San Diego's growing reputation for secret city deals with those financially linked to GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer is unlikely to be dispelled by the latest news from the Qualcomm Stadium front.
The trend first received public exposure in January when a controversial eight-figure lease-purchase office space deal reached by the mayor with campaign funder Steven Black of Cisterra Development was called out by independent budget analyst Andrea Tevlin.
"Our office has concerns about the manner in which this item was brought forward, especially considering [the] size and long-term nature of the commitment associated with staff’s recommended actions," said Tevlin's January 23 report.
Tevlin added, "There has not been any opportunity for the City Council to publicly ask questions of staff on this proposal, to direct staff to provide additional information or details, or to suggest amendments to the proposal."
More eyebrows were raised the same month with news that Faulconer's top political consultant Jason Roe and his newly minted lobbying business Presidio Public Affairs had landed a whale of a client in the form of Delaware North, the giant food-and-beverage service contractor for professional sports venues.
According to Presidio's January 16 disclosure statement filed with the city clerk's office, the firm was retained to lobby for "Delaware North to be selected as the concessionaire for Qualcomm Stadium."
The stadium's lucrative food-and-beverage contract, previously held by Centerplate, has expired and the city's search for a successor has drawn interest from an array of food-service industry contenders.
In addition to being Faulconer's political eyes and ears — and, some say, brain — Roe has been tightly involved with the mayor's behind-the-scenes efforts to come up with a new venue to dissuade the Chargers from leaving town.
The consultant's combined lobbying and policy roles have drawn questions from Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani.
"What legal and ethical issues are raised by Mr. Roe's dual role as an apparent de facto Task Force member and as a registered lobbyist for the Delaware North company?" asked Fabiani in a February 17 letter to the mayor.
"Putting the legal and ethical issues aside for a moment, what sense does it make to have someone who is your chief advisor on political matters, and who advises a potential stadium vendor on business matters, play any sort of role with the 'independent' Task Force?"
Continued Fabiani, "Have you asked the City Attorney for an opinion on the propriety of Mr. Roe's intensive involvement with the Task Force's work? If you have not yet asked for such an opinion from the City Attorney, do you intend to do so?" The mayor did not respond.
Roe countered with a statement saying, "In 14 years of failure, Mark Fabiani has done nothing but make excuses, lay blame, and pick fights," but did not address the conflict of interest allegations.
Now comes word via U-T San Diego, owned by Faulconer financial backer and Republican kingpin Doug Manchester, that Delaware North has begun "exclusive negotiations" with the city for the new Qualcomm food-and-beverage deal.
"Delaware North made a very aggressive offer, we’re going to see if we can make this happen," the paper quoted Qualcomm stadium manager Mike McSweeney as saying. The story continued, "McSweeney said Centerplate was the next best bidder, so if talks break down it could keep its contract."
While the terms of the proposed deal remain under wraps, they could ultimately mean higher booze and food prices for stadium-goers. And there is a question of how far the city will go in giving Delaware North the right of first refusal on a lucrative new meal-and-alcohol concession for a replacement pro-football venue, should one ever materialize.
Inside observers question whether Faulconer, given his campaign's longstanding financial and personal relationship with Roe, is in a position to be tough enough with Delaware North to extract the kind of financial concessions that in other cities have been used to finance venue improvements and in some cases help pay for new stadiums.
According to an August 2012 report in the San Jose Mercury News, Centerplate's $6.8 million annual food-and-beverage deal at the new 49ers Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara produced $1 million for venue construction.
In Chicago, Philadelphia-based food-service company Aramark Sports & Entertainment Services LLC also agreed to provide cash for capital improvements, according to a May 2013 report in Crain's Chicago Business.
"As a part of the agreement, Aramark will invest $10 million in upgrades to Soldier Field to be used in concession points of sale and other improvements to be determined as the company finalizes terms of its agreement with the Bears in the coming weeks," says the account.
Whether the city, negotiating behind closed doors, will attempt to wring cash out of Delaware North to finance Faulconer's currently shaky Qualcomm replacement effort remains unknown, as does the amount Roe has been getting from Delaware North for his services.