Open means closed in world of new stadium negotiations


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Jan 22, 2006
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Open means closed in world of new stadium negotiations

January 19, 2006

Jerry Sanders has promised transparency. The Chargers have pledged "a public process from beginning to end."

So what's with all of the closed doors?

If the mayor of San Diego and his most troublesome tenant are really sincere about sunshine, then the vast majority of their meetings ought to be open to the public and, to the extent possible, lesser life forms like the media.

Monday's meeting was closed. Tomorrow's meeting is not open. Until the two sides prove otherwise, they will be fostering the perception that business as usual is back in America's Most Secretive City. This despite all the pious declarations to the contrary.

"Sometimes, in public meetings, there's a bit too much posturing and positioning rather than real work being done," said Fred Sainz, the mayor's spokesman. "People do that for various reasons and I'm not saying it's either side, but dog-and-pony shows are put on and there's always a subtext.

"Sometimes I've related to it sort of as a foreign language film. You don't understand the language, but you know there's something more here than meets the eye."

Sometimes, in San Diego, even plain English should carry subtitles. Here, "public" can mean "private." Here, "transparent" can mean "clandestine." If His Honor and Team Spanos are confused about the meaning of these words, reliable dictionaries are readily available. If they are not confused about the meaning of these words, perhaps they should contemplate the meaning of another word: "hypocrisy."

Simply put, this is dangerous territory, dudes.

If there is to be any progress made on the stadium front, neither the city nor the Chargers can afford to be seen as trifling with the public's trust. The people must be persuaded that the costly mistakes of previous back-room bargaining will not be repeated. The fine print must be laid out in legible type, and the voters allowed enough time to digest it before a decision is due.


"We've got no problem making presentations," Chargers consultant Mark Fabiani said yesterday. "We've been quite responsive to people who have had questions. If these meetings continue and become substantive, our goal would be to make sure the public is fully informed."

Fabiani said it was not the Chargers' place to dictate whether a meeting scheduled by the mayor should be open or closed, no more than it would be appropriate for him to demand steak at a chicken dinner. When pressed, however, he stopped short of endorsing the idea of admitting observers to the proceedings.

So, curiously, did Donna Frye, normally the City Council's leading proponent of open meetings.

"Part of the problem is you have to have some kind of ability to meet with people outside of the public, unfortunately," said Frye, a member of the mayor's Chargers negotiating team. "There are times when you're talking about lease negotiations and (other) items when people will not speak freely in public ...

"At some point, you have to talk in earnest and not just in sound bites."

Until this week, the importance of being earnest appeared to be understood. Whatever its flaws, the Chargers' proposal to redevelop the Qualcomm site with a new stadium has been presented to almost every club capable of reaching a quorum. Whatever its motives, the team has gone to considerable trouble and expense to sell its concept to the citizenry.

But if the Qualcomm idea has been abandoned as undoable, it is not the only idea. If the Chargers' efforts at openness have failed, they should not interpret that as a reason to become obtuse. Those disposed to distrust the Spanos family, and there are many, are more likely to be swayed by straight talk and full disclosure than scripted summaries of secret meetings.

Similarly, those who elected Jerry Sanders mayor expect an administration consistent with its campaign promises: transparent and trustworthy.

"The mayor believes very strongly that there has to be an equilibrium," Sainz said. "The days of old, when 'trust me,' was what you told the public, those days are long gone.

"Jerry believes strongly that this should be a very public process. . . . We shouldn't simply strike a deal with whoever and present it as a fait accompli. The (public) should be able to judge the sausage-making for themselves."

Besides, in light of the city's financial plight, it might prove profitable to charge admission to any meetings that attract both Fabiani and his verbal sparring partner, City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

Promote it as Your-Name-Is-Mud Wrestling. No holds barred. No insults off-limits. Lawyering as low comedy.

"I think we could put it at the Old Globe," Frye said. "It's great theater and they're both good at it."

Let John Q. Public decide which one is better. Preferably, from a ringside seat.
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