As many as 2,000 San Diego Chargers fans turned out Saturday morning for the team’s signature drive kickoff event to qualify a stadium ballot measure at the East Village site of the proposed 61,500-seat facility.
It was all smiles with players, politicians and fans. The new good will showed in some fans even taking selfies with formerly maligned team chairman Dean Spanos.
Rep. Juan Vargas, a Democrat, spoke as some fans held signs reading, “Where is Kevin?” (Mayor Kevin Faulconer didn’t attend.)
“I want to ask the mayor to get behind this,” Vargas said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the only viable option here. So, mayor, get off your duff. Let’s go.”
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was so enthused with the fans’ cheering, he said, “I wish we played this afternoon.”
“What was very clear to me last year was that what our team means to the community and what the community means to the team is way more than what happens between the lines,” Rivers said.
“I know there’s a lot of work to be done. I hope I’m still around to play in it,” the quarterback added. “Let’s get it done and go Chargers.”
The event was held at the Padres tailgate parking lot at 13th and K streets.
“We have a tough road ahead of us,” team owner Spanos told the cheering crowd. “Once we win it, there’s going to be a stadium right where you’re standing.”
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell thanked the crowd for showing its passion and said it would be a great site for a Super Bowl.
“We support the Spanos family for making it work here for the Chargers,” Goodell said.
A fan then yelled, “They belong here.”
Goodell responded: “The Chargers do belong in San Diego. You’re right.”
Former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who travelled from Texas to appear at the event, approached the lectern to loud cheers and chants of “L-T, L-T, L-T!” He reminded the crowd that the Chargers have been in the community for 55 years, the same number worn by former linebacker Junior Seau.
“Let me say this,” Tomlinson said. “if Junior was here, you know where he would be. He would be sitting right here and in fact he would probably go to each door in San Diego because this is where he is from to get those votes.
“Let’s build a stadium for the next 55 years, San Diego, you deserve it,” Tomlinson said. Please don’t let the Chargers leave here. Let’s get those votes.”
“Thank you so much, San Diego; I love you!”
The Chargers need about 67,000 valid signatures to qualify an initiative for the November general election ballot that would, if passed, raise the city of San Diego’s hotel room tax to 16.5 percent to pay for construction of a $1.8 billion stadium and convention center annex. Only voters registered in the city of San Diego can sign the petition.
The hotel room tax is 10.5 percent, with an additional 2 percent fee that pays for tourism promotion, making the increase effectively 4 percent. The initiative would require two-thirds voter approval in November because of the tax hike.
Rep. Scott Peters told the Times of San Diego about fans who want the new stadium in Mission Valley: “Professional football is over in Mission Valley. I think we’ve just got to understand that.”
“We’re past that point because the Chargers don’t have to do this,” Peters said after the event. “They have an opportunity in Los Angeles. We got to figure out how to move forward.”
Earlier, he told the crowd: “Don’t let them tell you we can’t do something great. Make sure this project is awesome.”
The Chargers have pledged to chip in $350 million and use a $300 million loan from the NFL.
Team officials held the event for city residents to learn more about the plans, register to vote and sign the petitions. The event included food, live music and confetti.
It comes after the Chargers, over the past couple of days, unveiled conceptual renderings of how their project would appear when complete, and announced an agreement with organized labor over the terms of employment for thousands of workers in the building trades.
Not everyone at the event was enthusiastic about the proposed project. April Boling of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association visited the site for TV interviews before the event got under way.
“I want the Chargers to remain in San Diego and I support a reasonable public contribution for a stadium, but I won’t sign the Chargers’ measure because it is not a good deal for taxpayers,” Boling said in a written statement, which called the $1.8 billion price tag “just a guess.”
“If voters think the Chargers have presented a good deal for San Diego they should sign the team’s measure and vote for it in November, but if they don’t they should decline and spare taxpayers the costs of placing it on the ballot.”
Donney Cummins of Save Our Bolts said, “Being part of the Save Our Bolts group, it’s been a helluva ride, to say the least. From 15 of us being downtown at the very first rally to imagining something like this is phenomenal.”
Asked about rancor with Spanos, he said, “It’s the old saying: You can forgive, but you won’t forget. If he rips the heart out of the city, then we (the city) no longer beat. It’s something that is in his hands now.”
Cummins said he is “99.9 percent” confident that the Chargers will stay in San Diego. “We’re standing on the 50-yard line now.”
“When all is said and done, it’s all about business. . . I understand the business side of it, but what hurt me was that they were going to pair with the Raiders. . . . It’s all a ploy. It’s all about money.
“And it’s sad to say that when you have faithful fans out here still supporting it, and they want to mess with you emotionally about money.” he added.
One fan at the event said he had given up hope on the Chargers remaining in San Diego.
“I never thought this day was going to happen,” said Anthony Hagerty, in the Navy. “I thought they they were going to move to L.A.” He said he was happy to sign a petition and support the Chargers.
Dan Jauregui, a.k.a. Boltman, said said he always thought the Chargers would eventually decide to stay in San Diego, adding: “There’s been a real rollercoaster ride going through it.”
“Without our mayor involved, city leaders and the hoteliers, this is dead in the water,” he said. “I think they know it. The Chargers know it. We need everybody in one line moving forward.”
The Chargers have been asking for a Qualcomm Stadium replacement for more than 15 years. In January, NFL owners rejected their plans to build a playing facility in Carson jointly with the Oakland Raiders, after which Spanos announced he would give San Diego another try.
Spanos said he has an agreement in place to have the Chargers become the second team in a future Inglewood stadium with the Los Angeles Rams, if the San Diego effort falls through.
More information about the proposal and where to sign the petition can be found at signforsandiego.com.
— Chris Stone and City News Service contributed to this report.