EDITOR’S NOTE: With all of the uncertainty regarding the stadium situation in San Diego, we here at BoltBlitz.com thought it would be helpful to request and obtain an interview with Mark Fabiani, special counsel to the Chargers. Mr. Fabiani was kind enough to agree to the interview. BoltBlitz reporter Thomas Powell asked some very difficult questions, and Mr. Fabiani did not shy away from answering any of them in a very blunt and honest manner.
Thomas Powell: In your meeting with CSAG in January, they said your position on the location of a new stadium was “agnostic”. Many people believe the Chargers favored downtown for a variety of reasons. What do you believe led to the miscommunications, if there were any?
Mark Fabiani: One of many problems created by meetings that aren’t public, and that aren’t transcribed in any way, is that people can come out of those meetings and say whatever they want about what occurred in the meeting – and there is simply no way for the public to sort out what actually happened.
That’s why, right when I appeared before CSAG, we made public the text of my testimony. That testimony can be read in full here: http://www.chargers.com/news/2015/02/16/chargers-remarks-stadium-task-force-extended-version. I’m sure that fair-minded readers will conclude that the team’s position is made very clear in this testimony.
Indeed, over the last 14 years, we’ve made our position on various sites extremely clear. We have spoken regularly with the media and with the community at hundreds of public events. And over all of that time, our position hasn’t changed: What’s most important is finding a funding solution that works for the public, the elected officials, the Chargers, and the NFL. Once you figure out a mutually acceptable financing solution, the exact site chosen is of secondary importance. Remember, over the last 14 years, we have carefully evaluated sites in Chula Vista (two separate sites), National City, Oceanside, and Escondido as well as several in the City of San Diego.
Of course, having worked on this for 14 years, we have our own strong views – formed with the help of people who we’ve hired and who we believe to be the best experts around – about which sites are financeable and which ones aren’t.
Now, CSAG has said that it believes that the Mission Valley site can be financed in a publicly acceptable way, and we look forward to reviewing the plan when it is released in May.
Thomas Powell: Eric Grubman is the NFL executive VP for the NFL. Tony Manolatos is the CSAG spokesperson. Tony accused you and Grubman on an LA Radio Sports Station of being in a bluff scheme regarding the Carson stadium issue. I found his statements to be damaging to the process of getting a deal done here in San Diego. Tony said on the show, The Beast 980am, “We do think that Carson was collectively a big bluff, if you will, built around PSL’s. Mr. Fabiani used to be a consultant for Goldman Sachs. Mr. Grubman used to work for Goldman Sachs. So, there are many existing relationships there. We are not surprised that Goldman stepped up and said, ‘we’re going to be involved.’ I wanted to give you a chance to respond to Tony’s comments here.
Mark Fabiani: I can’t explain why the Mayor’s Office and CSAG chose to hire the spokesperson they hired, and why they apparently agree with his continuing efforts to criticize NFL officials, the Chargers, Carson elected officials, and Goldman Sachs. That’s really a question for the Mayor’s Office and CSAG.
Thomas Powell: In an article in the San Diego Reader on April 3, 2015, by Matt Potter, questions were raised about Jason Roe. Jason is Kevin Faulconer’s top political consultant. Now the city is negotiating with Delaware North, a food and beverage service contractor for sports’ venues. They have been rumored to have an interest in replacing Centerfield as the Padres’ main concessions provider. Roe has a new lobbying firm that was retained to provide support for Delaware North taking over said contract. What concerns do you have, if any, about Jason Roe and his relationship with the Mayor Faulconer?
Mark Fabiani: On February 17, we sent a letter to the Mayor asking what we thought were reasonable questions about Mr. Roe’s role. A copy of that letter can be found here. The Mayor chose to not answer those questions. Since then, although the Union Tribune has religiously avoided any critical reporting on this issue, other media outlets have launched their own inquiries. Take a look here http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/government/city-council-deal-could-pump-millions-into-an-endangered-qualcomm/, or here http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2015/apr/16/ticker-could-feds-be-prowling-mayors-qualcomm-DEAL/.
Thomas Powell: Many fans wonder, as it relates to the Carson and Inglewood projects, why are the Chargers so active in Los Angeles, yet so quiet here in San Diego? What message can you relay to the Charger fans in San Diego regarding this matter?
Mark Fabiani: Quiet in San Diego? I don’t think I agree with that assessment. On the contrary, ever since the Mayor announced in January that his task force would deliver its results in October, we have been extremely public about the need to speed up that timetable. And since then we have been extremely public about the concerns we have about how the entire task force process is unfolding.
But even before January, take a look at the last 14 years. We’ve made nine separate proposals. We have made available $400 million in funding from the Chargers and from NFL loans. To date, spanning 14 years, these are the only serious proposals that have ever been made, and ours is the only serious money that has ever been pledged to the project.
Thomas Powell: The Carson City Council just voted to enact the stadium initiative sponsored by the Chargers and the Raiders. What does that mean for the prospect of a new stadium in Los Angeles – and for San Diego’s prospects?
Mark Fabiani: The Carson City Council vote puts the stadium site in Carson on exactly the same footing as the proposed Inglewood stadium site. Both sites are now fully entitled, with financing plans in place and NFL teams committed to the sites if the teams cannot find solutions in their home markets. Ultimately, it will be up to the owners of the NFL to make the final decision, and the matter will only come to the owners if a team (or teams) submits a relocation application for Los Angeles. That would start a formal review process by NFL officials that would eventually culminate in a vote of the owners.
At the same time, both the Chargers and the Raiders have made clear from the outset that their first priority is to find solutions in their home markets. And both teams have made clear from the start that they intend to respect the decision of the NFL owners.
Thomas Powell: Speaking of NFL owners, the Chargers met this week with the NFL’s Los Angeles Committee, which is made up of some of the most influential owners in the League. Tell us about those meetings.
Mark Fabiani: Yes, on Wednesday afternoon at NFL headquarters in New York City, the Chargers and Raiders made a joint presentation to the LA Committee of owners. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve been before the Committee. Previously we have presented, with Goldman Sachs, the financing plan for Carson, along with our strategy for securing entitlements and initial architectural renderings of the proposed Los Angeles Stadium.
At this week’s meeting, our goal was to update the owners on the progress that has been made in Carson, unveil new LA stadium renderings that are the result of two months of close collaboration between the Raiders and Chargers, and update the Committee on the situations in each of our home markets. So the Chargers provided an update on the San Diego market, and the Raiders did the same thing for Oakland. Since Eric Grubman and Chris Hardart of the NFL had visited both cities just last week and had already reported back, I don’t think we added much that was new to the League about our home market, but we appreciated the opportunity to offer the update and to answer questions that the owners had.
Thomas Powell: Have the Chargers changed their stance at all regarding controlling the naming rights to a stadium and a revenue-sharing program? Is this a possible negotiating tool after the financial plan is announced in due time?
Mark Fabiani: As I made clear in my February testimony to CSAG, the only reason for any team to have a new stadium is to allow the team to remain financially competitive with the other teams in the NFL. If the stadium developer needs to take all of the stadium revenues to pay for construction, then the team would receive no stadium revenues and would be in a dramatically less-competitive financial position than the team is in its current stadium. And, throughout the NFL, teams generally receive the revenues derived from naming rights. So if the Chargers are going to be financially competitive over the long term in San Diego, the team needs access to the same revenue streams – including naming rights – that other teams receive in their home markets.
Thomas Powell: I would stand behind a special election in early 2016 on a stadium vote. Do the Chargers have a position on a possible special election?
Mark Fabiani: A special election will not lead to a successful result. The turnout in special elections is always extremely low, and the voters who do turn out in special elections in San Diego are inclined to vote against major public projects such as this one. Our only hope for success at the ballot box would be a high-turnout, general election – and unfortunately the next one of those elections is in November 2016.
Thomas Powell: Have the Chargers considered moving forward in San Diego just as you are doing in Carson, with the so-called “citizen action” strategy: Gathering signatures, qualifying a measure for the ballot, and then asking the City Council to adopt the measure as is once the signatures are certified?
Mark Fabiani: Yes, we have looked closely at this option for San Diego and concluded that, unfortunately, it is not likely to succeed here. Simply put, in San Diego, the stadium question is going to end up on the ballot, one way or the other.
That’s because any action taken by the City Council is subject to the referendum process. Opponents of the Council’s decision can gather signatures and demand that the Council’s decision be placed before the voters. Once that happens, everything stops and the Council’s decision is effectively nullified to allow the voters pass judgment on it. Generally, that would occur at the next regularly scheduled election.
We are seeing this process play out right now in San Diego around the One Paseo development project. After six years, the project finally emerged from the entitlement process, at which point opponents started to gather signatures to put the entire project on hold until voters can decide its fate at the next regularly scheduled election. And the exact same process is playing out now statewide, as opponents of the California legislature’s plastic ban bag qualified a referendum and so put a halt to the law’s implementation. Here is a good explanation of what happened to the legislature’s plastic bag ban law: http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-california-plastic-bag-ban-20150223-story.html
So, what would happen with a controversial City Council vote on the San Diego stadium project is that opponents would likely qualify a referendum – and the whole matter would end up on the ballot in 2016 anyway. That’s why, under these circumstances – if you have the time – you always try to put your project’s initiative on the ballot yourself, so that you can control the precise wording of the measure and the timing of the election.
Thomas Powell: There was a proposal to the Mission Valley site regarding the river walk presented by councilman Scott Sherman. You have studied the Mission Valley site for years. It seems to bring up a lot of potential obstacles that could aid in the effort to fund a stadium. What is your heart-felt message to the voters and Charger fans in San Diego? Have the Chargers communicated an opinion on the river walk proposal?
Mark Fabiani: We have a great relationship with Councilman Sherman, and we welcomed his recent involvement in the process. Councilman Sherman is exactly right when he says that the parking lot at the Qualcomm site in Mission Valley could be put to a much more productive and better use, including by creating a riverfront park.
This was the exact premise of the proposal we made to the City in 2004, which would have required the Chargers to finance the entire project (including a river-front park) in return for the City providing 60 of the 166 Mission Valley acres to the team. As you know, the City at the time refused to support our proposal.
What we encountered in 2004, and what Councilman Sherman’s press conference participants encountered more recently, are questions about what kind of density can be supported in Mission Valley in light of all of the other development that has occurred there in recent years. These issues are vital to the residents of Mission Valley, and they potentially create huge infrastructure improvement costs that must be added on to the cost of any project in Mission Valley.
One way or the other, though, as Councilman Sherman said, these issues will have to be dealt with at some point in the future, either as part of a stadium development or as part of a new use for the entire Mission Valley site.
We have promised to evaluate carefully CSAG’s Mission Valley proposal when it is made public. We look forward to doing that.
Thomas Powell: Are you okay being labeled the villain in all of this? Some view you as the most negative influence in all this, and the main reason there is so much friction between the Chargers and City Hall. Do you care about your reputation in San Diego? Or are you just focused on doing your job and being a good soldier? Basically, for the people who don’t know you, who is the real Mark Fabiani?
Mark Fabiani: If it were easy to build a new NFL stadium in Southern California, several new facilities would have been built a long time ago – in LA, in San Diego, in Orange County. This is very difficult stuff. And when you try to do difficult things, there’s inevitably going to be controversy. And then there’s the old saying: Incoming fire is evidence that you’ve been hitting the right targets. So that’s pretty much how I look at it.
Thomas Powell: Some fans were deeply hurt by the team’s decision to negotiate with Carson over the past 9 months in private, and the mutual announcement with the Oakland Raiders. Why was that decision made, and do you have a message you’d like to deliver to the fans here in San Diego? If so, please do it here.
Mark Fabiani: We explained the Carson decision on the day it was announced, and that full explanation can be found here: http://www.chargers.com/news/2015/02/20/chargers-and-raiders-join-forces-carson-community-group-support-new-los-angeles-nfl/.
And, of course, we understood that fans would be upset by this decision. That’s why we waited 14 years to make this decision; we did everything we possibly could do over that time to avoid making an announcement such as the one we made in Carson. So we hope people in San Diego will keep that in perspective as they evaluate all of this.
We also hope that fans understand that the steps we have taken in Carson have only been taken as a last resort – taken only after 14 years of inaction here in San Diego and only after an aggressive move by another NFL franchise to take over the LA and Orange County markets.
Finally, and most important of all, we hope fans will remember what we have said again and again: Our first priority remains to find a solution in San Diego in 2015, and the Carson option will be exercised if only if we fail to find such a solution.
We’d like to thank Mr. Fabiani for taking the time to do this interview. This was not our first interview with him, and hopefully it won’t be the last.