The first of what could be three hammers that help pave the way for the long-awaited NFL return to Los Angeles dropped on Tuesday, and it came in the form of a lightning bolt.
The San Diego Chargers, for decades embroiled in a local stadium fight and now tied together with the Oakland Raiders on a joint Los Angeles area stadium, have informed San Diego leaders they do not believe there is a legally defensible way to place a local stadium ballot measure before voters prior to the end of 2015.
Short of a complete change of course by local leaders or the NFL delaying relocation to Los Angeles by another year – and both of those options seem dubious – the Chargers moved one step closer to looking north for a new home,
“On behalf of our entire organization, the Chargers thank the City of San Diego’s negotiating team for working with us to try to find a way, at this late date, to place a stadium ballot measure before voters in December 2015 while complying fully with the California Environmental Quality Act and election law requirements,” the Chargers said in a statement. “Both groups have spent many hours examining possible options, and we have now discussed these options together at three formal meetings and during numerous informal conversations. Based on all of this work and discussion, the Chargers have concluded that it is not possible to place a ballot measure before voters in December 2015 in a legally defensible manner given the requirements of the State’s election law and the California Environmental Quality Act. The various options that we have explored with the City’s experts all lead to the same result: Significant time-consuming litigation founded on multiple legal challenges, followed by a high risk of eventual defeat in the courts. The Chargers are committed to maintaining an open line of communication with the City’s negotiators as we move through the summer and leading up to the special August meeting of National Football League owners. That meeting may provide important information about what is likely to occur during the remainder of 2015.”
In short, it means the Chargers will focus more attention on their interests in Los Angeles.
The Chargers and local leaders have recently been talking about a stadium proposal pushed by the city of San Diego on the site of the club’s current home in Mission Valley. But with the sides far apart on major points and time running thin on the NFL’s decision on who will relocate to Los Angeles and what site they will play, the Chargers seem to be turning focus away from what appears to be an ill-fated proposal and forward to their potential new home in Carson.
And what is clearly shaping up as a fight between the Chargers and Raiders and St. Louis Rams, who have their eyes set on a return to Los Angeles to play in the Inglewood stadium site being proposed by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
The Chargers 54-year run in San Diego did not officially end Tuesday, but clearly their future there is uncertain.
San Diego leaders had hoped to persuade the club to stay with a $1.5 billion stadium plan on site of their current home – which was presented last month in response to the Chargers and Raiders Carson stadium proposal that’s been entitled since late April – but financing, environmental and entitlement issues were obvious obstacles standing in the way.
The city hoped to expedite the process by putting the proposal on the ballot at the end of 2015 – and thus avoiding a time sensitive 2016 vote – by declaring the stadium project “categorically exempt” from The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process because the new stadium is replacing the old stadium.
The Chargers have countered from the outset using the “categorically exempt” process for a billion dollar-plus new stadium — one that could also be part of a larger development project — left the proposal vulnerable to lawsuits that wouldn’t just potentially tie the project up in court for years, it might mean the window for relocation to Los Angeles closing entirely on them.
In the process, the Chargers would be left without a new home in San Diego and no safe landing spot in Los Angeles.
That is a risk the Chargers will not take. Their belief is, all of the ways that have been suggested to circumvent CEQA violate either the California Environmental Quality Act, or California Election laws, or both.
The Chargers informed local leaders they would like to maintain open lines of
communication; and they hope the August 11th NFL owners meeting provides additional information on the League’s intentions for next season.
The league is sifting through a complicated Los Angeles relocation situation that includes the Chargers and Raiders Carson site – pending the stadium developments in their home markets – and Kroenke’s Inglewood proposal.
The window for relocation officially opens on January 1, 2016, but the league has informed all three clubs and all cities involved that window may open much sooner.
Should all three clubs file for relocation, a vote among the 32 NFL owners will decide what site wins out and which teams go – with 24 votes needed for approval.
But there is hope a solution can be worked out between the Rams, Chargers, Raiders and NFL in which everyone is satisfied with the outcome.
How the league navigates to that solution remains to be seen, although flexibility, and compromise are musts from everyone involved.
For now, anyway, no one has officially filed for relocation.
But it’s looking more and more like the Chargers are on the brink of doing just that.