Houston Texans owner Bob McNair made substantial waves in San Diego this week by blasting the mayor and city council's failure to come up with a sufficiently gold-plated stadium proposal to keep the Chargers in town.
"At one time, half the council went to jail or something,” McNair declared. “It’s been pretty bad. It’s hard to negotiate when you’ve got to go to the jail to negotiate."
Whether or not the tough-talking NFL owner knew he was wrong (only one ex-councilman in the form of Cheetahs strip-club case miscreant Ralph Inzunza has actually made it to the slammer in recent times), McNair's remarks have shifted the spotlight to his own ties to the key figure in a notorious San Diego sports-palace subsidy scandal.
By many accounts, billionaire McNair is an old friend of fellow Houstonian John Moores, the super-rich software mogul who bought the Padres in 1994 and soon began lobbying city hall for massive taxpayer financing to allow him to move out of Qualcomm stadium and into downtown.
In 1998, Moores was also angling for a new NFL team for Houston to replace the Oilers, who had departed for Tennessee to become the Titans, but the Padres proprietor was thwarted by the football league's ban on baseball-team cross-ownership in different cities.
So he turned the project over to McNair and associate Chuck Watson.
"Houston is in good hands with Chuck and Bob," Moores told the Houston Chronicle in January 1998.
"They don't need me. I'd just get in the way," he added. "If anybody can get this thing done, it's those two guys." Added the story, "He will at least stay on in the role of unofficial cheerleader."
The paper also reported that Moores was still a Texan at heart: "Although he has moved to a posh San Diego suburb — being a staunch believer in local ownership — Moores' affection for his hometown is undiminished. He'll never cut his Houston tethers.”
"You can't fully appreciate Houston," Moores was quoted as saying, "until you go live somewhere else."
The wealthy Padres owner then took the opportunity to bemoan San Diego's slowness in forking over taxpayer cash for his planned new ballpark.
Said the Chronicle, "He laments its huge 'CANE' population — 'Citizens Against Nearly Everything' — and its lack of a 'can-do attitude.'"
Two years later, as first reported here in April 2000, Democratic city councilwoman Valerie Stallings filed a state-required financial disclosure showing she had acquired between $10,000 and $100,000 worth of stock in Neon Systems, a start-up controlled by Moores.
After three weeks, she sold the stock when it reached its peak of $50 a share.
A follow-up FBI and federal grand jury investigation revealed that Stallings was allowed to obtain the Neon shares at below public market value during the company's initial public offering, netting her $11,261.
Investigators later discovered that Stallings had failed to disclose a raft of other gratuities she received from the baseball magnate, including plane tickets, memorabilia, cash, a vacation home, and car use.
Stallings cut a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to two state misdemeanor charges and resign from office, thereby avoiding the threat of jail time on charges of illegally accepting gifts from the Padres owner and failing to recuse herself from voting on the Moores baseball-park subsidy plan, the Associated Press reported in January 2001.
Moores, who skated entirely, released a statement saying he was "certainly pleased that this difficult time has come to an end."
The Rancho Santa Fe resident's putative tax-free ballpark, now known as Petco, was ultimately built, but ended up costing the San Diego general fund about $11 million a year to cover bond debt.
The latest twist in the byzantine saga has been the recent emergence of a Moores-backed voter initiative to hike hotel taxes.
Among other things, the measure could serve to expedite a new Chargers stadium on downtown real estate Moores got from the city as part of his Padres subsidy deal.
The downtown stadium concept, which in September 2013 got the blessing of the team's special counsel and lobbyist Mark Fabiani, is opposed by Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer and his allies in the hotel business.
They are still pushing for a venue on the site of the current Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley over the skepticism of the NFL owners, including, as it happens, McNair, a ranking member of the league’s Los Angeles Opportunities committee.
"They’d have to have a referendum and the referendum isn’t until next June," McNair told a Texas interviewer about the Faulconer proposal, hours before canceling a meeting previously scheduled with the San Diego mayor.
"Well, we can’t have these teams in limbo. You need to have certainty, and you don’t know if the referendum would pass or fail. We can’t take what they’re saying very seriously.”
In addition to having boosted a downtown stadium possibility, Moores also covets the Qualcomm Stadium site, ostensibly because it could be redeveloped to provide more space for San Diego State University.
"As it relates to John Moores and his interest in Mission Valley, categorically yes, he’s interested and more than likely to be supportive financially,” Moores aide Steve Peace, the former Democratic state senator, told the Union-Tribune in October.
A campaign finance statement filed December 15 shows that the Moores-run Ballpark Village, L.L.C. of Austin, Texas, has kicked in another $250,000 to the San Diego tax-raising initiative campaign, bringing its total contribution so far to $450,000.