For those of you who still care about the fate of the team formerly known as the San Diego Chargers, I bring you my one-and-only mock draft. Yes, I know they are now the Los Angeles Chargers, but like a vast amount of you I hate the sound of it, the look of it and my fingers hurt just typing it. We all cope in our own way and I go forward with solid belief that by the time the two years in the StubHub Center is over, Dean Spanos will have sold the team (by will or force) to an owner who will return the team where they belong in America’s Finest City.
With the draft only a few days away, thankfully, the season of a million mock drafts will also come to an end. I’m throwing a wrinkle into this year’s edition. Since the team never picks the player I want, for the first few rounds I am separating my dream pick (the guy I want) and the actual pick (the guy I believe they will actually take). I’m happy to be wrong on last year’s first round pick (I wanted Jalen Ramsey. Joey Bosa was and will be a home run for the next decade as long as he can stay healthy).
I hope you enjoy my mock. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Round 1: (My pick) QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson. It is that time. Time to pick a quarterback of the future. Like I’ve admitted many times over, I’m the President of the Philip Rivers fan club but even I can see that his run is coming to an end. I’m not saying his skill is declining. He will be among the league leaders in passing as usual this season. However, his body takes a pounding every season from having a suspect offensive line blocking for him. We never see his name on the injury report but we’ve seen him labor during games. Couple that with his disdain for leaving San Diego to play in Los Angeles and I say he’ll bridge the two-year gap leading into the permanent residence in the Taj Mahal Rams owner Stan Kroenke is building.
Hence, the benefit of having a star quarterback on the roster. All the talk is about how none of the quarterbacks in this draft are ready to be day one quarterbacks because none of them came from a pro-style system. Air raid quarterbacks fail at large because they’re thrown into the fire too soon.
Watson would come into a perfect scenario where he would get to sit for two seasons behind Philip Rivers and learn the game from a master of the craft. That would be more than ample time to master the playbook and learn the nuances of a pro-style offense from taking the ball from under center to reading defenses and making calls at the line. This is the perfect time for a top-tier quarterback. Watson brings an undeniable charisma, raw natural talent, athleticism rarely seen in a quarterback, and the swagger that comes with leading his team into the National Championship game two seasons in a row and winning one.
In my opinion, Watson is the best quarterback in this class. Everyone will say taking him at pick seven will be a major reach. They won’t be saying that when he’s torching defenses in 2019. The precedent is as close as the guy he will be replacing. Rivers sat two years behind Drew Brees and I’d say that turned out pretty damn well wouldn’t you?
On to the man I think Telesco will actually pick…
S Jamal Adams, LSU. It seems to be six of one, half a dozen of the other when it comes to the top two safeties in the draft, Adams and Malik Hooker out of Ohio State. Both are big, physical and versatile playmakers who will provide an instant impact when they step on the field. Given the fact that seemingly every year two teams trade up into the top five for a quarterback, I believe this year will be no different. The teams trading up will push both safeties into the Chargers spot and given the choice, I believe Telesco will take Adams. If Adams is gone, the pick will be Hooker.
Round 2: (My pick) S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. I know what you’re thinking. Two safeties? Not quite. Peppers is listed as a safety because he can play both safety positions exceptionally well. However, he can play slot corner and linebacker, too. Talent that versatile is a steal in the second round. Up until a short while ago, Peppers was considered a top-ten talent. A failed urine test revealed this week has damaged his draft stock and will lead to a precipitous drop. First round talent will drop into the second and this will be the biggest name of them all.
Speaking of steals, the second round pick of the Chargers also managed to fall from grace and into Day 2 for reasons unknown.
OT Cam Robinson, Alabama. The Chargers can’t have enough help on the offensive line and the 6’6″, 322-pound behemoth will be a Godsend if he’s still on the board when the Chargers pick.
Round 3: WR Curtis Samuel, Ohio State. Dual-threat capability as a running back and wide receiver fills a need to find a replacement for the now-departed Danny Woodhead in the backfield and adds depth to the receiving corps. By the way, his 4.3-speed would also come in handy in the return game.
Round 4: DT Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama. More beef in the center of the defensive line is always a good thing and a blue blood at this spot is a great value pick.
Round 5: ILB Ben Boulware, Clemson. Boulware is a bulldog on the field. He is always near the ball, a tackle machine and a defensive leader. Great football IQ.
Round 6: QB Josh Dobbs, Tennessee. This is the point where the Chargers waste a draft pick on a quarterback project. Could be a different QB, but a QB nonetheless.
Round 7: RB Wayne Gallman, Clemson. The Chargers lack depth in the running back room. Gallman is an excellent all-purpose back and powerful rusher.
So concludes my Tigers-heavy, (If I get my way) mock draft. What do you think? It will be fun to see the drama unfold over the next three days — especially since we are here in person, AGAIN!
The Greg One
On Thursday, a blockbuster trade was announced between the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans. In the deal, the Titans sent their first overall pick (1), and their fourth- and sixth-round picks to St. Louis. In return, the Rams sent Tennessee their first-round selection (15), two second-round picks and a third-round selection in the 2016 draft. In addition, the Rams include their first- and third-round picks in 2017.
Nevermind free agency, this is the best thing to happen to the San Diego Chargers this offseason. This mega-deal comes down to three main points:
1. The Rams are preparing to select their quarterback of the future. They need to continue the momentum from the euphoria of moving back to Los Angeles by adding star power. They need to stay in the news in a city like Los Angeles, which is not starving for sports selections. Every major league sport is now represented in Los Angeles with the return of the NFL. L.A. is about box office. The Rams may have a future star with Rookie of the Year running back Todd Gurley, but if there aren’t enough big names on the marquee, the fickle L.A. audience will forget you sooner rather than later. Adding the top quarterback in the draft will address their biggest need and be another name to add to the marquee.
2. The top two picks in the draft will be quarterbacks. The Cleveland Browns select second in the draft and need a quarterback as badly or worse than the Rams do. North Dakota State signal caller Carson Wentz and California Bear Jared Goff are the consensus top-two quarterback prospects in this draft. They will be the first and second picks, the only question is the order in which they will be selected.
Is it possible the Browns could choose a player other than a quarterback with the second pick?
If the Browns are smart they will stay at two and pick their quarterback. If they were choosing anyone other than a quarterback then wise thing to do would be to trade out of the second spot for a nice boatload of picks like the Titans and add starter-quality players to their decrepit team. Then again, we are putting the Browns and smart in the same sentence. This is, after all, the team that burned the second of their two first-round picks on Johnny Manziel only two drafts ago.
3. San Diego will get the No. 1 player on their draft board. Despite what happens with the Cleveland pick, the odds of anything happening aside from Goff and Wentz going in the first two picks are slim and none. Thankfully, the Chargers do not need a quarterback, meaning they will have their choice of the entire draft field to choose from. With eight picks to use over seven rounds, they not only have the top of each round to select the best player available, they have the maneuverability to re-enter a round to accommodate a player who is falling or trade down for value.
The draft truly begins with the Chargers selection. The pressure is on GM Tom Telesco and his braintrust to not screw up this pick. After being left at the altar by the league in the race to L.A. sweepstakes, and not being able to come to an agreement with Rams owner Stan Krownke on co-habitation of the future L.A. mega-stadium, the Bolts should add Kroenke to their Christmas card list.
This trade assures order at the top of the draft. It assures the Chargers the pick of the litter of non-quarterback skill- position players. It’s assures the Bolts a King’s ransom for those other quarterback-hungry teams wishing to jump ahead of other quarterback-hungry teams sitting in the top half of the draft. (Think San Francisco, Philadelphia and possibly Dallas sitting at picks 7, 13 and 4, respectively).
The ball sits in the Bolts’ court. Who should they give it to? Leave your thoughts on whom they should select below.
The Greg One
In last week’s Los Angeles relocation conference in Houston the NFL owners awarded the right to move to California to the St. Louis Rams. The San Diego Chargers have first opportunity to flesh out an agreement to share the venue with the Rams if a deal can be worked out between Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Chargers owner Dean Spanos.
Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis was left in the cold with his hand out. Davis is the next in line to negotiate with Kroenke if Spanos doesn’t work out a deal by this time next year. Davis gets $100 million to build a stadium in Oakland if he can come to an agreement to do so with the city. Only one problem…
Davis has no right to Oakland now that his lease on O.Co stadium has ended. If the season started today, the Raiders would have no place to play. The sins of the father have truly come full circle and landed solely on his son and his organization.
Davis is keeping a close eye on what happens with Spanos and Kroenke because now his first priority is securing a place to play for his team. Davis has acquired land in San Antonio and he is open to the idea of playing there if San Antonio will have him and the owners approve his moving there.
These are the very same owners that voted 30-2 against him getting to move to Los Angeles.
Davis is also willing to stay in California and move to San Diego if Spanos and Kroenke come to an agreement to share the L.A. venue. Allegedly, the league wants to keep San Diego as a location because it is the best destination location in the NFL.
So that begs the question…Would you root for the San Diego RAIDERS?
Chargers fans are practically born with a hate for the Raiders in their blood. The blood feud between the Chargers and Raiders extends beyond the field and into the fan bases with a Hatfields versus McCoys type of intensity. However, this is a different day and age.
If the Bolts bolt to Los Angeles, many spurned fans are not willing to leave San Diego County to support them. Losing the NFL will be a major blow to the city economically. Money has no loyalty. The city will welcome Mark Davis with open arms if he wants to bring his team there but will the fans?
After 55 years of rooting the loudest against the Raiders, can the switch be so easily flipped if the Raiders become the home team? Many will defect and cheer for football in San Diego no matter what colors the home team wears. Others will toss their allegiance to a different team and the loyalists will cheer on the L.A. Chargers.
What side do you come out on?
I was born and raised a San Diego Chargers fan. They were my first favorite team regardless of sport and it has stayed that way. If the Chargers were to move to Los Angeles I will follow them there. The players have nothing to do with this. We’re mad at the city and the team officials for not getting this obstacle out of the way long ago. We’re mad at the laziness of all involved in waiting until the last second to entertain a vote to build a new stadium ensuring the team stays.
The players are not boycotting playing in San Diego. The players are as in the dark on this matter as we are. I enjoyed the Air Coryell years immensely. The 1994 championship run and the subsequent Ladainian Tomlinson era provided the greatest joys of my life as a sports fan. I’ve endured more losing seasons than I care to but every year I come back for more. Now is no different.
Philip Rivers is my favorite athlete. Just two years ago I stood at the bottom of the stage at the NFL Draft in New York City as Jason Verrett came down the stairs. Amidst his euphoria of just getting drafted, Verrett saw me cheering him in my powder blue Rivers jersey and he came forward and hugged me. Just last summer I met Melvin Gordon at the draft on three different occasions and he always had time to stop and talk for a few minutes. Gordons’ thousand watt smile never left his face and his Chargers lid didn’t leave his head the whole time.
I’ve had the privilege of getting invited to cover charity events of the Chargers players as you’ve seen on this site in the past. The players are always extremely kind, willing to be a part of your life even if for a few minutes. My loyalty is with the players. That’s my team. Those are my guys. Wherever they play is where i’ll be. San Diego. Los Angeles. Mars.
I’ll be there.
For the record, I say if you’re ready to forsake the Chargers at their lowest moment you were never a true fan. The same way we don’t choose our parents, the team didn’t choose their owners. We wear the players names on our backs, not the names of the owners. Separate the team you live and die for (if that’s the case) from the ownership. Your beef is with those in the ivory tower who are facilitating this hot mess. The players are collateral damage. If you’re ready to abandon ship on the Chargers and root for the Raiders if they relocate to San Diego all I have to say to you is this:
Bolt Nation doesn’t need you. I’d rather be stuck in Disneyland on the It’s A Small World Ride with a Justin Beiber concert droning on in front of me until the end of time than watch the Silver and Whack colors representing San Diego one time. You 619-for-lifers out there…represent your city. Have pride in your city, absolutely. Don’t declare your devotion for the Chargers then bolt to the Vader-mask wearing dark side if the Raiders set up shop in America’s Finest City.
If it happens, enjoy the black hole. I hope it swallows all of you whole so we never have to see Raiders players representing San Diego ever again. The very thought of it makes me want to projectile vomit all over my computer screen. True Chargers fans feel the same way I do.
Everything will be all right Bolt Nation. To paraphrase Terrell Owens:
That’s our team
That’s our quarterback
The rest of you can kick rocks. Are you staying Bolt proud or will you welcome the Raiders if they move in? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s GOOOOOOOOO
The Greg One
It’s been a week since the fateful decision that wasn’t for the team and the fans of the San Diego Chargers. A week later we have as many answers as we did when every owner of every team went behind closed doors to discuss the fate of our favorite team in Houston.
The 33 most powerful men in football went into a room. By the time they came out, much like the Chargers own front office, even they could not figure out what to do with the Bolts. The Los Angeles Three-for-all ended with the St. Louis Rams getting the green light to go to the City of Angels by a whopping 30-2 vote.
San Diego gets approval to move to Los Angeles and share the new stadium Rams owner Stan Kroenke will build in Inglewood. That is, IF he and Chargers owner Dean Spanos can come to an agreement on co-habitating the facility in one year. The Raiders get left with nothing but the right to be next in line to barter for co-habitation with Kroenke if the Chargers fail to do so.
The NFL offered a parting gift to the Chargers and Raiders in the form of $100 million towards building a new stadium in their home cities IF they can come to an agreement to build there. We all know how well that has gone so far.
Still, this is a victory for fans of the San Diego Chargers. The team is not moving. Yet.
Dean Spanos is part of the old school of NFL owners. Stan Kroenke is part of the boisterous, defiant, rebellious new school of NFL owners. Spanos is tight with his money as all Chargers fans know. Kroenke throws around money like there’s no tomorrow. The two don’t get along to say the least, which bodes well for Bolts fans.
Imagine you just built your dream home. You’ve moved in, decorated and it is finally perfect. That night the doorbell rings and it’s the person you can’t stand but tolerated because you know punching this person could equal time in jail. This person says, “You have a great new house, we should BOTH live here for the next fifty years!”
A little over-the-top, sure, but not far from the truth.
Chargers fans couldn’t have hand-picked a better foil for the Los Angeles plan than Stan Kroenke. Kroenke is set to build his dream stadium. If the renderings are to be believed, this stadium will be nothing short of futuristic. Into his office walks frumpy Dean Spanos.
We should both live here…..
The NFL owners are not a mutual admiration society. There are distinct factions behind the scenes. While Kroenke made his victory speech last Tuesday night Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis left the room and did not return. When reporters asked Spanos when he was going to begin discussions with Kroenke his Chargers owner first comment was “I’m going to take a day off.” Doesn’t sound like a man looking forward to moving onto another man’s property, especially that man.
The fate of the Chargers remains in limbo. Spanos has reportedly applied for the trademark rights to the names Los Angeles Chargers and L.A. Chargers but that’s about all he’s been able to accomplish. The rights haven’t been granted to him yet.
When Spanos and Kroenke finally met in person on Monday to discuss sharing the new venue the only thing they decided was to keep everything private until there’s something to report. Thanks for nothing, guys. It’s not like there are players lives and families and fan allegiance riding on these ‘discussions’.
Oh wait, there are…
Again, this pairing could be the best thing to happen to San Diego when it comes to keeping the Chargers in town. If both owners were gung-ho on getting these teams in place as soon as possible a deal would be done by now. In my humble opinion Spanos would rather stay, use his $100 million consolation prize toward building his own stadium than be Kroenkes’ tenant. I’ve never believed the Chargers would leave and still don’t. Looking at the way the situation is unfolding, now I have a basis to go from and not just hope. As do we all.
Sit back and enjoy the first world billionaire problems.
The struggle is real.
The Greg One
The San Diego Chargers are having a nightmare of a season. Not even the most pessimistic Bolts supporter would have figured a team this talented would be 2-7 after nine games. Alas, the Chargers find themselves in that position with nothing but doom and gloom on the horizon. With every loss fan apathy outgrows fan anger over the results on the field. Teams that should be an ‘easy win’ for Philip Rivers and company now look daunting. After all, San Diego did just lose to a 1-6 Baltimore Ravens and a 2-6 Chicago Bears team in back-to-back weeks.
For all intents and purposes, the Chargers have fallen into the ‘easy win’ category.
The blackest of the clouds hovering over the Chargers is the relocation issue. A topic that has been lingering for 14 seasons and counting, replacing Qualcomm stadium has been on the agenda every offseason only to eventually get swept under the rug.
With the NFL bent on getting a team back into the lucrative Los Angeles market for the 2016 season, teams are jumping on the opportunity to leave their ramshackle digs in favor of a new state-of-the-art facility in the second-largest market in the United States. The Chargers, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams are embroiled in a three-horse race to get the Los Angeles prize. At the same time, Oakland and San Diego are working to get a back-channel deal for a new stadium in their own city at the same time.
St. Louis owner Stan Kroenke has no desire to stay in St. Louis a second longer than he has to. The billionaire has already purchased land in Inglewood, California and is ready to build a stadium upon it the moment the NFL says yes. The Rams are the most storied of the three teams bidding to move. The NFL isn’t exactly happy with the owner trying to ‘bully’ his way into the Los Angeles space without their consent.
The Oakland Raiders are also more than ready to leave their O.Co stadium, known around the league as the worst stadium in the league. The Raiders also have a long history in Los Angeles and are ready to return. It was revealed over the offseason that the Raiders and Chargers ownership have met and discussed co-habitation of a stadium in Los Angeles. The league is interested but the measure does not have the 2/3 support of the other NFL owners to make that proposition a reality. Yet.
The San Diego Chargers have only had one season in a temporary home while Qualcomm stadium (previously known as Jack Murphy stadium) was being built. The Chargers have resided in San Diego for 49 years and looks to be the team working the hardest to keep the team in the city despite ownership saying everything to the contrary. The city, local politicians and the government are working in various capacities on proposals for stadium sites in Mission Valley or in downtown San Diego.
The NFL is watching all three teams. They have listened to multiple proposals from each team and recently concluded town hall forums in each of the three cities to take the pulse of the fanbases there. In the end, it’s all about money. Proposals aside, the team that will make the NFL the most money will win the battle for Los Angeles.
As hard as it is to say or even type, the Oakland Raiders are a team on the rise. At 4-4 they have themselves in the wild card hunt and a future superstars on their hands with quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper maturing together. Cooper was the Raiders 2015 number one draft pick, brought in to give a legitimate weapon to Carr, the Raiders 2014 number one draft pick. The play has paid off and Cooper is succeeding beyond expectations.
St. Louis hit the jackpot with their 2015 number one draft pick, Todd Gurley III. Gurley has taken the league by storm and in the five full games since he’s returned from ACL surgery he’s vaulted into fourth place in the league in rushing with 664 yards and four touchdowns. The rookie is averaging a gaudy 118 yards rushing per game.
Gurley is already drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson in their prime and has the looks of the next big unstoppable force at the running back position. The Rams are two games behind the Arizona Cardinals for the NFC West lead and have already beaten the Cards once this season.
San Diego is obviously going in the opposite direction. The Chargers are not devoid of bankable stars. If he can stay healthy, which has been easier said than done for the third-year pro, Keenan Allen can be a yearly top-10 wide receiver. Second year cornerback Jason Verrett is going to be tops among the new breed of shut down cornerbacks if he can stay on the field. Even in pictures, Philip Rivers’ love of the game shines through. All of these teams have faces that would look great on a Los Angeles billboard.
What the Chargers needed was a buzz.
It wouldn’t be a reach to say San Diego is a market that is dimly lit on the NFL landscape. They’re known as a ‘soft’ football team. Visiting teams love to go to San Diego because of its perfect weather and the fact that the road team’s fans usually outnumber the local fans creating a ‘home game on the road’ environment.
The Chargers needed a great season tied into a playoff appearance that would have put them into the consciousness of the NFL fans that don’t watch the Chargers or have any familiarity with the players aside from fantasy football. That way, when the NFL announces San Diego as the team headed to Los Angeles it would result in interest and excitement as opposed to the scratching of heads.
The Rams and Raiders have very loud and vocal factions of their fanbases shouting at the NFL from the rooftops that they should be the team that goes to Los Angeles. Rams fans have even started a movement to boycott the games should San Diego get cast in LA. Aside from the diehard San Diego fans, the fanbase largely is not willing to travel two hours up the I-5 to continue to support the Chargers. Apathy does not sell PSL’s and luxury boxes. Shutting out two teams with a long history in Los Angeles for a team with one year of tenure and currently sitting in last place will not draw eyeballs, ad revenue or sell merchandise.
In short, the Chargers are playing their way into San Diego. The biggest ally in keeping the Bolts in San Diego were the Bolts themselves. No one planned for the team to have this dismal a season but in a karmic way they solved their own problem. Forget what the ownership says, it’s all about the league making money and the Chargers are not going to do it.
The Greg One
Booga: There is a feeling among the fans in San Diego that the brunt of the work on finding a stadium location has been placed on the Los Angeles area (Carson and Inglewood). Although that sentiment warrants some consideration, over a dozen years have been spent trying to find a solution in San Diego. How would you respond to the fans that feel that way?
Mark: I can’t blame fans for feeling that way, because we have made such quick progress in Los Angeles in just a few months while making so little progress in San Diego even after 14 years of work.
What we’ve tried to explain to fans is that the Los Angeles and San Diego markets are significantly different. In LA, the market is large enough to finance the stadium out of revenues generated by the stadium. In our smaller market here in San Diego, that same type of financing solution simply isn’t possible.
But no amount of explaining will keep our passionate fans from feeling frustrated, and I can’t blame them. After 14 years of work, the fans have every right to expect more progress than they’ve seen here in San Diego.
Booga: To show the readers that you are a fan of the team, what is your favorite moment in Chargers’ history?
Mark: The epic, overtime playoff game against Miami in the early 1980s. The incredible performance by Kellen Winslow and the rest of the team. I’ll never forget watching that game – I still remember to this day that Don Criqui was the announcer. Criqui was old school.
Booga: After CSAG submitted its initial proposal regarding their plan for a stadium in San Diego, what were your thoughts regarding the work they put into devising a plan that they believe would be workable?
Mark: My thought after the CSAG report was released was pretty much the same thought I had when the Mayor announced the creation of CSAG: We are running out of time. With the pressure that Stan Kroenke and the Rams were putting on us in Inglewood, we had hoped to move forward quickly to get something before the voters in San Diego in 2015. We felt this way in January, when the Mayor created the task force, and we have felt this way every day since. And while we are pleased that the city has now assembled a good group of experts led by Christopher Melvin of the Nixon Peabody law firm, it sure would have been nice to have been working with these experts last year – or even starting in January, when CSAG was created. Waiting for CSAG to conclude, and only then starting with the experts on June 2, constituted a huge loss of time – time that we can’t get back.
Booga: It appears to some that Mayor Faulconer and his team have no desire to explore downtown San Diego as an option for a stadium. The Chargers and Dean Spanos seem to be interested in seeking a viable option in downtown. Has the focus turned to downtown, or is the team willing to find a solution at the Mission Valley site?
Mark: Yes, the Mayor and his allies in the hotel industry have made it absolutely clear that they have no interest in the downtown option. CSAG’s chair said that anyone who believed downtown was viable was “delusional.” And the CSAG reports lists reason after reason why the downtown option can’t work. With all of this, it’s hard to see how the downtown option can be revived, at least in the short term.
Booga: How big of a role do the hoteliers have in deciding whether or not a stadium could be built in downtown?
Mark: The hoteliers call the shots on many of the important issues facing the City of San Diego, and they certainly do so on the possibility of a combined stadium-convention center downtown.
Of course, most people don’t follow the machinations of the hoteliers very closely. But if they did, they would be very surprised at what they would see.
For example, for years the hoteliers have insisted that any expansion to the Convention Center be contiguous – which means that the expansion must be connected to the existing facility. The hotel lobby said that a contiguous expansion was essential because that’s what the customers of the Convention Center wanted.
Of course, the hoteliers’ plan for accomplishing this has been thwarted by the courts; the legally dubious taxing mechanism proposed for the project was decisively struck down by the courts, and several environmental challenges against the project are still pending. Through that whole process, more than four years and $10 million in taxpayer money were wasted – only for the city to come up empty in the end.
So, at the behest of the hoteliers, the City is paying for another study of Convention Center customers to re-evaluate the idea of a contiguous expansion. And I’m going to go way out on a limb here and predict that this study is going to show – as Gomer Pyle used to say on The Andy Griffith Show – “surprise, surprise, surprise!” It turns out that our customers have changed their minds and now want a non-contiguous expansion after all! And when this happens, I bet no one will call out the hoteliers for carrying out this elaborate but obvious ruse.
Booga: The NFL owners and the NFL play a bigger role than most are aware of involving the stadium issue. Can you explain to the fans what their impact means to achieving a resolution to keep the Chargers in San Diego?
Mark: Most fans probably know at this point that the relocation of an NFL franchise from one city to another requires a three-fourths vote of the owners – 24 votes out of 32 owners. From the start of our new stadium efforts 14 years ago, we have always shown the utmost respect for the process established by the NFL’s owners. We have done everything possible to keep the League fully informed every step of the way, and the requirements imposed on us by the NFL’s relocation guidelines have been at the top of our minds throughout. In short, we have been very clear on this fundamental point: We will respect the decisions made by the owners about Los Angeles and San Diego.
Booga: Can you explain how the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) affects the situation via the courts?
Mark: CEQA law is pretty turgid stuff, and we only know so much about it because we have paid millions of dollars in legal fees over the years to understand it – because unless you understand CEQA, you will never be able to complete a major construction project in California.
So, despite the complicated nature of the topic, I will take a shot here at summarizing what CEQA means, and why it presents such a challenge for us right now here in San Diego. But readers, please be warned: Prepare to be bored.
CEQA is the landmark California state law requiring that all state and local legislative bodies fully account for the environmental impacts of proposed legislation before the legislation is passed.
For major projects, such as an NFL stadium and a possible ancillary development, CEQA requires that the legislative body conduct a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), submit the EIR for public comment, incorporate or otherwise account for the public’s input, and then certify the EIR. Once the EIR is certified, the legislative body is free to adopt the project. At that point, for controversial projects in California, complaining parties typically sue to challenge the adequacy of the EIR, and on complex projects the resulting litigation can stall the project and consume several years of time.
What does all of this have to do with the City of San Diego and the Chargers?
An action by the City Council to place a stadium ballot measure before the voters is a legislative act and so must be cleared under CEQA. The standard method of accomplishing this for a complicated stadium project is to conduct a full-blown EIR – a process that usually takes from 12-to-18 months from start to certification by the City Council.
Even though the Mayor Faulconer took office in 2014, the city’s leaders have as of this date not even begun an EIR on the stadium project. Clearly, then there is no longer the opportunity to complete a legitimate, legally defensible EIR in time for a 2015 vote.
To get around this problem, the city has proposed, in three formal negotiating sessions and many informal conversations, four means of circumventing the traditional CEQA EIR process:
- Legislative Exemption: At our first formal negotiation session, the city’s team said that the only way to clear CEQA in time for a 2015 vote was to persuade the California state legislature to pass a law exempting the entire stadium/ancillary development project from CEQA. No other project of this type in California has ever received such a complete exemption, and we do not believe that such an exemption will be forthcoming from the legislation in this case. In any event, an exemption passed by the state legislature in 2015 would not take legal effect until next year and so would not apply to any 2015 ballot measure.
- Categorical Exemption: There are exemptions in CEQA for some projects. At our second formal meeting, the city argued that the stadium project was exempt from CEQA because we would simply be “replacing” the old stadium with the new stadium. This argument received serious legal scrutiny both by our legal team and by experts quoted in the media, and a consensus quickly emerged that this option was legally dubious.
- Reliance on 1983 Stadium Expansion EIR: At our third formal negotiating session, the city proposed to create an addendum for a 1983 EIR that was prepared for a 7,000 seat expansion of the stadium. The city maintained that the addendum could be prepared quickly and would not be subject to public review. Once again, we concluded based on all the advice we received that this approach was legally invalid because the 1983 EIR – which is all of 20-odd pages long – had nothing to do with the construction of a brand new stadium, the demolition of an old stadium, and an ancillary development. Therefore, it would not be possible to create a legally sufficient addendum that would pass CEQA muster.
- Quickie EIR: When it became clear that the city’s first three ideas for circumventing CEQA were untenable, the city proposed to conduct an EIR in time for a January 2016 ballot measure. To accomplish this, the city would have to begin the EIR immediately, spend roughly one month writing the EIR, begin the 45 day public review process, and then take time to account for the public comments – all prior to the mid-October date when the City Council would have to vote to place the matter on the January 2016 ballot.
Preparing a full EIR for a project of this magnitude in such a short period of time is unprecedented in California, and the resulting product would be so slipshod that plaintiffs’ lawyers would have an easy time having the document invalidated by the courts.
Booga: How did the Carson and Inglewood projects avoid the CEQA process?
Mark: Citizen’s initiatives are not subject to CEQA, and both the Carson and Inglewood stadiums were entitled through citizen’s initiatives.
A successful citizen’s initiative must be sponsored by a group or entity that has the financial resources to draft the initiative, gather signatures, and manage an effective election campaign. Starting from scratch today, the soonest a citizen’s initiative could reach the ballot in San Diego, if everything went smoothly, would be April or May of 2016. Finally, there is now a move in the California legislature to close the CEQA loophole that allows citizen’s initiatives of this type, and it is quite possible, even likely, that the law will be changed before there could be a vote on a citizen’s initiative in San Diego.
Booga: Why can’t an EIR be done in a month or two, if the city is prepared to throw significant resources behind the effort?
Mark: There is an entire class of plaintiffs’ lawyers in California that exists solely to challenge EIRs and then collect legal fees from taxpayers when the lawyers win in court. No EIR is legally bulletproof, but to get as close as possible to that goal would require 12-to-18 months of serious work. It is simply not possible to do the necessary work in a month or two.
Booga: San Diego’s mayor believes that the options identified for circumventing CEQA are legally defensible. Why isn’t that good enough for the Chargers?
Mark: The city has a very different tolerance for risk than the Chargers do. For example, four years ago the current city leadership proposed a novel way of increasing the hotel tax, without a public vote, to finance a convention center expansion. Many observers, including the Chargers, said at the time that the tax measure was illegal and that it would be struck down by the courts. The city’s leadership decided to move forward nonetheless and take their chances in court. Now, five years and $10 million in taxpayer money later, the tax was declared illegal by a unanimous court of appeals and the city has no Convention Center expansion plan.
The Chargers are in no position to roll the legal dice in this way. The team would be expected to fund, at a cost of perhaps up to ten million dollars, the election campaign, the vote, and the subsequent legal defense of the vote. And even if the team prevails at the ballot box, the project would be stalled by years of litigation which the team and city are likely to lose in the end.
Booga: Why must there be a public vote? Can’t the City Council simply adopt the stadium funding plan?
Mark: A City Council vote on a stadium plan would still require CEQA clearance and a full EIR.
In addition, a City Council vote would be subject to the California referendum process, which allows citizens who don’t like what the Council did to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot a referendum invalidating the City Council’s action. Opponents of taxpayer funding for a stadium in San Diego would almost certainly gather sufficient signatures to qualify a referendum for the ballot. The entire project would then be put on hold until the next regularly scheduled election. In short, there will likely be a public vote on the stadium project one way or another. The only questions are how the matter reaches the ballot, and when.
Finally, the Mayor and a majority of the City Council and County Board of Supervisors have insisted that there be a public vote on the expenditure of any public money for a stadium. These political leaders are unlikely to reverse their positions.
Booga: The City and County of San Diego are committed to spending several hundred million dollars of public money on a stadium project. Isn’t that significant?
Mark: The City and County haven’t committed anything yet. Any expenditure of public funds would have to be approved by voters. In the case of a tax increase, a two-thirds vote of approval is required under California law.
In addition, even if there is voter approval, the City and County of San Diego are both proposing to finance the project with money from their General Funds. In the City’s case, this would likely require the sale of Lease Revenue Bonds; in the County’s case, this would require several different appropriations over a period of years. Taking money from the General Fund to pay for a stadium will generate a vigorous public backlash and legal challenges by those who believe that vital services — such as police, fire and public pensions — will be imperiled by this funding mechanism.
Booga: How badly do you want the Chargers to remain in San Diego? Or are you strictly focused on what provides the Spanos’ family with the most lucrative deal possible?
Mark: If Dean and his family didn’t want the Chargers to remain in San Diego, we would have given up long ago. There have been stadium options available in LA going back to 2003, when AEG was proposing a stadium near Staples Center. Ed Roski’s stadium site in the City of Industry was fully entitled in 2008. AEG’s Farmers Field site has been fully entitled for years now as well. If the Spanos family wanted to move the Chargers out of San Diego, the team would have been gone a long time ago.
Booga: There has been a dark picture painted of you via the media and other outlets. It would appear that some do not understand that you have a job to do, and that you must do your due diligence to weigh all options in an effort to find a successful model for a stadium. How do you respond to the critics? Or do you?
Mark: We knew we would create plenty of controversy in January that when we decided to increase the pressure on San Diego political leaders to act. But we felt we had no choice, because of the move that the Rams made in Inglewood.
So, when I speak to fans, or e-mail with them, I try to ask a simple question: If we had simply remained quiet and allowed CSAG’s work to continue until the Fall – which is the schedule that the Mayor first proposed – would our chances of solving this problem have increased, or decreased? My strong view is that if we had simply said nothing, right now we would all be sitting around and waiting for CSAG to finish work in October or November – just as the NFL owners are in the process of considering the Los Angeles question.
Of course, fans have every right to their own opinions about the wisdom of our strategy, and I have no business trying to talk them out of those opinions. But I’m comfortable with the new strategy that we pursued once our hand was forced in January by events in Inglewood.
Booga: In closing, do you have anything to say to the fans of the San Diego Chargers that gives them a true sense of hope when it comes to their team staying put in America’s finest city?
Mark: Anyone who tells you how the Los Angeles relocation process is going to play out at the NFL ownership level is engaging in pure speculation. There isn’t anyone who truly knows how the situation will ultimately resolve itself. And whatever resolution occurs is going to be impacted by important events that have not yet occurred.
Finally, a great deal might depend on how the San Diego political leadership decides to treat the NFL and the Chargers going forward. The good news here is that the city has finally assembled experts in stadium finance who might, we hope, advise a different, more sophisticated approach to the Chargers and to the NFL than the one that some of the city’s political leaders have taken so far.