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San Diego Union-Tribune

NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

Council rejects private talks with Chargers

December 11, 2002

Abstract:
With the Chargers warning in recent months that they can easily meet the financial conditions to trigger the renegotiation clause in the lease, some observers felt that the council's refusal to talk signaled that the questions about the trigger would now only center on the "when."

"We could lose the Chargers. All because we weren't willing to talk," [Ralph Inzunza] said. "We're giving the Chargers no option but to pull the trigger."

Under the city's lease, the Chargers can activate the renegotiation clause once every four years if their salaries meet a certain bench mark. On Dec. 1, a 60-day window opened where the team could notify the city of its intention to "trigger" the clause.

Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Dec 11, 2002

The City Council last night rejected an offer from the Chargers to conduct private talks with city staff about scrapping San Diego's 1995 lease with the team.

A council majority in the 5-4 vote -- Donna Frye, Michael Zucchet, Jim Madaffer, Brian Maienschein and Toni Atkins -- declared that the age of private talks with sports teams is over.

"Let's be frank about it," Frye said in an impassioned plea to her colleagues to reject any private talks. "We're not just having friendly chats. This is the beginning of negotiations."

Noting that she had received 57 e-mails against any private talks, Frye concluded, "This is not supported by the public."

Quoting from one e-mail, Frye reminded Chargers' officials of a Rolling Stones lyric: "You can't always get what you want."

Last month, Chargers officials reiterated an offer made privately to Mayor Dick Murphy in May. They asked city officials to meet privately over the lease and seek ways to ensure a clean shot at a ballot measure in 2004 for a new stadium.

The offer included dropping the ticket guarantee and the team's renegotiation clause -- called the trigger -- in exchange for releasing the team from its commitment to stay in San Diego until 2020.

Earlier this month, Murphy and council members Scott Peters and Ralph Inzunza sent city staff a memo asking staff to start initial talks and report back yesterday. The staff sought official direction from the council to continue those talks.

Yesterday, Inzunza seemed to largely lead the effort on the council dais, shuttling between his colleagues and seeking support for his motion enabling further talks. Moments before Madaffer cast the swing vote against the proposal, Inzunza was pressing his case to Madaffer.

"He was working the floor," said Councilman Charles Lewis.

While Inzunza said he did not support allowing the Chargers out of their 20-year commitment to San Diego, he said enabling staff discussions with team officials had no downside.

"It doesn't hurt to sit down and talk," he said.

Murphy, Lewis and Councilman Scott Peters agreed with Inzunza.

Despite his distaste for the lease inherited from the past council, Peters said his experience as a lawyer led him to conclude that negotiation is better than litigation.

"It's a tremendously risky route and always worth avoiding," he said.

Yet several council members said the offer made them suspicious, especially since the Chargers had refused previous requests from the mayor and council to talk about the ticket guarantee, saying a deal's a deal.

Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani said the City Council's refusal to talk privately with team officials meant that "the city has fumbled away the last chance to eliminate the ticket guarantee and the trigger."

"The city's final refusal to talk has unfortunately left the Chargers with very few alternatives," Fabiani said.

Asked whether the team would continue to cooperate with the Citizen's Task Force on Chargers Issues, which was asked to explore ways of keeping the team in a fiscally responsible manner, Fabiani said, "We have to evaluate everything."

With the Chargers warning in recent months that they can easily meet the financial conditions to trigger the renegotiation clause in the lease, some observers felt that the council's refusal to talk signaled that the questions about the trigger would now only center on the "when."

"We could lose the Chargers. All because we weren't willing to talk," Inzunza said. "We're giving the Chargers no option but to pull the trigger."

Yet several task force members said the Chargers had many options that could enable them to mount a viable campaign toward a stadium and that fall well short of triggering the renegotiation clause.

"The ticket guarantee and the trigger are fully in control of the Chargers," said Task Force Chairman David Watson.

Under the city's lease, the Chargers can activate the renegotiation clause once every four years if their salaries meet a certain bench mark. On Dec. 1, a 60-day window opened where the team could notify the city of its intention to "trigger" the clause.

Once the trigger is activated, another 90-day window opens where the two sides must negotiate. The Chargers are allowed during that period to also talk to other cities.

If the two sides can't agree, then the Chargers get 18 months to actively shop the team to other cities, with San Diego retaining the right to match any offers during another 90-day negotiation window.

Some council members yesterday said they believe the Chargers have been bluffing all year long and can't meet the financial conditions. Even if they can, council members said they would force the team to prove its case before negotiating.

"I'm certainly not going to roll over for any sports team," Maienschein said.

Attorney Michael Aguirre invited the city to join his recent lawsuit against the Chargers, alleging that the team cannot prove that it has met the renegotiation conditions.

Aguirre said that a court should "let each side put on their best case." If after proving to a judge that they have met the financial conditions, then Aguirre said the two sides should promptly negotiate.

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



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