An NFL return to Los Angeles was a hot topic from coast to coast Tuesday, as key developments unfolded in Florida and San Diego.
On the same day the Chargers announced they have exercised the escape clause in their Qualcomm Stadium lease, a group of NFL owners and league officials met in Palm Beach, Fla., with representatives of the Rose Bowl to get a status update on that stadium. Also involved with that meeting was Michael Ovitz, who apparently has rekindled interest in building a football stadium in Carson.
Multiple sources confirmed the Pasadena contingent included investment banker John Moag, the point man for a new stadium deal; Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn; Bill Thomson, chairman of the stadium's tenant-search committee; Steve Madison, a Pasadena city councilman who represents the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium; consultant Max Muhleman and a representative from the architectural firm HOK.
A powerful group of owners attended the meeting, led by Carolina's Jerry Richardson, as well as other members of an L.A. task force formed last spring.
L.A. has been without an NFL team since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season, and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said re-establishing a presence in the No. 2 television market is a top priority.
In two weeks, the Rose Bowl group will meet again with NFL owners, perhaps all of them, at the league meetings in Phoenix. Although Tagliabue has said a renovated Rose Bowl will be eligible for a Super Bowl, the Rose Bowl group is looking to get an even firmer commitment and possibly to reach an agreement to put a team in the stadium in exchange for a promise to rebuild the stadium to the tune of at least $400 million.
Meanwhile, the Chargers took the first step toward getting a new stadium or getting out of town, possibly relocating to L.A. They triggered their escape clause after a mayor-appointed task force finished its study of the stadium issue but before that task force is due to present its findings to the San Diego City Council on March 18.
"I think they're total idiots," Councilman Jim Madaffer said of the Chargers. "I think it's a total slap to the citizens of San Diego."
The escape clause requires the city and the team to engage in good-faith negotiations for a period of 90 days. The team is eligible during that period to talk to other cities. At the end of that period, the team has 18 months to shop itself to other cities. If, during that time, the team brings back an offer from another city, San Diego has 90 days to match the offer.
It is conceivable, then, that the Chargers could come back to San Diego with an offer from, say, Pasadena on the first day of that 18-month period. At that point, San Diego would have 90 days to match.
The Chargers already are moving their training camp from La Jolla to Carson this summer, a move they say is to help their players better concentrate on football.
But the Chargers insist that by triggering the clause, they are opening the doors to negotiations with San Diego in hope they can reach an agreement for a new stadium there.
"While the Chargers have the right under the lease to have discussions with other cities, we have no intention of talking to any other city as we begin a negotiation process with the city of San Diego," Charger spokesman Mark Fabiani said in a written statement.
The Chargers say they are willing to discuss footing the bill for a new $400-million stadium on their current Mission Valley site in exchange for development rights to the 166-acre plot of land. Team officials have proposed paying for the stadium in part by building housing, businesses and possibly a hotel on an unused portion of the site, approximately 67 acres.
"They already had a huge hill to climb to convince a very skeptical public with their plans for a new stadium," Madaffer said. "They've just made that hill all that much higher."
Last week, the task force recommended that public funds should not be used to build a new stadium, but that the team could recoup stadium construction costs by developing the surrounding land.
Whereas some city council members are willing to entertain such a possibility, others say they have no interest in that type of transaction.
The Mission Valley land "is too valuable to go down that road," Councilman Michael Zucchet said. "I'm pretty close-minded on that one. The rhetoric here is there will be no direct public subsidy for a football stadium. Well, what do you call 166 acres of very valuable land? It sure is a subsidy."
At the behest of the Chargers, the city council agreed in January to postpone the beginning of the 60-day escape clause period from Dec. 1 to March 1 so the task force could finish its study. The Chargers had to meet certain financial conditions in order to trigger their escape clause and they say they have met those, although that has not been independently verified by city officials.
Councilwoman Donna Frye, who did not support postponing the trigger window, said she was particularly angered that the Chargers decided to activate the clause before the council had a chance to hear the task force's presentation.
"We went above and beyond what I would consider good-faith efforts to have this discussion," she said. "It's just unfortunate that they chose to jump ahead before the city council had a chance to see the recommendation."
The Chargers argue the city has had months to discuss the issue with them, and that the team needed to exercise the renegotiation clause to get talks underway. Team President Dean Spanos, whose father owns the team, took out a full-page advertisement in today's San Diego Union-Tribune explaining the team's point of view. He also sent letters to the mayor and city council, as well as season-ticket holders.
"We exercised the renegotiation clause because our goal is to pick up where the task force left off -- to begin talks with you to find a way to unlock the potential of the existing stadium site to better serve the interests of our entire community," Spanos wrote in a letter to city officials.
David Watson, a San Diego attorney who chairs the task force, said the city and the Chargers will probably assume a defensive posture, which will make productive talks that much more difficult.
"This ratchets things up a notch or two," Watson said. "It was already controversial, and now it's going to be probably confrontational."
George Mitrovich, founder of The City Club of San Diego and a community watchdog, said the Chargers are vitally important to the city's identity yet face long odds when it comes to getting a stadium deal to their liking.
"My read is the political will to get this done isn't there," he said. "This isn't about people standing up and saying, 'I think it's a great idea to keep the team here.' But it's the doing of it that, to me, is really, really tough."