The Scandal That Is The Stadium

As Ronald Reagan might have said, there they go again. Seven years after then-San Diego mayor Susan Golding proclaimed on May 15, 1995, that she had engineered an ironclad contract to keep the Chargers in town until 2020, the team now demands a new stadium and threatens a move to Los Angeles. Is there a lesson in the history of the deal that has cost San Diego taxpayers millions of dollars and possibly the city's professional football team?

It is a history of secret city council meetings and broken promises. In 1997, citizens filed lawsuits and collected almost 50,000 signatures to put the deal on the ballot, only to see a superior court judge throw the referendum out. Then San Diegans were forced to watch as millions of tax dollars were spent on the contract's notorious ticket guarantee.

Ambitious politicos -- including Golding, City Attorney Casey Gwinn, Councilman Byron Wear, and Councilwoman Barbara Warden -- collected thousands of dollars in campaign funds from the Spanos family and others who stood to benefit from the ill-fated project. Although the controversy surrounding the deal is widely seen to have ended Susan Golding's political career and doused Wear's and Warden's mayoral hopes, others on the council who voted for it, including Juan Vargas and Christine Kehoe, have gone on to careers in the state assembly.

Today, Golding's successor, Dick Murphy, who campaigned in 2000 against the 1995 contract, is in the midst of the same kind of secret negotiations with the Chargers that begat the original deal. It seems fair to wonder whether the saga of Qualcomm Stadium and the Chargers, presented inside this issue in letters, clips, and transcripts, will be repeated.

May 1, 1995

Letter from Ron Fowler, president of the San Diego International Sports Council to San Diego city manager Jack McGrory:

Our pledge to the City of San Diego, and the citizens of San Diego, is to rally our forces and focus our energies and efforts to promote the sale of Chargers season tickets. We recognize the critical importance of this pledge, and we are prepared to work on a multi-year ticket sales campaign to increase home game general admission attendance to a minimum of 60,000 per game.

Please accept this letter as our endorsement of the ratification of the proposed lease agreement by the San Diego City Council. The San Diego International Sports Council is prepared to begin work immediately on this project.

May 15, 1995

Statement of Herb Klein, editor in chief of Copley Newspapers, which owns the Union-Tribune, to the San Diego City Council:

I just want to say two or three things. In our own newspaper we've enthusiastically supported this project. I was here when we first built the stadium, when we brought the Chargers here.

The amount we're really [going to] vote on today is a small part of what you get from just one Super Bowl.

To be a world-class cityyou need to have world-class sports, you need to have a world-class arena, and this is a major step in that time at a very key point.

I've had a working relationship with Mr. Tagliabue and Mr. Roselle for all of the years that both of 'em have been in office...and so one of the protections you have so you won't have gamblers or you won't have mobsters or whatever coming in as potential owners, number one, is that the Spanoses would not deal with such people, with the family they are.

May 15, 1995

Statement by Mayor Susan Golding to the San Diego City Council:

Teams in some instances leave in the middle of the night and then leave stadiums built at taxpayer expense empty. I feel that it is extremely important to approve this agreement with the Chargers.

The Chargers clearly are tough negotiators and wanted a great deal more than we were willing or I feel prudently could give. And I think this agreement is a compromise. It was a difficult negotiation, but this agreement secures -- and somehow in the media reports this seems to have been lost -- secures this franchise for the city of San Diego for another 17 years beyond the current lease. That is an extraordinary length of time in professional football today, and I think we cannot diminish in any way what that means.

May 16, 1995

Barry Bloom

San Diego Union-Tribune

Just moments after he had won hard-fought approval of a new Chargers lease and expansion of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium yesterday, Alex Spanos grabbed the microphone in City Council chambers to deliver a pep talk worthy of his football team.

"There's one major difference in all this," said Spanos, the club's majority owner. "Winning is everything. We all know that. The Chargers are committed and dedicated to not only going to the Super Bowl every year, but to winning the game when we get there."

San Diego gets the peace of mind that another city will not be able to steal its football team. Even a complicated clause in the lease tied to changing economics in the NFL would allow the city first right of refusal to match any outside offer the Chargers might obtain.

"I can't conceive what it would be like to see the Chargers leave," said Councilman Scott Harvey.

December 29, 1996

Don Bauder

San Diego Union-Tribune

Tomorrow, a citizens' group demanding a referendum on the planned expansion of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium will present the City Council with 50,000 signatures. We must have such a referendum. And when the Padres ask for a new stadium, as they will, that must go to referendum, too.

The city's 1995 stadium enhancement deal with the Chargers was capped at $60 million. At some point between August and November of this year, the cap grew to $78 million, says J. Bruce Henderson, head of the pro-referendum group. Therefore, the 1995 deal is null and void, he says.

City Manager Jack McGrory says that $7 million of the additional $18 million results from costs of Henderson and his confreres battling the first deal in court. However, $11 million comes from "increases in the scope of the project," he allows.

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