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San Diego Union-Tribune

TIM SULLIVAN

No escaping inevitable clash of Chargers, City

November 1, 2002

Abstract:

Mark Fabiani's language is evasive. His tone is cheerful. The Chargers' political consultant, the sultan of spin, is at work on a proposal designed to woo a wary public.

One month before the Chargers' 60-day triggering window officially opens, Fabiani peers through the glass and sees progress. Stadium watchdog Bruce Henderson looks at the same landscape with dread.

One of the arguments its members are advancing is that even if the Chargers are able to exercise the trigger, the contract allows them only limited leverage. Depending on how the contract is read, the City's obligation to "negotiate in good faith to offset the impact on the Chargers of the triggering event," could mean cutting a comparatively small check to cover the shortfall instead of building a new stadium.

Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Nov 1, 2002

The language is lawyerly. The tone is tempered. The Contracts Committee of the Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues has drafted a playbook long on logic and short on screeching.

But the preliminary version that was in circulation yesterday anticipates the Chargers exercising their renegotiation trigger/ escape clause and it advises San Diego's elected leaders to be prepared to bargain, to litigate, to battle.

"I don't think it's as easy for the Chargers to move as they may want the public to think," Task Force chairman David Watson said. "Litigation is risky, but it's foolish not to enforce your rights."

Mark Fabiani's language is evasive. His tone is cheerful. The Chargers' political consultant, the sultan of spin, is at work on a proposal designed to woo a wary public.

He envisions a new football stadium in Mission Valley, one that enriches the City as well as his employer. He is not at all interested in talking about triggers.

"The big picture is looking more and more promising," Fabiani said last night. "I think everyone is coalescing around the notion that you can do something for the site that makes sense for the entire community."

"As for people who are talking about litigation, enjoy the football season, keep an open mind."

To which Task Force member Bill Largent replies: "I've talked to (Fabiani) several times. Nice fella. But I think he's pretty optimistic."

One month before the Chargers' 60-day triggering window officially opens, Fabiani peers through the glass and sees progress. Stadium watchdog Bruce Henderson looks at the same landscape with dread.

Forecasting the future of the local pro football franchise is an exercise in exasperation. There are still too many variables for confident computation.

"It's like a tennis match in a way because the ball's going back and forth so many times," task force member Geoff Patnoe said. "Overnight, something could shift the balance."

Most of the blame lies with our noisy neighbor to the north. Twice deserted by the National Football League, still lacking a state-of-the-art stadium, a veritable hotbed of apathy, Los Angeles nonetheless retains a passel of potential suitors.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, eager to create some impetus for construction and/or relocation, Wednesday said the league would consider awarding a Super Bowl to a renovated Rose Bowl -- even without an NFL tenant. In an earlier effort to engage L.A.'s interest, Tagliabue raised the possibility of expansion.

Al Davis, the managing general nuisance of the Oakland Raiders, has reasserted his legal claim to the L.A. market and found a court willing to consider it. Davis' claim may be preposterous -- can a divorced man demand fidelity from a former wife? -- but when it comes to the franchise game, Davis believes in bigamy.

Both the Chargers and the Indianapolis Colts have declined to commit to their current cities beyond the 2003 season. Both teams have been accused of casting covetous looks at L.A. Both teams have leases with loopholes.

Everyone knows L.A. will eventually land another team, but identifying its source is tricky. Should a new stadium ever get built there, the competition to occupy it could make the Oklahoma Land Rush seem downright dignified.

But until that happens, it's possible to believe everyone's bluffing, that the Chargers want to cut a new deal in Mission Valley because they have no better place to go. It's also possible to believe that they're already headed out the door; that moving training camp to Carson was but the first step in a carefully orchestrated exit strategy.

Consultant Mark Rosentraub told the Task Force last week not to worry, that his analysis indicated the team would not meet the conditions necessary to revisit their lease this year.

"These conversations can take place without fear of unilateral action by the San Diego Chargers or a requirement to renegotiate," he wrote.

Rosentraub's opinion was promptly contradicted by other experts. The Task Force's Contracts Committee continues to operate on the premise that there's a problem.

One of the arguments its members are advancing is that even if the Chargers are able to exercise the trigger, the contract allows them only limited leverage. Depending on how the contract is read, the City's obligation to "negotiate in good faith to offset the impact on the Chargers of the triggering event," could mean cutting a comparatively small check to cover the shortfall instead of building a new stadium.

"If we're $20 over the triggering event, we give them $20," Watson said.

The safest prediction is that the lawyers will get rich.

Tim Sullivan: (619) 293-1033; tim.sullivan@uniontrib.com



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