“Why does Chris Cate want the Chargers to leave San Diego? Please call and ask him.” That was the headline in an ad Dean Spanos, the Chargers owner, ran this past week targeting 2nd year City Council member Chris Cate, who is on the leadership committee of the No Downtown Stadium – Jobs and Streets First! coalition. Nearly all of the City Council members have voiced opposition to Spanos’s audacious public money grab to fund a downtown stadium for his pro-football team (Ballot Measure C. – disingenuously entitled “Citizens Initiative” – full text). But Cate has taken the extra step of being a leader on the coalition. David Alvarez has also endorsed the coalition, Todd Gloria opposes the Spanos initiative because it prevents a contiguous convention center expansion, and Scott Sherman has authored a study critical of Spanos’s reliance on Indianapolis as a favorable example of combined stadium and convention facilities, such as Spanos proposes. In an age of partisan politics, this coalition has been a rare instance of bipartisan agreement.
Reminiscent of NRA tactics, Spanos’s ad targeting Cate was an obvious attempt to harass and punish Cate – a Republican like Spanos, and intimidate other city leaders from exercising leadership rather than fealty to a billionaire powerbroker. The ad received national attention for its bullying tactic.
So while normally the title to this opinion piece is a bit like asking “when will Spanos stop beating his wife?” – the classic example of a loaded question or complex question fallacy – it is no more so than Spanos’s attack ad against Cate. In fact, Spanos’s “Convadium,” as it has come to be called, does have several several negative impacts on the homeless population. The Convadium’s location is at the center of what has often been called the City’s homeless service providers “campus.” The immediate vicinity includes the Father Joe’s Village / St. Vincent de Paul complex, Second Chance, Neil Good Day Center, Volunteers of America, and others. A Convadium will both directly displace homeless people and interfere with services to homeless people. A few examples include:
1) Pro sports have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice the needs of homeless people for appearances. The most recent local example of such conduct was the City’s homeless sweeps and the installation of a “rock garden” under the I-5 overpass at Imperial Avenue to remove a semi-permanent homeless encampment area in connection with the Major League Baseball All-Star game at Petco Park.
2) The solid multi-block configuration of the Convadium will leave no room for the homeless to exist in the area with the City’s highest number of homeless. It not only develops the blocks but spans and blocks off the streets in the area. In contrast, the current development trajectory and the East Village South Draft Focus Plan preserve the street corridors and create public open space. The site is also the most useful area in the city for high density transitional and affordable housing – near support services – which will be displaced by a Convadium.
3) The security needs of a Convadium in close proximity to homeless service providers will create something resembling a militarily occupation with a permanent security force patrolling to keep homeless people away from the structure. Stadiums and convention centers inherently and invariably consist of a high proportion of blank and inactive exterior walls – notwithstanding Spanos’s vague assurances that this Convadium will be different. Additionally, because they are high assembly uses, the security risks are equally high. As a result, instead of storefronts there will be security patrols to keep homeless from setting-up camp, lest one be a terrorist setting up a bomb. On convention or game days, security will be deployed to keep the homeless away from conventioneers, fans, exterior booths and displays, and the surrounding new sports bars.
4) NFL games will result in huge throngs of cars, pedestrians, blocked roads, and police directing traffic, as happens now with 15,000 – 20,000 fans for Petco Park baseball games. Instead it will be 70,000 fans directly adjacent to homeless service providers. Imagine how this will impact these service providers as well as the church groups who come to the area to feed the homeless population.
5) Increasing the transient occupancy tax (TOT) from 12.5% to 16.5% for the purpose of building a downtown Convadium will ensure that no portion of this potential TOT revenue can ever be used to help get the City’s homeless population – 4th largest in the nation – into housing and other helpful programs. Additionally, the proposed tax increase isn’t based on an objective study demonstrating that it will actually increase TOT revenue. If it deters enough conventions and group tourism from coming to San Diego, it’s conceivable that it could result in a net decrease in tourism TOT, sales tax, and payroll tax revenue. Moreover, as recently predicted in a study commissioned by the Tourism Marketing District, the Spanos ballot initiative will result in a net annual deficit of TOT revenue vs. Convadium cost of about $65 million.
Development of East Village is occuring without the Convadium, and will inevitably place pressures on the homeless and their service providers. However, this development is occurring incrementally, preserves the street grid and corridors, includes open space, and even includes expansion of housing and other services for the homeless. It’s hard to imagine a use and development that will more negatively impact the City’s homeless population than Spanos’s Convadium initiative.
Dean Spanos has done a masterful job of avoiding a public backlash for his many abuses of the City’s citizens – from the ticket guarantee to his public berating of the Mission Valley stadium alternatives (even as the City continues to pay on the debt from the last stadium upgrade) to his attempted defection to Los Angeles. He has avoided public ire by making consultants such as Mark Fabiani and Fred Maas the face of his various efforts. When Fabiani came to be widely despised for being the face of Spanos’s efforts to extort corporate welfare and his abandonment of San Diego, he switched to Fred Maas for the current effort.
In the attack on Cate, Spanos converts opposition to the most expensive (to the public) stadium alternative in the least appropriate location to hate of the Chargers as the City’s football team. It’s not the first time Spanos has personally vilified and harassed an opponent of public subsidization of Spanos’s business – as former Council member Bruce Henderson can attest, having opposed the ticket guarantee the City gave to Spanos. Henderson paid a high personal price for taking a position that has now, after adding millions of dollars to the City’s financial woes, been thoroughly validated. Many of the downtown stadium opponents are not only fans but season ticket holders as well (e.g., Scott Sherman). His ballot initiative is not an initiative as to whether the Chargers should stay or leave San Diego. It’s an initiative about whether well over a billion dollars of public funds and property (and that’s without counting indirect public subsidies and overruns allocated to the City) should be spent for Dean Spanos’s personal preference and benefit. It’s clearly not the best option for the players on the field, nor the fans in the stands or tailgating in the parking lot (which will not exist under Spanos’s plan), nor for fan wallets (who undoubtedly will have to pay higher ticket prices to help with Spanos’s share of the stadium costs). It’s certainly not the best option for the citizens of the City, for whom this source of revenue – a transient occupancy tax increase – could be used in the future for real public needs, e.g., helping house the homeless, fixing Balboa Park’s deteriorating infrastructure, fixing potholes, etc.
Spanos has previously threatened the solvency of the City, attempted to abandone the City, and now attempts to divert public assets from the needy to the greedy – himself. Even on football criteria alone – from firing coach Marty Schottenheimer after he delivered the Chargers’ winningest season to cutting its most iconic player, Junior Seau, who literally gave his life to football – Spanos has proven he doesn’t care about our City or its people.
So its time to call out Dean Spanos, not the Chargers, as he attempts to bully and threaten individuals who stand in the way of his heist of public resources and the crushing inpact of his Convadium. Please call and ask him, why does he hate homeless people? And everyone else in the City?
Photos by Author
Disclosure: Author is an active supporter of the No Downtown Stadium coalition, an active ally of BASTA (Barrios Against a Stadium), and was involved in the creation of the East Village Draft Focus Plan.