Qualcomm's Snapdragon Issue Haunts Mayor in Legal Fallout

Could Qualcomm wind up paying the city more than it did?

It appears another chapter is unfolding in the story of Qualcomm Stadium's name being changed to "Snapdragon" for ten days last month.

In the wake of sharp criticism from mayoral candidates  and the public, the move is raising a gauntlet of questions.

Could Qualcomm wind up paying the city more than it did?

Could the underlying agreement -- made unilaterally by Mayor Sanders, on behalf of the city -- wind up in court?

Last Friday, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told NBC San Diego that he intends to "resolve the issue" somehow.

On Tuesday, he declared the deal legally "void", a clear violation of the city's sign ordinance.

While this may seem along the lines of closing the barn door after the horse got out, there figures to be more fallout to come.

On Sunday, Dec. 18, in view of the phalanx of cameras from "NBC Football Night in America", for the Chargers’ match up with the Baltimore Ravens,  "Snapdragon" was the top marquee branding at the venue known since 1997 as Qualcomm Stadium, for which the company paid $18 million in naming rights.

"Snapdragon" also was 'in play' for the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls, courtesy of an agreement Mayor Sanders made with Qualcomm, which wanted to promote its new Snapdragon mobile processors.

Sanders had charged Qualcomm $1,000 for city staff time, saying he wasn't about to "shake down" the company for what amounted to a greater public good.

Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs is a big contributor to the mayor's Central Library and Balboa Park renovation projects.

But a Dec. 7 memorandum of law from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith had warned Sanders that the move  wasn't "legally permissible", suggesting the city was due "additional compensation".

An advertising expert consulted by Voice of San Diego, NBC San Diego's online media partner, estimates the deal gave Qualcomm upwards of $125,000 worth of TV exposure.

"You're in a situation where the rules for one group, one business, one organization clearly aren't the same rules for everyone else in the city," says Liam Dillon, who covers city hall-related issues for Voice.  "And I think the public should be concerned about that."

Last Friday, during a San Diego mayoral debate attended by hundreds of prominent elected officials, lobbyists and power brokers, two of the mayoral candidates expressed their concerns.

"With Snapdragon, if your attorney says it's illegal, that is something that is quite serious," said City Councilman Carl DeMaio.  "And you have to work through (it) instead of just ignore (it)."

"As mayor ,no, I don't think I would ignore a city attorney's advice," said Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. "I think I would've sat down and tried to negotiate, try to see what the legal issues are.  Seek other expenditures and come out and have a broad discussion about it."

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, Goldsmith issued a memo announcing that the deal lacked legal authority because the Council didn't waive the relevant provisions of the city's sign ordinance by prior resolution.

But, he said, the Council could ratify it retroactively.

Beyond that, his office provided no further advice.

Unanswered questions, for the moment:

Would Council members want more money out of Qualcomm?

Would the company be inclined to offer more?

Either way, what happens if a Council majority won't 'sign off' -- a city Charter dispute, taken to court?

Asked about that prospect, and whether a Council discussion with Goldsmith might be scheduled, a spokesman for his office replied, via email: "If it  chooses to not ratify the agreement, we would provide additional guidance as requested by the council. As for the date this will be discussed, the Council President controls the agenda."

There was no immediate comment from Council President Tony Young's office on that score, or whether any such discussion would take place in open session -- as opposed to a closed-door executive session, which would seem to require a rubric of "potential litigation" under the state's Brown Act.

Queried further, Goldsmith's spokesman offered this: "(The memorandum of law) will be presented and discussed in open session. If council chooses not to ratify, alternative courses of action would probably be discussed in closed session.

So far, no response to inquiries posed to Qualcomm executives, Sanders' office or other Council members.

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