San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s first State of the City address covered a lot of ground Wednesday, but prominent observers and listeners are raising questions about his lay of the land on two key issues: a new stadium and the proposed -- but legally and financially hamstrung -- expansion of the convention center.
Less than impressed with Faulconer’s speech are the San Diego Chargers – with whom city officials haven’t spoken in nearly two months – and former council president Todd Gloria, whose backers want him to run against Faulconer next year.
They think the mayor is wasting time, heading in the wrong direction with a "group of civic leaders,” as Faulconer billed them, rehashing ideas that critics say date back to predecessor Dick Murphy's mayoral administration in 2002.
"I will introduce the membership of this group at the end of the month,” the mayor told an audience of hundreds gathered in downtown’s Balboa Theatre Wednesday evening. “They will be charged with studying two different options: building a stadium at the current Mission Valley location, or building a stadium along with an expanded convention center downtown."
The Chargers gave up the ghost on the Mission Valley site years ago, after a "mixed-use" replacement stadium project linked to residential and commercial development was made unworkable by the recession.
There's been talk of involving San Diego State University, but officials are said to be gun-shy and short of funding.
The "civic leaders" approach has already come up empty, so the Bolts don't expect much from another one.
"And when they object to another citizens task force, it says to me that not all is right behind the scene,” Gloria said in an interview Thursday. “And that the vision of trying to keep world-class sports in this world-class city is not going well.”
Gloria has more pointed thoughts about the stadium project – currently targeted for an East Village site near Petco Park – and the convention center expansion, which the Chargers would rather see abandoned in favor of their hybrid sports complex and meetings facility.
Those are pricey ventures when the city's infrastructure repairs deficit is an estimated $3 billion dollars.
“It's very clear that the citizens of this city will be voting on a new football stadium before we'll ever have a chance to vote on repairing our neighborhoods," Gloria told NBC 7. "I think last night's speech missed critical details, key information and really, some hard truths. Leadership is about making difficult decisions for the greater good."
The Chargers’ front office declined an interview on these issues.
But they're lodging heated objections to civic mover and shaker Steve Cushman serving as the mayor's point man on the stadium and convention center projects, believing he sandbagged them on previous site proposals.
“If Steve Cushman does come up with some kind of a plan, our strong view is that it will be a plan designed to provide political cover, not to actually result in the building of a stadium,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said in a Q&A piece published on the team’s website.
Fabiani concluded with this observation: “Whether yet another task force – which will undoubtedly hire other experts – will come up with ideas that haven’t been thought of by everyone else over the last 13 years is, of course, a real question.”
The mayor's office sent NBC 7 the following response:
"It was never said that Steve Cushman was a member of the stadium group. He is not a member. Our office has clearly communicated this to Mr. Fabiani. As the Mayor has said, it will take all of us working together to find a solution."
Cushman has not responded to request for comment on all this, and what appears to be a growing rift in the city’s relationship with the team.