Mark Fabiani, the Chargers special counsel, was heckled and booed for much of his five-minute opening remarks Wednesday night at an NFL forum downtown.
“Mr. Fabiani, I’m sorry,” said one late speaker. “I don’t think you can walk safely in this town anymore.”
Fabiani again decried what he called a “fatally flawed” plan for a new stadium in Mission Valley, citing legal doubts about the environmental impact report.
Then the third of 40 public speakers, Councilman Scott Sherman, bashed Fabiani even more, accusing him of reneging on his one-time support for a Mission Valley arena to replace Qualcomm.
Sherman blasted Fabiani’s arguments that a stadium deal couldn’t be put together after 14 years of effort.
“His entire argument is to convince you the city can’t get its act together,” Sherman said. “I’m here to say that’s the furthest thing from the truth.”
Sherman accused Fabiani of being “nothing but negative” throughout his 14-year association with the team.
Sherman told the audience he met with Fabiani about two years ago to discuss building a new stadium adjacent to Qualcomm Stadium.
Fabiani initially supported the plan, but later changed his mind, Sherman said.
Said another fan at the 3-hour town hall: “If Mark Fabiani said he had breakfast at Denny’s, I’d ask to see the receipt.”
He continued: “The Chargers are like a cheating spouse that want any excuse to leave,” and said he was done supporting the team.
The bearded fan who made the “walk safely” remark started by removing one after another Chargers jerseys, ending with Junior Seau’s No. 55.
He called for a substance-abuse policy for owners, saying no owner who wasn’t high would strike a deal to pair the Chargers and Raiders in the same stadium, as Carson is seeking.
As they did Tuesday at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis, NFL executives Chris Hardart, Eric Grubman, Cynthia Hogan and Jay Bauman sat on tall director’s seats at a forum livestreamed on NFL.com.
The first woman to speak from the audience began by warning the crowd behind her: “If you’re going to boo me, wait.”
She then cited county population figures vs. season ticket-holders to argue that the Chargers weren’t a high priority when streets look like “bombed-out Baghdad.”
“Please, let them go,” she said as many in the 500-member audience showed their disagreement. “We can do better without them. We can do better with the money.”
She was followed soon by U.S. Army veteran Donney Cummins, a Save Our Bolts member who answered the woman: “You haven’t been to Baghdad.”
Jason Riggs, chairman of the San Diego Stadium Coalition, who backs a new downtown stadium, noted the likely Chargers move to apply for relocation.
He likened that prospect to “filing for a divorce,” with all its pain, but said a divorce isn’t inevitable. “We’re closer than ever to solving this stadium issue.”
Andrew Hogan, founder of the fan group Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams, had been standing in line since 3 p.m.
“There is absolutely no appetite for the San Diego — SAN DIEGO — Chargers in Los Angeles,” he told the forum. “We know the pain of losing a team and don’t wish it on our friends in San Diego.”
A 21-year-old season ticket-holder who said he was a peace officer repeated what others said — that he would refuse to follow the Chargers to Los Angeles.
Instead he urged the NFL owners not to move the team, saying he wanted to be able to tell his grandkids that he saw Phil Rivers throw the touchdown pass to Antonio Gates that won the Super Bowl.
A woman who called herself the “loudest fan at Petco Park,” made a financial pitch, disputing contentions that San Diego couldn’t supply as many seat-license holders as Los Angeles.
“I contend that is wrong,” said the woman, who declared she had missed only nine homes games in 40 years as a Chargers season-ticket holder. “We do a good job of showing up and cheering.”
Many fans, who waited their turns in a hot theater with no drinks allowed inside, blew past their 3-minute speaking time, sparking some grumbling from others in line at two microphones.
Hogan, the NFL senior vice president of public policy and government affairs, apologized as she closed the forum at 9:55 p.m. that not everyone who wanted to speak was heard.
But she invited fans to email their thoughts to email@example.com, and said they would be help inform the traveling execs’ presentation to all 32 NFL team owners.
Fans also pointed out that San Diego’s proximity to Mexico provided an opportunity for the league to gain fans internationally, something it has long sought.
Many longtime season ticket holders expressed their support for the team to remain in San Diego.
“You will rip a big part of me and San Diego if you take away the Chargers,” season ticket-holder Robert Lozano said.
Lozano said he grew up watching games in his slain father’s Chargers jersey.
Several fans of other teams also voiced their support of the Chargers remaining in San Diego.
The league representatives at the meeting said they were aware of an effort to build a new stadium in downtown San Diego, in connection with a new convention center, but a decision on its fate will come from city officials and the Chargers.
The forum got off to a rocky start when Fabiani drew boos and cries of “We don’t want to listen to you.”
Fabiani blamed city politics for the possibility of the team moving.
“We’ve tried everything we can think of,” Fabiani told the audience.
“The failure to come up with a solution in San Diego has nothing to do with the Chargers fans. It’s incredibly unfair that the Charger fans are bearing the brunt of decisions made by San Diego politicians.”
Fabiani said the stadium proposal was unfair because it required the team to take all the risks and the city none.
The Chargers have been asking for a replacement for aging Qualcomm Stadium for around 15 years. With momentum growing for the league to return to Los Angeles, Chargers executives have acquired property in Carson on which they could build a stadium — possibly in conjunction with the Oakland Raiders.
There were shouts of “No way L.A.” before the start of the meeting and fans sang the team’s fight song “San Diego Super Chargers.”
A huge line of people wearing power blue Chargers jerseys wrapped around the Spreckels before the start of the forum.
Rafael Alvarez, founder of Bolt Pride, told Times of San Diego before the forum: “Is this a charade or does San Diego matter?”
His wife, Josie, said that based on media accounts, “it sounds like the train has already left. But I’m a person of strong faith, and we have to have hope.”
Asked her message to the NFL, Kathy Box said: “I want them to hear that the fans are very passionate. We get the business end of it, but what youn can’t put a price on is how much the fans care.”
Fans chanted “Save our Bolts.” Fans drove cars with Chargers flags on Broadway in front of the theater, honking horns in support of keeping the team in San Diego.
Members of “Save Our Bolts,” a group dedicated to keeping the team in San Diego, camped across from the theater.
“If we don’t come out, we would lose the specialness of our rivalry with Oakland and the team that’s been here for 50 years,” Sara Ostberg of El Cajon, who described herself as a lifelong Charger fan, told City News Service before the meeting.
“Not showing up would tell the NFL more than if the crowd came out.”
Tiffany Thrpe of El Cajon was outside the Spreckels with her 7-year- old son Nacio, hopeful of receiving a ticket.
“The Chargers just can’t leave,” Thrpe said.
Thrpe’s said her son is such a diehard fan that if she buys him clothes in colors other than blue and yellow, the Chargers’ colors he won’t wear them.
The gathering is the second of three being held by the NFL in cities in danger of losing their team to the Los Angeles area. The next will take place in Oakland Thursday.
League officials said the purpose of the hearings is to provide an opportunity for fans and others in the community to ask questions and express their views directly to the NFL before decisions are made about potential relocation of one or more teams from a current market.
NFL team owners are expected to decide early next year which franchises, if any, move to Los Angeles, which has not had an NFL team since 1994.
While San Diego football fans prepared for Wednesday’s NFL forum, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and county Supervisor Ron Roberts updated National Football League executives on recent developments in planning for a stadium in Mission Valley.
According to the mayor’s office, they discussed the benefits of Gov. Jerry Brown designating the project for expedited legal review, in which challenges to the environmental impact report will need to be resolved within 270 days.
The mayor’s office said the action gives league officials the certainty they’ve been looking for.
“As the NFL is deciding if the Chargers will remain in San Diego, they can see that the Mission Valley plan is real and continues to gain momentum,” Faulconer said. “The governor’s streamlining approval is a game-changer and we’re ready to go if the NFL decides to keep the Bolts here in 2016.”
Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said the governor’s action was irrelevant because the EIR won’t withstand legal scrutiny.
The mayor’s office also said they stressed at the meeting that the Mission Valley site was the only option that could go before voters next year and be built before the end of this decade, and that a downtown site would be acceptable if the Chargers were willing to stay in town and wait the five to seven years it would take to improve the site.
— Contributing photographer Chris Stone and City News Service contributed to this report.