Chula Vista council votes to gauge team's interest


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Jan 22, 2006
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Chula Vista council votes to gauge team's interest
By Tanya Mannes
May 10, 2006

CHULA VISTA – City officials took a cautious step last night toward opening talks with the Chargers in a chance that the city could land the National Football League team.

The City Council voted 5-0 to talk with the Chargers to determine how interested the team is and its minimum terms for a deal to bring the team to Chula Vista.

If the talks go well, the city will create a residents committee to conduct hearings and weigh in on a proposal.
Officials were careful to avoid the appearance of acting hastily.

Councilman John McCann, who is leading the effort to bring the Chargers to town, emphasized that the council would seek public comments – and perhaps a referendum on the November ballot – before acting.

“We're going to go out and listen to the people,” McCann said. “We are not here tonight to actively recruit the Chargers, but to give the citizens of Chula Vista the opportunity to evaluate whether this is a good plan for our community.”

McCann said Chula Vista is one of the few cities in the region that has enough open land to consider building a stadium. A potential location is near the Olympic Training Center and a proposed university site in southeast Chula Vista. McCann also said that he has spoken with property owners who are interested in providing land.

The Chargers have been in San Diego since 1961, and Qualcomm Stadium was built in 1967. The team has been actively pushing for a new stadium since 2002. A San Diego-commissioned task force found that the stadium needed millions of dollars in repairs.

The Chargers had planned to seek San Diego voters' support for a new stadium with a November ballot proposal. But team executives abandoned the idea when it became clear that San Diego's financial problems and political instability at City Hall would scare off co-investors.

The San Diego City Council voted May 1 to let the Chargers talk to other cities in the county this year about moving the team. Under its lease with San Diego, the Chargers can open negotiations with any U.S. city beginning Jan. 1. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said he decided to give a head start to local cities so the team could remain a regional asset.

Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said the team will pursue options within the county “immediately” once it receives formal notification of the San Diego City Council's decision.

“The Chargers are very hopeful that the amendment will result in the building of a new Super Bowl-caliber stadium in San Diego County,” he said in a statement yesterday.

At the county level, officials are preparing to assist the Chargers in their search for a new home. County Supervisor Ron Roberts will ask the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to create a “Chargers Stadium Subcommittee,” which would act as the board's liaison with the Chargers.

Chula Vista is seen as the front-runner among three cities – the others being Oceanside and National City – that are widely viewed as potential partners. Any talks within the county will be closely watched by outside cities, including San Antonio and Las Vegas, that have expressed interest in the team.

Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla emphasized the city's role as “an important player on the regional stage” that could help the county harness the benefits of keeping the Chargers local.

At the start of last night's meeting, McCann proposed immediately establishing a 19-member committee to explore the Chargers issue. But Councilman Jerry Rindone argued successfully that city officials should first speak with team officials.

Rindone said the city must protect itself from being used as a pawn in negotiations. He said his primary concern is to avoid getting a bad deal that could threaten the financial stability of the city. “We're not here to get in a bidding war,” Rindone said.

A big question is how much taxpayers would be willing to spend. Team officials estimate that building a stadium to national standards would cost $450 million to $500 million.

Chula Vista is the first local city to take a step toward wooing the team, which drew an average of 63,415 spectators per game in 2005.

Although National City Mayor Nick Inzunza has publicly supported the idea of the Chargers moving to his city, officials have not taken an official position.

“National City needs to focus on its budget,” City Manager Chris Zapata said yesterday.

While Oceanside has been mentioned as a possible site for a new Chargers stadium for several months, city officials indicated yesterday they're not ready to do any bidding.

Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, who first proposed the municipal Center City Golf Course as a possible site, said she would not discuss it again until a public workshop that will be scheduled this summer.

Oceanside Councilman Jack Feller warned that money would be an issue, because a new freeway intersection and other road improvements would be needed. A railway loop off the nearby Sprinter rail line would be necessary, too, he said, and the city would have to buy an adjacent shopping center to make room.

Chula Vista, with stronger freeway connections, is a better choice, Feller said, as is a site in Pala Mesa, in the unincorporated part of North County.
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