In a Q&A session through email Wednesday, Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani sounded off on the future of the team in San Diego, his thoughts on Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the stadium debacle. He didn’t mince words.
10News: Were there any specific pieces of the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group proposal the Chargers brass liked?
Mark Fabiani: Unfortunately, the CSAG process turned out largely to be a waste of five months – five months that we will never get back; lost time that, as it turns out, will likely prevent the city from placing any legally valid ballot measure before voters in 2015. We expressed our concern about the appointment of CSAG in January, and warned that time was likely to run out on the city. And here we are.
10News: From a financial standpoint, moving to L.A. seems like the right decision. What argument would you make for why the Chargers should stay here? What incentive do they have to stay?
Fabiani: The team has a long history in the community, and the team’s ownership has tried for 14 years to find a solution in San Diego. That remains the team’s top priority, even though the L.A. market is, of course, far more lucrative – and always has been more lucrative for each of the last 14 years. So, if this were purely a financial decision, the Chargers would have relocated long ago.
10News: In recent months, it seems we’ve heard a great deal about what the Chargers don’t think will work, such as Personal Seat Licenses. From the team’s perspective, what are the broad strokes of a tangible, viable plan?
Fabiani: We presented just such a plan for a combined stadium/convention center expansion downtown, and the plan was rejected by the city of San Diego. This was the ninth different stadium plan suggested by the Chargers over the last 14 years.
10News: When the Chargers faced the Patriots on Sunday Night Football last season, the ratio of Bolts to New England fans was something like 60-40. It prompted Bill Belichick to say it felt “almost like a college game in a neutral site." The team has had an ongoing struggle to fill Qualcomm. Critics would argue these are signs football doesn't belong here. Are they right?
Fabiani: We have great fans. That’s all there is to it. And if some of our fans, in order to be able to afford their season seats, sell one or two of the most popular games a year to fans of the visiting team, that’s something that we can certainly understand.
10News: Regardless of when a potential vote takes place, from your experience, do you believe Mayor Faulconer is competent enough to broker a stadium deal and convince San Diegans to approve it?
Fabiani: We haven’t seen any evidence so far in our dealings with Mayor Faulconer that he is capable of managing such a complex project. Compared to the way the elected officials of Oakland and St. Louis have handled similar possible relocation situations, the San Diego mayor’s approach has been remarkably unsophisticated and, so far, singularly unsuccessful.
What’s more, the mayor’s track record while the councilman for the downtown area is not very promising either. As councilman, he was one of the biggest proponents of the ill-fated convention center expansion tax – a tax that the Chargers, among many others, predicted would be declared illegal.
The city, under then-Councilman Faulconer’s leadership, forged ahead anyway – and four years later and $10 million of wasted tax dollars later -- the Court of Appeals unanimously tossed out the tax, and now the city is left with no convention center expansion whatsoever.
In light of the mayor’s poor history of predicting legal outcomes, we hope fans will understand our position: the Chargers will never be part of the city’s legally dubious effort to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. City officials are of course free to drive themselves off the cliff into legal oblivion with a half-baked Environmental Impact Report, but the team has no intention of hitching itself to the city’s misguided, doomed scheme.
10News: What's your response to Charger supporters who say, "Why should I bother going to games next season? The team is gone."
Fabiani: The best reason to go to games is to watch some great professional football. And anyone who predicts what the NFL owners will ultimately do about relocation in 2015 or 2016 is guessing. There are still many important events that have yet to occur in this process.
10News: There's this dichotomy in sports. We saw it most recently with the Sacramento Kings. The Chargers have been here for more than 50 years. Fans feel a sense of ownership. Dean Spanos, however, has to do what's best for his business. At this point, what's weighing more on Spanos: loyalty or business?
Fabiani: We’ve been at this for 14 years in San Diego, with painfully little to show for it. So obviously Dean Spanos has been driven all these years primarily by loyalty, not by business considerations. At some point, though, you have to protect the future of your business. And that’s the situation we may be facing now, with another NFL owner making a move to take away most of our business that comes from Los Angeles and Orange counties.
10News: The Chargers are understandably concerned about the repercussions of rushing an environmental impact report for a new stadium. Is there a scenario in which the city could complete the EIR -- in time for the NFL owners’ vote – in a way that would meet your expectations?
Fabiani: The city attorney said in his Feb. 2, 2015, memorandum that an EIR on the stadium would take “12 -18 months” to complete and that the city “may not commit to a specific project before the CEQA process is completed.” Here is a copy of the City Attorney’s letter; take a look at the second-to-last paragraph:
“The City remains obligated to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. Unless exempted by state legislation, that process requires environmental review, consideration of alternatives (including “no project”) and public input. An EIR for a typical project takes about 12-18 months. The City may not commit to a specific project before the CEQA process is completed.”
The team’s position is simple: If the city is proposing to build a new stadium at the existing Mission Valley site, then it ought to be prepared to do what everyone else who has proposed a stadium in California has done – prepare a proper, legally defensible EIR. And it will take at least a year, under the best of circumstances, to do things right.