Tech giant provides twist in San Diego stadium saga

General Views of QualcommA San Diego task force continues to prepare a report on how a $1 billion-plus stadium could be built without direct public funding in Mission Valley in the space now occupied by Qualcomm Stadium, the Chargers’ home under various names since the 1960s.

But an unforseen twist involving a powerful San Diego-based tech juggernaut has given new ammunition to foes of a government-led effort to provide the NFL and the billionaire Spanos family with a fancy new stadium. Voice of San Diego has the details:

On March 4, as they were preparing their vision for a new Mission Valley football stadium, San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman, real estate analyst Gary London, developer Perry Dealy and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith visited Qualcomm, the company.

They met with Ed Capozzoli, the vice president in charge of all of Qualcomm’s facilities and real estate needs … .

Sherman and the team wanted to pitch Qualcomm on an idea. Their vision for the Mission Valley stadium site included nearly 3 million square feet of office space. You can’t really fill that much piece by piece. …

Qualcomm would be perfect, they thought. After all, it was planning a 1.2 million square foot expansion. …

But when the group sat down … Capozzoli lit into them for the way he felt the company was treated by the city. Particularly frustrating, he said, was the traffic situation around Qualcomm’s Sorrento Valley office. London said Capozzoli told the group the city was dragging its feet and not letting Qualcomm modernize nearby traffic lights. …

Even as it expands elsewhere, Capozzoli said Qualcomm would never build anything in San Diego again. Capozzoli, participants in the meeting confirmed, said that order came from the top of Qualcomm’s leadership. That planned 1.2 million square foot expansion has not gone forward.

Company more important than Chargers

This gives those hoping city and county officials let the Chargers address their stadium problems on their own — or move to Los Angeles — two new frames for their anti-stadium arguments.

The first is that Sherman’s plan looks much better from the city’s perspective than from the private sector’s. San Diego’s civic finances are much healthier than a decade ago. But it still has massive pension debt, needs billions in infrastructure repairs and can no longer use redevelopment to encourage private companies to assist its development plans. A large corporation is likely to see the city as a problematic development partner.

But the second and more potent argument is this: Why are city leaders focusing so much on a pro football team while neglecting the city’s biggest private-sector employer, a company that’s been crucial to San Diego’s emergence as a global tech center? More from Voice of San Diego:

If it is true that Qualcomm is done building anything in San Diego, it could be a new low in relations between the city and its largest company. It also highlights a troubling backdrop to the stadium saga: that as the community and politicians rally to subsidize and keep one company, the Chargers, in town, another much larger one — with roughly 13,000 more employees — sits displeased.

A 2013 study by the San Diego Workforce Partnership and Regional Economic Development Corp. found that Qualcomm ‘s presence supports more than 27,000 jobs in the region, including its own — adding to a $4.53 billion annual economic impact. Qualcomm employees represent nearly 2 percent of all workers in the city.

Stadium hunt was already messy

This complicates an already-messy stadium picture. Most city leaders believe the Chargers are in the middle of a dubious good-cop bad-cop routine.

The Spanos family insists it wants to stay in San Diego and wants to work with local politicians and the business community to come up with an acceptable stadium. Meanwhile, it actively works with the Oakland Raiders on a plan to build a shared stadium in Carson in southwest Los Angeles County. As that plays out, former Clinton White House aide Mark Fabiani, an attorney who has been the team’s point man on stadium issues, has been undercutting the stadium task force with declarations that the Mission Valley site will never work.

Fabiani’s real constituency is probably the NFL owners who will have to approve the Chargers’ move to the Los Angeles area, as the consultant working with the stadium task force points out.

The NFL has suffered from years of bad publicity over past decisions allowing teams with loyal fan bases to leave Baltimore, St. Louis, Houston and Cleveland. The blowback was much less when the Rams and Raiders left Los Angeles in 1994 because attendance had been mediocre for years.

San Diego fans’ relatively strong relationship with the Chargers will make any team move more likely to trigger the local and national anger seen when the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis, the Cardinals left St. Louis for Phoenix, the Oilers left Houston for Nashville and the Browns left Cleveland for Baltimore.

Raiders moved without league approval

But will that matter to enough NFL owners to prevent the Spanoses from gathering the necessary three-quarters support for a team relocation? Perhaps.

Pro Football Talk reported in January that Rams owner Stan Kroenke was having trouble building three-quarters support for his desire to move from St. Louis to Los Angeles County at an Inglewood stadium he has taken several steps toward constructing.

But the football insiders’ website noted that Kroenke didn’t believe the other owners’ approval was ultimately necessary.

Kroenke has informed the mayor of Inglewood on multiple occasions that he’ll move the team with or without the approval of the other clubs.

That would be an aggressive, risky move.  If Kroenke moves without approval, he’d be entitled to no financial assistance from the league, and his stadium would be blocked from hosting Super Bowls.  He also would avoid paying the relocation fee.

The matter could end up in court, as a sequel to the barrister’s brouhaha between the Raiders and the NFL in the 1980s, arising from the league’s efforts to keep the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles.  The Raiders eventually won a $34.6-million judgment, which reportedly was settled for a payment of $18 million in 1989.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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