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Are you an Obstructionist if you want what is best for all San Diegans?

Created: 17 February, 2012
Updated: 13 September, 2023
5 min read


One of the new owners of San Diego’s biggest newspaper says he wants the Union Tribune (UT) to be an advocate for a new football stadium “and call out those who don’t as obstructionists.” By speaking forthrightly and directly he has opened the door to an important debate about how to spend San Diego’s tax dollars. Some San Diegans have not made up their minds about whether a new stadium is optimum. Surely, those with an open mind have to be told more than if they oppose the stadium they will be seen as an obstructionist. It is to those who still remain undecided that I aim this commentary.

The owners of the football team hope to be the primary beneficiaries of a new stadium. They control its design, number of seats, ticket and concession prices and they will receive the in-stadium revenue it produces. The owners no doubt have worked up pro formas or what is called forward looking information that allows them to estimate how much they will make from a new stadium. Many might be surprised to learn that there will be fewer seats in a new stadium. This allows prices to be higher because supply will be smaller. It is not altogether clear that a new stadium will in fact through off more income for the owners so there would have to be some kind of revenue guarantee — before it was called a ticket guarantee. The owners no doubt do not want to give up their chance to move to a bigger market so the ability to still move the team will be an issue. The owners and their supporters claim that the spill over from the stadium will provide a public benefit in jobs. However, the indirect benefits would come from any major project and this is the point of my argument.

 We need to consider alternative projects that will have the same or better indirect benefits in jobs but more importantly will have a direct benefit to the public. I offer three alternatives (1) a water-power project that would build water recycling and solar plants throughout San Diego to ensure we have a reliable source of water and power; (2) a streets, sidewalks, and alleys project that would restore our degraded infrastructure; (3) a world class art museum featuring “Art of the Americas.”

Would each of these projects offer the same or generate indirect benefits as a new stadium? All three would provide a direct benefit to San Diego year round. The stadium’s primary use is limited to a fraction of year. A secure water-power system, rebuilt roads, bridges, and alleys, and an Art of the Americas museum would provide benefits every day or most every day of the year. Each of the projects I propose would benefit San Diego as a whole. The economic benefit would pass through to businesses and families unlike a stadium.

We want the Chargers to stay in San Diego, but consider these facts. The people of San Diego have supported, that is provided financial subsidies to the owners of the Chargers for 50 years. The teams’ value has increased from $27 million to over $900 million. While the football team owners have grown rich, San Diego has come upon hard times. We no longer can afford to pass out subsidies while our roads, sidewalks and alleys deteriorate, recreation centers and libraries close and the City heads further into the financial abyss.

We need public projects to get our economy going. However, we need to use the science of “project cost-benefit” analysis to score which of the alternative projects will better serve the greatest number of San Diegans. San Diegans know “trickle down” economics does not work. We can see that approach has transformed our country from a democracy to a kleptocracy in which the rich use the government to get richer while the rest of America struggles to survive.

The new stadium issue is especially important to the Latino Community, which provides the Chargers with some of their strongest support. No group has been hurt more by the trickle down theory of economics. However, the welfare of the Latino Community depends on not falling for the false option “no new stadium no Chargers.” The football team owners have the 7th highest ticket prices in the Country. Their team is worth almost $1 billion. They are not in need, like many in the Latino Community. They are not facing inadequate schools, closed libraries, and recreation centers. The worst roads, sidewalks and alleys are in the Latino Communities and those of the poor of San Diego. It ought to be possible to have what are essential City services, needed infrastructure and a professional football team. After all we are giving a subsidy of over $20 million per year to the team owners now.

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Rather than demand even more subsidies the team owners and their spokesperson should be helping San Diego by asking less not demanding more. The obstructionist to San Diego’s advancement are not those who want projects organized around the greatest good to the greatest number, not those who demand more special benefits for the rich. I hope this commentary will contribute to a healthy debate and I would like to challenge the UT owner who claimed any who opposed a new stadium is an obstructionist to respond with his point of view. Perhaps one of the Mayoral candidates will take up this line of attack and thrust this issue into the Mayoral contest.

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