigious opponents of a new stadium, the trigger had to be pulled as a requirement for opening negotiations with the city. That view is not shared by the City Attorney's Office or other legal experts who say there is nothing to prevent the city and the team from holding talks without invoking the exit clause in the lease.

In response to the Chargers' move, the city now has an obligation to determine whether, as a legal matter, the team actually has met the contractural requirements for pulling the trigger. Under its lease with the city, the team can do so only if it satisfies specified criteria related to its payroll and those of other teams. The city will need the help of independent auditors in this endeavor. If the team wants to avoid a nasty confrontation that could sour its chances of ever getting a new stadium here, it must comply promptly and fully with the city's request for payroll figures and other data.

On a parallel track, however, the city and the Chargers should begin negotiations within the guidelines spelled out by the citizens task force. The panel's comprehensive recommendations constitute a very sensible path toward resolving the dilemma shared by the team and the city. On March 18, when the City Council takes up this issue, members should resist the temptation to engage in an orgy of Charger-bashing and instead focus resolutely on what serves the long- term interests of San Diego. Prolonging the current negative atmosphere would only make negotiations between the city and the team more difficult.

In spite of the Chargers' self-inflicted public relations blunder, we believe most San Diegans still recognize the team as a civic asset that should be preserved, provided it is done in a fiscally responsible manner. In the end, any deal must be approved by a majority of voters. Lamentably, the Chargers' decision to invoke the exit clause has alienated many of the very voters who will determine the team's future in San Diego.



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