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San Diego Union-Tribune

CAITLIN ROTHER

Task force will travel to Denver for game | Members call trip essential; foe says wrong message sent

September 14, 2002

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Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Sep 14, 2002

A San Diego task force has voted to send its members to Denver next month to tour the new football stadium, talk to city officials about how the project was funded and then watch the Chargers play the Broncos.

Of the 14 members of the Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues at Thursday night's meeting, 11 voted to take the trip at taxpayer expense on Oct. 5 and 6. Three voted against it and one member was absent.

For those in favor, the trip represented an important part of due diligence as they gather information to decide whether the city should donate public resources to help the Chargers build a stadium. The panel must submit a recommendation to the City Council by Feb. 15.

The Chargers contend they cannot be economically competitive with other National Football League teams in Qualcomm Stadium, which the city spent $78 million to renovate in 1997.

"I think it's important that all members of the committee see, feel and touch every single document, but by the same token, (see) what people are talking about regarding these new structures," said Joe Martinez, an architect on the task force. Chairman David Watson and members Bruce Henderson and Tim Considine voted against the trip. Yesterday, Watson said he did not see it as necessary and questioned the legitimacy of its cost to taxpayers. Henderson expressed concerns about sending the wrong message to the public and, for that reason, does not intend to participate.

"To go now seems to send a very clear message to the people that we've already made a decision that Qualcomm isn't adequate," Henderson, the task force's most vocal Chargers critic, said yesterday. "I think we need to thoroughly examine the issues regarding Qualcomm before we buy into the Spanoses' and the NFL's argument."

Watson, who also served on one of two Padres task forces that studied whether the city should build the downtown Padres ballpark, said he purposely did not go on a fact-finding trip to Cleveland for the same reason he voted against this one. But now that a majority of Chargers task force members have voted to go to Denver, he said, "I'm going to go and participate enthusiastically."

The task force has a $180,000 budget, about $20,000 of which has been set aside for such a trip, according to Deputy City Manager Bruce Herring, who recommended the venture to the panel.

Herring, who hosted the ballpark task force trips to Denver and Cleveland in 1997, yesterday said they were valuable because they showed panel members what a ballpark could do for a city.

Fred Baranowski, who was a member of both Padres task forces, took both trips as well as a venture to Baltimore, organized by the Padres.

He said the excursions were "absolutely valuable" because they allowed panel members to talk to city officials, team representatives and fans so as to get the full spectrum of opinions on the new ballparks.

Baranowski, president of United Way's local chapter, said the city paid for the Cleveland trip, but the committee members paid their own way to Denver and Baltimore.

"Only by going to these cities and finding things out were we really able to ascertain the pros and cons of new ballparks in those communities," he said.

Attorney Mike Aguirre, a frequent critic of the city's dealings with the Chargers, disagreed. For him, the trip is "completely improper" and no more than publicly subsidized entertainment for panel members.

"They haven't even decided whether it's appropriate to build another stadium and they're already out shopping for one," he said yesterday.

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



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