"More than a stadium" is a rallying cry of the multimillion-dollar campaign to get a proposed $1.8 billion combined Chargers and convention venue on the ballot for November.
Now, note observers of San Diego's peculiar take-no-prisoners brand of city politics, the slogan may also apply to the campaign itself, in ways that could portend an uncomfortable financial future for a trio of the city's most powerful hotel moguls.
As reported by the Union-Tribune May 16, two groups, led by Chargers fans said not to be associated with the team, have declared a boycott against hotels belonging to Bill Evans, Richard Bartell, and Terry Brown, who control a bevy of the city's major lodging properties, most on taxpayer-owned land.
"Jason Riggs, founder and chairman of the stadium coalition, said the three hotel companies were singled out because research pointed to them as 'more powerful and the most influential' in the local industry," reported the U-T.
Added the story, "Johnny Abundez, co-founder of Save Our Bolts, said his group is using social media and emails to contact NFL fan groups around the country to encourage their members to choose other hotels to patronize when traveling to San Diego."
Fred Maas, the Chargers’ point man for the initiative drive, told the paper, "the fan groups are acting independently.”
Others note that the three hotel magnates targeted for the boycott have been waging a nasty legal war, accompanied by public TV news coverage over control of millions of dollars in hotel taxes collected by the city — cash that the Chargers now want for their downtown stadium.
As previously reported here, Brown — son of San Diego hotel pioneer Charlie Brown and a onetime associate of Richard Nixon's friend and fallen financier C. Arnholt Smith — formerly chaired the city's Tourism Marketing District board, at the center of the extended legal battle.
Evans is the current chairman of the board, and Bartell is a boardmember, as is Brown.
So far the three financial pillars of the local Republican establishment have been laying low on the putative Chargers deal but are seen as a likely source of big-money opposition if the measure qualifies for the November ballot as widely expected.
Through the San Diego Lodging Association's political action committee, the three men have been major donors to the GOP Lincoln Club, currently bankrolling an anti-stadium campaign on behalf of La Jolla Republican city-council candidate Ray Ellis.
If the hotel magnates' anti-Chargers money machine is damaged by a boycott, the team might find it easier to get their project approved by voters.
A wealthy Republican himself, Chargers owner Dean Spanos has not been reluctant to take on the local GOP, as evidenced by last year's hit on mayor Kevin Faulconer and his longtime political aide Jason Roe over Roe's lobbying activities on behalf of Delaware North, which was given a lucrative food and beverage contract for Qualcomm Stadium by Faulconer's administration.
"What legal and ethical issues are raised by Mr. Roe's dual role as an apparent de facto [Stadium] Task Force member and as a registered lobbyist for the Delaware North company, which is bidding to become the new concessionaire at Qualcomm Stadium and, potentially, at any new stadium in San Diego?" wrote Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani to Faulconer on February 17, 2015.
"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?"
Though Roe denied having any conflicts of interest, he subsequently left the lobbying business amid complaints by other bidders who suggested the selection process had been unfair at best.
Besides their controversial closed-door role in divvying up the city's hotel taxes for their favored uses, Evans and Bartell may also be vulnerable to longstanding charges of getting sweetheart deals regarding the leases of city and port district land on which their hotels stand.
In addition, Evans has a partnership with SeaWorld regarding hotel development on Mission Bay frontage owned by the city, another potential font of controversy.
"SeaWorld’s resort initiatives are already underway in San Diego, where the company has formed a formal partnership with Evans Hotels to explore a SeaWorld-branded resort hotel on Mission Bay that would connect guests to the park," the U-T reported last November.
Whether the city leaves more taxpayer money on the table in that transaction could furnish further ammunition for critics of San Diego’s traditionally less-than-arms-length relationships with its big-money tenants.
Under the Copley Press, and later developer Douglas Manchester, the lost-opportunity costs to the public of the trio’s favorable hotel leases were rarely if ever questioned by the Union-Tribune.
But with the paper now in the hands of Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, and possibly soon to be owned by national news giant Gannett, Chargers backers may have an expanded forum for their complaints.
According to city political disclosure filings, the team has already spent $1,822,694 on its campaign to hike the hotel tax and is expected to lay out millions more for advertising, legal fees, and political consultants before the stadium battle is over.