San Diego can hardly afford to plop $750 million or more into a subsidized football stadium for the Chargers. But increasingly, even opponents fear it may be inevitable. Former councilmember Bruce Henderson, a longtime battler against the pro sports scam, reluctantly concedes, “The only thing that will keep the people of San Diego from being skinned again is that the team really wants [to move to] Los Angeles. If the team wants to stay in San Diego, we are going to get skinned.”
The reason is that pro sports/political corruption is more deeply inculcated in the San Diego culture than any other hushed-up turpitude, including the underground circulation of laundered drug money and the hotel industry’s symbiotic relationship with hookers. Self-appointed civic boosters, who make sure that money is steered downtown instead of to run-down neighborhoods and rotting infrastructure, are at the root of this corruption, along with lavishly kept politicians and mainstream media.
Unfortunately, both Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner are flirting with the idea of a sports and entertainment district that would be used all year. Watch your wallet. DeMaio is looking at a public-private partnership, an arrangement that historically in San Diego has lined private pockets while picking taxpayer pockets.
Bob Filner can see a synergy between an expanded convention center and a stadium. But, vows Filner, “Taxpayers should not and will not be asked to subsidize this project.”
Filner approves of the state’s dismantling of Centre City Development Corporation, the group that makes sure money pours downtown. Filner wants to set up a neighborhood investment corporation that would thwart the money-hogging by downtown interests.
Is it any wonder that in June DeMaio raised more than three times as much money as Filner did? San Diego’s big money intends to buy this election for a candidate that will do its bidding.
Despite the bags of money at his disposal, DeMaio is behind in the polls. He favors a citizen vote on the stadium subsidy, but opponents will be outspent at least 100 to 1. Filner, if he wins, will face pressure from labor unions for a subsidized project. No matter which candidate wins, the stadium deal will be covertly wrapped up in an indecipherable package that will conceal costs. The contract will be “written so nobody can understand it, and it will be written that way on purpose,” says former councilmember Donna Frye, who has also fought the sports subsidy/downtown mendicants.
“When people step forward to challenge [the taxpayer fleecing], the character assassination will begin. That will keep others from speaking out,” says Frye, who has been the victim of the downtown boosters’ slanders. (In fact, she had a mayoral election stolen from her, so fearful were the downtown fixers that she would drop arsenic in their gravy train.)
The mainstream media guard the overlords’ gravy train. Voice of San Diego has been biting at Filner. U-T San Diego, of course, is boosting DeMaio and attacking Filner. At least the U-T’s bias is not concealed. As soon as owner “Papa Doug” Manchester and his lieutenant John Lynch took over, “They laid out the role of the paper and exactly what they were going to do. They said they will be cheerleaders for the Chargers,” notes Frye.
“I personally believe that if we vote for DeMaio, we get Manchester as mayor,” says Norma Damashek, former president of the League of Women Voters. And that means San Diego will get a stadium, whether or not it’s affordable.
Former city attorney Mike Aguirre says a stadium “is not a sure thing. Financially, I don’t see how it can be done.” A subsidized stadium can’t be justified on economics, business sense, social priorities, equity — “only on selfishness. And people are recognizing selfishness is not the way to proceed.”
But, historically, greed and political dishonesty have won out. In the 2000 mayoral race, Dick Murphy denounced the 1995 stadium deal with the Chargers. The City had foolishly guaranteed the team revenue equivalent to 60,000 seats per game. The team was making more money not selling tickets than selling them and was not doing marketing.
Murphy threatened to sue the Chargers. It appeared he was the candidate who would be tough on pro sports subsidies. Eventually, the City owed the team $36 million for those unsold seats. Voters were outraged. But when the Chargers said they would end the guarantee, Murphy, by then mayor, gave them a deal that would cost more than $90 million over 20 years and grant them a three-month window every year in which they could break their lease and skip town.
Similarly, in the 2004 election, Murphy chided challenger Ron Roberts for being too cozy with the Padres, their owner John Moores, and developers and labor unions that might get rich from the new ballpark. But after the Padres shut down construction of promised ancillary buildings, Murphy came up with a plan that deviated from the one voters had approved in 1998. The City would raid hotel-tax revenues earmarked for civic and cultural projects. Under Murphy’s watch, the Padres got away with numerous stunts that departed from initial promises.
Murphy ran in 2000 and 2004 as the candidate with moderate, sensible views on sports subsidies, but he changed course completely once in office. “Murphy was a nobody. That’s why [the establishment] put him there,” says Damashek.
And then, among many crooked things, there were the gifts — including highly remunerative stock tips — that Moores showered on Councilmember Valerie Stallings, who was providing him information. He got off completely and she got a light wrist slap. Moores described his generosity as “simple human kindness.” The establishment, choking back tears, marveled at his magnanimity. So did law enforcement, the judiciary, political leadership, and the mainstream media. ■