Judge Rejects Bid to Halt San Diego Stadium Expansion


Sorry, Pasadena. Tough luck, Los Angeles.

A judge ended the family feud in San Diego on Thursday that had threatened to chase the 1998 Super Bowl and the 1997 Chargers season northward.

Superior Court Judge Anthony Joseph resoundingly rejected the contention by a former city councilman that expansion of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium should be halted because it is being done illegally.

The judge’s ruling prompted San Diego officials to engage in the political equivalent of a touchdown dance in the end zone.


“It was a clean sweep for the city,” said City Atty. Casey Gwinn. “Go Chargers!” said Councilman Juan Vargas. “San Diego’s future is safe for another day,” said Councilwoman Judy McCarty.

Part of the civic tumult that had gripped San Diego for weeks was based not just on a fear of losing the Super Bowl and the Chargers. The prospect that they would go to Los Angeles was enough to add insult to injury.

The city’s historic antipathy toward Los Angeles made the court victory even sweeter for officials.

“It’s not the L.A. Chargers,” an exultant Mayor Susan Golding said. “I never want to hear that phrase again. The L.A. Chargers just sounds terrible.”


Former Councilman Bruce Henderson, who led a referendum aimed at blocking the expansion and overturning a deal struck between City Hall and the Chargers, said he will not appeal Joseph’s decision.

Henderson vowed instead to mount an effort to amend the City Charter to require a public vote on all public projects funded by lease-revenue bonds, the kind being used to pay for expansion of the 29-year-old publicly owned stadium.

“We want to give the voters a chance to close the loopholes in the City Charter,” Henderson said.

Chargers owner Alex Spanos praised Golding and said the controversy has taken a toll on him.

“The stress I’ve gone through I don’t ever want to go through again,” Spanos said before lightly adding: “I just want to live to 2020 (when the team’s contract with the city expires) so I can renegotiate the contract. I’ll be 97 then.”

The NFL had said that if stadium construction was halted, it would move the 1998 Super Bowl to the Rose Bowl. Similarly, the Chargers had said their 1997 games would be moved to the venerable venue in Pasadena.

Pasadena officials expressed disappointment that the Rose Bowl will not get to play stand-in host for Super Bowl XXXII.

“We’ve always wished San Diego the best,” said Pasadena Mayor William Paparian. “But we continue to remain available as a site for the Super Bowl, should any contingency develop.”


Rick Welch, chairman of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission, said the judge’s decision “is a good result for the big picture of getting sports facilities built.”

David Simon, president of Los Angeles Sports Council, said that by looking to the Rose Bowl as an alternative site “the NFL showed it still looks with favor on the L.A. market and that’s not what we’ve been hearing from the NFL in recent years.”

Simon said he’s confident that once Los Angeles builds a stadium, it will again be in the “loop” for Super Bowls.

Joseph ruled that the referendum drive by Henderson applied only to an additional $18 million approved in December. The original $60-million expansion project was adopted in 1995.

Henderson’s lawyers had contended that by adding the $18 million, the City Council had created a different project than the one envisioned in 1995. They asserted that the city should not have begun construction while the referendum was pending.

Joseph disagreed. He said that because the council, under pressure from Henderson, had rescinded the $18-million addendum, the referendum and Henderson’s lawsuit were moot.

Joseph said that the 1995 contract between the city and the Chargers anticipated that the final cost of construction might exceed $60 million. The judge also ruled that the 1995 contract anticipated that some of the final architectural details, which had to be approved by the Chargers, would be different.

On the allegation that the city knuckled under in its negotiations with the Chargers, Joseph said it was not the court’s role to determine whether the deal was good or bad.


Henderson’s attorney, former federal prosecutor Michael Aguirre, had charged that the city, in effect, is subsidizing Spanos.

“The financial commitment the city has made to this multimillionaire could cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars with no end in sight,” Aguirre told Joseph. “The NFL cartel is plugging in another profit center.”

Beyond the sheer joy of hosting professional football’s showcase game, a city selected for a Super Bowl can expect a bonanza for the local economy. New Orleans officials have tentatively pegged the revenue from Super Bowl XXXI this year at more than $300 million.

The expansion of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium will add 10,000 seats, pushing the stadium capacity to 72,000. The NFL prefers stadiums to have a minimum of 70,000 seats for a Super Bowl. San Diego hosted the 1988 Super Bowl by bolstering the stadium with temporary seats.

Even with Thursday’s court ruling, the stadium expansion matter still has issues to be resolved. The largest of those is finding a way to replace the $18 million contained in the now-rescinded addendum.

QualComm, a local telecommunications firm, has offered to provide a similar amount to the city in exchange for its name being put on the stadium in place of that of Jack Murphy, the late sports editor of the San Diego Union.

Henderson had been vilified by expansion boosters in the press and business community. In the hours before the ruling, a radio sportscaster called him “Satan Henderson.”

Times staff writer Ken Ellingwood in Pasadena contributed to this story.