In The Chargers Stadium Saga, Trust Nobody

(Mis)Information abounds in the fight for a new NFL facility in San Diego

NBC 7's Derek Togerson shares what it's like to cover an issue as complex as the San Diego stadium situation in this commentary

One of the most interesting, frustrating, exhilarating and infuriating things about covering the San Diego stadium situation is the fact that everyone is right. And, everyone is wrong.

I could do a half hour special on NBC 7 every day for two weeks outlining a different set of circumstances that lead to a different outcome with different people trumpeting different things and every single one of them will make complete sense; until the next day when a competing idea also makes complete sense.

In a Gallup poll from December of 2014 Americans were asked to name the professions they find the least and the most trustworthy. The five least-trusted professions, from the bottom up, are:

-    Politicians
-    Car Salespeople
-    Advertising Practitioners
-    Business Executives
-    Lawyers

The people involved in the San Diego NFL stadium saga are politicians, a car salesman, business executives and lawyers, and they’re all advertising their version of the same thing. My biggest issue right now is I simply don’t know who to trust, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

The past two weeks alone were nothing short of crazy-pants. One San Diego stadium plan got a big boost while another materialized but the only concrete thing we heard from the team itself is … it’s going to take another step towards accepting neither of those plans and instead move to Los Angeles.

So Chargers fans, take a walk in to the abyss with me to see how this week is a perfect microcosm for just how batty this whole situation has become.

Local attorney Cory Briggs authored a citizens’ initiative and is starting a signature drive to put a Downtown stadium on the ballot for voters next June but his proposal has already undergone one revision and is awfully complicated.

On the same day that idea came out Governor Jerry Brown signed off the streamlining of Mayor Faulconer’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), seemingly putting the Mission Valley idea on the fast-track and eligible for a public vote next year.

Of course then Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani said in a radio interview with Dan Sileo on the Mighty 1090 the team is going to file relocation papers during the NFL’s official window (January 1, 2016 through February 15, 2016). It’s part of the complex paperwork that must be finished for a team to leave its home market and the Rams and Raiders are also expected to do it. But does that mean they’re actually going to Los Angeles, rendering the two plans in San Diego moot?

Here’s where someone who really looks in to this issue can start to see ghosts. Let’s start with the Briggs announcement.

It has long been believed that the Bolts prefer a Downtown stadium site to a Mission Valley stadium site. So when Briggs rolled out his plan via citizens’ initiative it piqued the interest of the Chargers. If those signatures are collected and the initiative gets on the ballot the vote would not happen until June of next year. The NFL is expected to make an L.A. decision long before that, and there’s that little issue with former politician turned radio host Carl DeMaio threatening to sue if the initiative gets any traction.

Also, Steve Cushman (the former auto dealer) has already hinted that he is not a fan of the Briggs idea, calling it “very bad public policy.” If history of San Diego politics tells us anything, it’s that Steve Cushman has the power to make projects he does not like go away, adding another layer of intrigue to this issue. Cushman has knocked heads with Fabiani and the Chargers before and it would appear that’s going to happen again.

That leads us back to the EIR. Fabiani has often cited the Mayor’s decision to pursue an expedited one as a prime example of the City leadership’s dissonance with the franchise. In fact, that EIR has been the root of a lot of evils in this process.

However, Governor Brown’s endorsement would suggest the so-called “quickie” EIR has legs. Another interesting note is the relative lack of opposition. The EIR received 18 public comments on the submitted draft, not nearly as many as one might expect for a project of this magnitude and high public profile (for example the Westfield UTC mall expansion received 78 letters).

Of those 18 letters, two really stand out as being professionally prepared, and here is where, as the saying goes, the plot thickens.

“Without these two professional responses there is no legal threat to the EIR,” said Tony Manolatos, the spokesman for the Mayor’s Citizen’s Stadium Advisory Group who remains close to the proceedings at City Hall, “the City received just 16 additional responses and none of those present difficult issues for the City to overcome.”

One of the professional responses was submitted by the L.A.-based law firm Chatten-Brown & Carstens. The other was presented by Dan McLellan, who used to cover the Chargers for and was a contractor for the team. That response contains a pair of studies from Los Angeles-based companies Gibson Transportation Consulting and Ramboll Environ.

Both of those entities have worked closely with Attorney George Mihlsten on numerous projects. A partner at Latham & Watkins, Mihlsten is the Chargers point man on stadium negotiations and a land-use attorney who is under contract with the team and has represented the Chargers at NFL owners meetings.

In the letter to the state, Chatten-Brown & Carstens attaches and relies on McLellan’s letter and his reports from Gibson Transportation and Ramboll Environ.

McLellan has been doing work on the stadium situation for years and has long believed the Downtown idea is superior to the Mission Valley site. He maintains the studies were leaked to him.

“After doing all of this research that validates everything I’ve been doing I was ecstatic to get them,” said McLellan.

But if one were to connect the dots it’s not a big leap to think the Bolts are somehow behind the only two professional studies trying to oppose the EIR that Fabiani has so vehemently shouted down.

When asked if the franchise was in any way responsible for any aspect of the two public comments in question Fabiani said simply, “No.”

McLellan also says he did not contract with Gibson Transportation or Ramboll Environ and does not know who commissioned or financed the reports.

That's an awful lot, and it all happened before the NFL Public Hearings in San Diego, St. Louis and Oakland further clouded the potential future of football in those markets (and L.A.) after fans in each spot gave impassioned pleas to keep their teams, trying to convince the NFL they can build and fill a new facility.

All that has led us to this: We have a ton of information and absolutely no idea how to interpret it, and that frustrates me to no end.

Fabiani has never given me reason to believe he’s lying to me. Neither has McLellan, Manolatos or anyone from the Mayor’s office. They’re pushing an agenda, sure, but in the past I have not been lied to.

So while we continue to keep tabs on new developments, the scope of this whole thing is not going to be revealed for quite some time. That is, unless someone has a Watergate-style recording out there that will blow the lid off this whole thing (if so, feel free to give me a call).

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