VOTERS CONFUSED BY BALLOT CHOICES

Okay folks, are you ready for the battle of the ballot? There are two referendums on the November ballot that compete with each other and create a confusing choice for the site for a new NFL football stadium to keep the Chargers in town.

Both measures propose to build a combination stadium and convention center extension in an already crowded midtown location. The one sponsored by the Chargers team owner (aka NFL) depends on an increase in the hotel tax assessed to visitors from 12 ½% to 16 ½% to fund the bonds issued by the city to construct the combined facility. The second proposition sponsored by “Citizens Plan” (aka Corey Briggs) provides a 3% increase of the hotel tax of 15 ½% to be applied exclusively to the convention center development, none for the adjoining stadium.

Needless to say, having two competing propositions on the ballot will split the vote making it almost impossible to meet a two thirds approval as required for any new tax. Beyond that issue is the conflict of projected financing schemes between the two propositions by consulting firms hired by each sponsor of the ballot measure and a third study commissioned by the San Diego Taxpayers Association.

If there are such wide variances in the three studies for projected tax revenues to fund each project, how can the City Council and the citizens of San Diego expect to evaluate the risk to taxpayers if the projected revenues are not realized? Besides these variances in the studies, the Chargers proposal does not even provide estimated costs to construct and operate the combined project.

So what are these variances between to the consultant’s studies? The most significant difference is the increase in tourism projected if there is a new facility. The Chargers plan predicts 225,000 room nights increase versus the Tourism Marketing District independent study reporting 69,000 room nights. Quite a spread if increased room tax is expected to service the bonds.

There are more uncertainties that should caution voters. The Chargers’ measure does not estimate construction cost or stadium maintenance; the cost to acquire the property still in private hands, some with historic credentials; what will it cost to move the Metropolitan Transportation System to a new location; who pays for construction cost over runs?

Will sensible citizens vote for something with so many uncertainties and potential risk to the city finances just to satisfy the demands of wealthy sports team’s owners and their godfather, the NFL? Take your pick and pray that the unknowns don’t show up as assessments to the taxpayers, even if most of them never set foot in the stadium.

Andrea Tevlin, an independent budget analyst, notes that either plan requires replacing 1300 Petco Park tailgate parking spaces or that the $200 million estimate to acquire the MTS site is too low. These are only the tip of the iceberg on potential costs not defined by either ballot measure.

Although both ballot measures are focused on the East Village site for a combined stadium and convention center extension, there are strong objections to separating the additional convention center space from the waterfront facilities. The principal support for more meeting space is to keep Comic-Con in San Diego as well as attracting larger conventions. However, the sponsors of Comic-Con say they will not accept additional space located that far from the principal meeting site, so why build it?

A recent aerial photograph in the San Diego Union-Tribune of the waterfront convention center does not show any open space to extend the present buildings. So what is the prospect of a successful expansion for larger conventions if the conventioneers do not want to walk six blocks for another meeting?

Apparently the Chargers’ plan for a downtown stadium benefits other developers for new hotels adjacent to the combined stadium-convention center project. It looks to me like the push for the downtown is motivated by the ball team and property owners despite strong objections from the tourism administrators, some hotel owners and most of the residents and businesses in the East Village site.

A new issue emerged on September 14 when Forbes magazine published the latest valuations of the NFL football teams. The Chargers showed a 30% increase over last year at a value of $2.08 billion. That’s still leaves them at 21st out of the 24 teams valued at $2 billion or more. Can you begin to see where the value of the sports team is positioned? Do they really need civic welfare?

The NFL teams with the highest valuation occupy fancy new stadiums, indicating that a new stadium for the Chargers would increase the Spano’s family fortune even more but probably cost the taxpayers. Some of the other valuations announced by Forbes are the Los Angeles Rams at $2.9 billion; the Oakland Raiders at $2.1 billion; increasing up to the most valuable NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys at $4.2 billion.

Columnist Kevin Agee in the San Diego Union-Tribune reports the reality in today’s sports requires a new stadium with some public subsidy. Recent examples are: the Minnesota Vikings-$498 million; the Dallas Cowboys – $444 million; the new home of the New York Giants and Jets is built on land that was given to the teams by the city.

The more that the public subsidizes professional sports, the richer the owners become. Is at the best way to apply assessed taxes?