Taking the time now to understand why no true stadium plan was ever presented for Mission Valley will help prevent mayor Kevin Faulconer from using false pretenses to not work with the Chargers towards their downtown solution. Faulconer convincingly won re-election in the primary and will be the mayor of San Diego for the next four years. If the Chargers are to stay in San Diego, it’s high likely it will be under his watch.
Faulconer delayed taking a stance on the Chargers initiative for a new stadium downtown before the election with the pretense that he was analyzing the numbers and waiting for a report on the cost to move the MTS bus yard. He also repeatedly claimed that Mission Valley was originally chosen because the costs associated with the that site for a stadium were largely known.
These are red flags that Faulconer could use the bus yard costs as a reason to justify not supporting the Chargers initiative and attempt to pivot back to Mission Valley.
By understanding the costs that were never included in either the Citizen Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG) or the mayor’s plans for a stadium in Mission Valley, we can hold Faulconer accountable and prevent him from misleading us in attempt to further play politics with the stadium issue instead of solving it.
Before unveiling some of the factors that would inflate the costs of a Mission Valley stadium project, let’s be clear, the Chargers are never going to pivot back to Mission Valley. If the Chargers are to stay in San Diego, it will only come with a new stadium downtown.
We know the Chargers are focused solely on downtown because Dean Spanos sent a letter to former councilwoman Donna Frye to assure her that they would never pivot back to Mission Valley. The Chargers have endorsed Frye’s vision that after the Chargers vacate Mission Valley, the land should be used for a river park and education purposes with an expansion of SDSU and/or UCSD.
“We want to be as clear as we can possibly be about this issue,” Spanos wrote, according to NBC Sports. “We did not choose downtown over Mission Valley casually. Downtown is a plan that can work for the community and our fans. We have tried to make it clear that Mission Valley will not work for the NFL or for the community. The Mayor asked us to make a choice. We made the rational business choice, and the rational choice for the community-at-large. That choice is downtown. Mission Valley is not an option for us, now or in the future.”
The letter assured Frye the Chargers will never opt for stadium in Mission Valley that would partially be paid for with a massive development that would prevent her vision from being realized. This partnership in understanding helps enable supporters of the Citizens Plan backed by Frye and the Chargers initiative to work in tandem despite the initiatives appearing to be in competition. Both sides feel they are in an uphill battle against the City, and have taken the approach that their boats can rise together if they do not allow the media and the City to pit themselves against each other.
A substantial reason the Chargers have no interest in Mission Valley is the cost for a stadium project there would be vastly more expensive than their downtown proposal. In downtown, construction costs are saved by sharing expenses with a non-contiguous expansion of the Convention Center. In Mission Valley, Faulconer and (CSAG) ignored several known obstacles that would undoubtedly greatly inflate the cost of the overall project.
A few members of CSAG met with stadium advocates days before the group announced they were focused on Mission Valley. Jason Riggs, the Chairman of the San Diego Stadium Coalition, and myself brought a lengthily list of known obstacles to Mission Valley and we campaigned hard for downtown.
Riggs became frustrated that members of CSAG were clearly focused on Mission Valley, but were not able to come up with substantial obstacles for downtown. Riggs then said I have a list of obstacles for Mission Valley right here and challenged CSAG members to provide the obstacles to downtown. There was a pause, a hem and a haw, and then one prominent member of CSAG admitted the real obstacle to downtown was the hoteliers. He even went as far as to define the hotelier’s political power by the number of rooms their establishments represent.
Our lists of obstacles were politely received and we were told they would be taken under advisement, but neither CSAG nor Faulconer ever addressed them.
CSAG repeatedly justified their decision to choose Mission Valley because the City owns the land. Eighty of the 166 acres of the Qualcomm site is actually owned by city of San Diego’s Water Utilities Department, according to NBC San Diego.
Faulconer has continued to regurgitate the fallacy of the City owning the Mission Valley land in recent interviews. This could be a preview for the foundation for an argument to reject the Chargers initiative after the report on the cost of moving the MTS bus yard is released. The argument would continue to be that the expense of the bus yard would not factor into the stadium if Mission Valley were the site. Therefore downtown is more expensive for taxpayers.
That argument does not hold merit when factoring the fiduciary responsibility that the Water District has to their rate payers to be fairly compensated by the City for their land.
For decades, the city leased the 80 acres for a measly $15,000 a year. The City had been paying rent to Water District until 2005 when the lease ran out. The City then stopped paying and justified withholding of funds by claiming the land had no real value because the stadium was a money losing operation.
“It’s illegal, flat-out illegal,” said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. “We got to treat the water fund fairly. The water fund is different than tax payers.”
It was also reported that Goldsmith said compensating the water district for past rent and negotiating a future lease with a new appraisal would add millions to any new stadium development in Mission Valley with.
When CSAG released their stadium plan, they recommend selling 75 acres of the Qualcomm Stadium land. CSAG claimed the sale would generate $225 million. There are experts who believe the Mission Valley land is worth nowhere near the valuation CSAG assigned, but within hours Faulconer backed CSAG’s plan giving credence to the valuation for the property.
The acreage CSAG recommended selling is largely owned by the Water District, but there was no plan to compensate them for the land. The Water District was apparently supposed to forgo their fiduciary responsibility to their rate payers so that the funds of the sale could go to the stadium.
In the process, CSAG affectively told the Water District their previously worthless land was now valued at $240 million.
There is no exact science to determining a fair lease value on the land. When speaking to real-estate professionals, a conservative 5% of return for a long-term contract was suggested.
Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume CSAG’s valuation is accurate and assign an annual fair lease value at 5%. That would equate to a $12 million a year lease. This is on-par with Goldsmith’s estimation that compensating the Water District would add millions to the project.
The Water District is now in position to reasonably argue they are entitled to $132 million in back rent plus interest. They would also need to have been fairly compensated for their land if sold. Much of any sale would have to have gone to the Water District and not the stadium project.
“Perhaps the water fund could retain the water rights under Qualcomm, but then get other compensation by having a land exchange for something else owned by the city,” Goldsmith explained. “But you’d better make sure these appraisals are honest and make sure there’s an arm’s-length transaction. Another option is to buy the 80 acres from the water fund.”
If the Water District maintained ownership of the land, then a fair compensation plan would need to be established for the next 30 years, the time expected to payoff stadium construction bonds. With the same 5% rate of return, and with no inflation on CSAG’s $240 million valuation, then it is fair to argue the Water District should be compensated $360 million over 30 years.
Add in the now 11 years of unpaid rent, the total compensation for the Water District’s share of the land could represent a near a half billion shortfall .
Even if CSAG valuation for the land is not correct, this one obstacles illustrates there was no real plan for Mission Valley.
CSAG and Faulconer also completely ignored known infrastructure needs. Ever since the Chargers turned their focus to downtown in 2009, the pre-existence of needed infrastructure was always touted as a major cost savings for building downtown. In 2012, that saving was estimated at $200 million when the Chargers released art work for a downtown stadium.
Steve Cushman has been particular outspoken against the Chargers plan to build a stadium with a non-contiguous expansion of the Convention Center because Cushman has fought for a contiguous expansion. Cushman acknowledged the cost savings of a downtown stadium after he thought he won a contiguous expansion and suggested the Chargers use the site at Tailgate Park for a stadium in a KPBS interview.
“The advantage of downtown is there is already lots of infrastructure,” Cushman said. “The Trolley is there. There is lots of parking.”
Councilman Scott Sherman, who has been out spoken against the Chargers downtown vision, acknowledged the need for infrastructure in Mission Valley in a recent Union Tribune interview where he discussed his vision for development.
“It has to be done right with the infrastructure,” Sherman said. “It just has to be. We’ve got to get the bridge that goes across to Camino Del Rio North down by the stadium, you know, behind IKEA there. That bridge has been proposed and killed several times. And that would just alleviate all kinds of traffic because that road is very underutilized.”
The bridge Sherman referred to is also just one of 16 infrastructure needs that the Chargers made CSAG and the mayor aware of in a website provided by the Chargers that had previous stadium plans the team had proposed. The infrastructure needs were in the Chargers 2003 plan for Mission Valley.
In 2003, when the Chargers offered to pay for the entire cost of building the stadium in exchange for the Mission Valley land, they also offered to pay for these infrastructure projects after conducting engineering studies. This further validates the need for this infrastructure, because it is unlikely the team would have wanted to pay for any additional infrastructure that what was not required.
Since 2003, there has been a substantial amount of development in Mission Valley without the addition of corresponding infrastructure improvements. With a higher density in Mission Valley today, it is likely the infrastructure needed for a major project has only increased.
None of the 16 known infrastructure needs from 2003 were included in either CSAG’s or the mayor’s plan. Let alone any new infrastructure. It’s possible the infrastructure cost alone needed for a Mission Valley stadium project could in itself exceed the cost of moving the bus yard.
16 known road infrastructure needs of 2003 provided to CSAG:
- Friars Road/SR 163 Interchange Roadway & Ramp Improvements including improvements at Friars Road and Frazee Road Intersection
- Friars Road/Interstate 15 Exchange, Roadway and Ramp Improvements
- Friars Road/Qualcomm Way, Ramps and Intersection Improvements
- Texas Street/Camino Del Rio South Intersection Improvements
- Camino Del Rio South/Interstate 15 North bound improvements
- Friars Road/Mission Center Road, Ramp and Intersection improvements
- Rancho San Diego Road/ Ward Road, Intersection Signalization
- Friars Road/Mission Center Drive, Interchange Improvements
- Interstate 8 Hook Ramps Westbound from Camino Del Rio South to near Interstate 805
- Camino Del Rio South to 4 lanes from Fenton Parkway/Mission Center Parkway to Interstate 805
- Camino Del Rio North to 4 lanes, from Fenton Parkway/Mission Center Parkway to Interstate 15
- Mission Center Parkway Bridge over Interstate 8, widen to 4 lanes
- Bridge over San Diego River at Fenton Parkway
- South Development Road Connection offsite, west to Fenton Parkway
- Western Development Road Connection, offsite to Northside Drive
- Extend Murphy Canyon Road South to development area
The issues surrounding fill dirt were also not addressed. One of the biggest obstacle to construction at Mission Valley is that the entire 166 acre site would have to be brought up to Friars Road level, as illustrated in councilman Sherman’s plan he presented for a stadium.
There are several variables with fill dirt, such as where it is coming from and the quality of dirt, so without knowing those variables ahead of time it is hard to estimate a true cost for a project of this magnitude that would likely take multiple millions of cubic yards (CY) of dirt. Consider one dirt truck only carries 16 CY of fill dirt, it would take 62,500 trucks to deliver each million yards of fill dirt.
The Draft EIR for Mission Valley revealed 920,000 CY of contaminated dirt would be exported from the site and may also entail dewatering. The fuel plume that Kinder Morgan is responsible for the mitigating was only a contributing factor to the contamination. Organo-chlorine pesticide is listed is also listed as a contaminate and is pervasive throughout the site, so it is unclear who would be responsible for cleanup costs.
To provide an idea of how much 920,000 cubic yards of dirt is, it would equate to 57,500 truck loads, or roughly three truck loads of dirt for every parking spot currently surrounding the stadium.
It also represents the same amount of ruble that is expected to be created by the demolition of Qualcomm Stadium, according to same Draft EIR. The fact the Draft EIR came up with the same number for the cubic yards of dirt that is need to be exported, and the rubble generated by the demolition of the stadium, may validate the concern that the Draft EIR was indeed rushed.
The difference between the Qualcomm Stadium debris and contaminated dirt is the debris would be trucked to the Miramar Landfill, while the soil will likely have to be hauled out of state. The SF Giants ran into this problem when they built their stadium and it cost them over $1 million to export just 18 thousand CY of dirt to Utah.
The mostly likely destination for Qualcomm’s contaminated dirt is Arizona, according to the contractor who discovered the organo-chlorine pesticide in 2005. An Arizona official said they “may” take the dirt.
After the dirt is removed, it would be replaced and then enough additional clean dirt would need to be brought into raise the entire site to Friar’s Road level.
The same company that discovered the contamination, quoted me a drive time of around $110 an hour to export the dirt. Each trip would also need require a disposal fee and labor to load the dirt. They also said that they said they had several hundred thousand CY of certified dirt available for fill. This dirt was nearby Mission Valley and could be brought in for $60 to $70 a truck load.
That, however, may not even replace what needs to be exported. If not enough fill dirt could be found locally for the project, then same high cost of drive time would need to be applied for importing new dirt.
It is important to note that the fill dirt obstacle was discovered after the proposal the Chargers made in 2003 to develop Mission Valley, and may be a huge contributing factor on why the team decided to look elsewhere for their stadium plans.
Parking was also dramatically underfunded, especially in the CSAG plan that proposed a 12,000 space parking structure. This would be the largest in North America, but CSAG only allocated a $144 million in funding.
The Mickey and Friends Parking Structure, a 10,250 space garage at Disneyland, came in ahead of time and under budget in the neighborhood of $240 million in 2001, according to Michael Tomczak, an assistant construction manager on the project. A 1994 Los Angeles times article supports that claim by estimating the project would cost $223 million.
The 12,000 spaces is also dramatically insufficient. There are currently over 19,000 parking spaces at Qualcomm Stadium. On game days, the parking lot is typically full and the Trolley is extremely busy. The Trolley set a record in 2014 when it carried on average 15,202 passengers to Chargers games.
When factoring in the Trolley, it would take an unattainable four person per car average to accommodate 63,000 fans with only 12,000 parking spaces.
Qualcomm Stadium is a virtual land locked island, so unless there is a significant investment in public transportation, nearly all of the 19,000 spaces would be needed in a new stadium at the location. After speaking to multiple contractors, I learned a fair estimate for a parking structure of that size would be north of $350 million.
These obstacles were brought up again when stadium advocates meet with the team after they announced downtown. They were acknowledged that these and others greatly contributed to the decision to focus on downtown.
None of the estimations made are meant to be set in stone examples. They were not derived from any actual quotes for a job, and estimations can dramatically change based on the contractor. With enough time and money any of these obstacles could likely be overcome.
What is important is these obstacles were either completely overlooked, or dramatically underfunded by both CSAG and the mayor’s plans. With an understanding of the existence of these obstacles, and a rough idea of the costs associated with them, we can hold the mayor accountable.
We must not allow Faulconer to again suggest Mission Valley would be cheaper than downtown in an effort to not embrace the Chargers vision and/or their initiative.