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San Diego Union-Tribune

NORBERTO SANTANA JR. & CAITLIN ROTHER

City wants to see Chargers' books | NFL included in council's demand after trigger notice

March 6, 2003

Abstract:
Under the Chargers' 1995 lease with the city, the team can force a renegotiation once every four years until 2020 if player salaries cross a threshold linked to NFL revenues. Once a trigger notice is delivered, city leaders have 90 days to negotiate with the Chargers, and team owners have the right to seek offers from other cities.

Councilman Ralph Inzunza Jr. said he supports going ahead with negotiations but wouldn't hesitate to take the Chargers to court if necessary. Councilman Charles Lewis also favored beginning talks, but discouraged any legal challenge.

Councilman Jim Madaffer said he would support beginning negotiations after March 18, but only if the Chargers agree to repay the debt on the Qualcomm Stadium renovation, eliminate the ticket guarantee and refund every dime the city has paid under that provision, which requires the city to pay the team revenue equivalent to 60,000 tickets for every home game.

Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Mar 6, 2003

Editions vary

The city of San Diego demanded access to financial records yesterday from the Chargers and the National Football League, giving the team until Wednesday to back up claims that it can trigger a renegotiation clause in its lease.

The City Attorney's Office made the demand in a letter sent the day after Mayor Dick Murphy was handed a trigger notice while the City Council was meeting in closed session.

In the letter, Assistant City Attorney Les Girard also asked the team's attorney to define how the team will approach negotiations, which are expected to begin after the council hears from its Chargers task force March 18.

The council also is expected that day to hire attorneys, sports consultants and accounting firms to protect the city's interests in the trigger talks. The team also has hired a lobbying firm.

Under the Chargers' 1995 lease with the city, the team can force a renegotiation once every four years until 2020 if player salaries cross a threshold linked to NFL revenues. Once a trigger notice is delivered, city leaders have 90 days to negotiate with the Chargers, and team owners have the right to seek offers from other cities.

The Chargers have said they need a new stadium to remain financially competitive, which is why they want to renegotiate their contract or be allowed to move to another city.

Last week, a council-appointed task force recommended that the city start negotiating with the team and consider leasing the 166- acre Qualcomm Stadium site to the Chargers as long as the team pays for the $400 million stadium project on its own.

But council support for starting negotiations on a new stadium appears to have dampened significantly since Tuesday's announcement by the Chargers.

"It appears that it's gone beyond any hope of negotiating" for any kind of stadium deal that involves taxpayer money or public land, said Councilman Brian Maienschein, who put himself in "the hard-liners' camp."

And although most City Council members said yesterday that they still want to hear the report, due today, from the Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues, many said its contents seem far less important now.

"It seems the message that's been sent is not one that's very encouraging in really trying to work something out," Councilman Scott Peters said.

Councilman Michael Zucchet said the city should fulfill its obligations to respond to the team's triggering, but do no more than that.

"The Chargers think the language means, `We trigger, so let's talk about a new stadium,' " Zucchet said. "I certainly don't see it that way."

Councilwoman Donna Frye said she would be open to renegotiating the contract -- including a new stadium -- but not until the Chargers can prove they have met conditions required to do so.

"First, we have to find out if they can trigger, and if they can, then we negotiate," Frye said. "Otherwise, enforce the current contract, which is very simple: Stay, play and pay."

Some council members called for the city to proceed cautiously in dealing with the team.

"We want to negotiate, but I think that we also are under the dark cloud of having to prepare for potential litigation at the same time," Councilwoman Toni Atkins said.

Councilman Ralph Inzunza Jr. said he supports going ahead with negotiations but wouldn't hesitate to take the Chargers to court if necessary. Councilman Charles Lewis also favored beginning talks, but discouraged any legal challenge.

"I don't think we should retaliate," Lewis said. "This is going to be a long process. It's like a boxing match. You don't throw all your big punches in the first round."

Councilman Jim Madaffer said he would support beginning negotiations after March 18, but only if the Chargers agree to repay the debt on the Qualcomm Stadium renovation, eliminate the ticket guarantee and refund every dime the city has paid under that provision, which requires the city to pay the team revenue equivalent to 60,000 tickets for every home game.

The Chargers' action also has soured traditionally supportive business leaders and sports boosters.

"The trigger has created significant confusion and concern among the Charger supporters in the business community," said Ron Fowler, a founding member of the Fans, Taxpayers and Business Alliance, which formed last week to spur stadium talks.

"We disagree with their (the Chargers') approach," Fowler said.

Tuesday's trigger notice also eroded support among San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce board members.

"It's safe to assume that some members of the board probably were not happy about the Chargers' move," said Mitch Mitchell, vice president of the chamber.

Mitchell said the chamber also decided last week to back away from supporting the Chargers' concept of funding a new, $400 million stadium through redevelopment of the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site. The team failed to provide enough financial and planning details, he said.

"There needed to be some meat on the bone," Mitchell said. "Unless you get that meat, we could not make a statement."

Mark Fabiani, a Chargers spokesman, said the team recognized that the decision to trigger wouldn't be popular, regardless of the timing.

Fabiani said that from Saturday to Tuesday, he sought advice from business and city leaders on how and when to trigger. Most told him the team should wait until after the council's March 18 public hearing on the citizens task force report.

"That was a common piece of advice we received," Fabiani said. But, he added, "We're not always going to agree with everybody who supports us."

Norberto Santana: (619) 718-5069; norberto.santana@uniontrib.com

Rother: (619) 542-4567; caitlin.rother@uniontrib.com


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