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San Diego Moves to Keep Chargers

June 08, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Slowly, San Diego officials are rising to the challenge of preventing the Chargers football team from moving to Los Angeles.

Though public opinion is still tilted against building a new stadium for the team, officials are moving to block efforts at a Chargers-to-Los Angeles relocation that appeared to be at full speed just a few weeks ago.

On Wednesday, the city attorney sent a letter to the group headed by Philip Anschutz, the billionaire who wants to build a stadium near Staples Center in Los Angeles. Behind the lawyerly language was a threat from the mayor and City Council: Tinker with San Diego's contract with the Chargers and expect a lawsuit.

And on Friday, Mayor Dick Murphy announced the formation of a task force to ponder how the city can keep the NFL team without unduly raiding the civic treasury.

"This is a good signal to the Chargers that San Diego is getting its act together," said lawyer and civic activist Michael Aguirre, who had criticized the mayor for passivity.

The mayor, Aguirre said, "is getting back to the old Dick Murphy that we elected."

Murphy suggested during the 2000 election that, if elected, he might sue the Chargers for not doing enough to boost attendance. Lackluster attendance costs the city money under a controversial ticket-purchase guarantee.

Also on Friday, Murphy said he has already talked to Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn about not letting the NFL barons pit the state's largest city against its second largest.

"We did talk about not doing each other in," Murphy said. "He did not seem interested in harming San Diego, but he did not make any promises or commitment."

In announcing that he will ask the City Council to form a 15-member Citizens Task Force on Chargers Issues, Murphy is following the political playbook of his mayoral role model: Pete Wilson, who was mayor from 1971 to 1983 and gave Murphy his start in local politics.

When faced with a controversial issue, Wilson often had the issue vetted by a committee or commission, whose chairman was invariably a close Wilson ally. Few recommendations were made by such groups that were at odds with what Wilson wanted.

Murphy said he will recommend that he appoint seven of the 15 members.

He would pick the other eight members from among 24 names to be submitted by City Council members.

"The challenge is to find a way to keep the Chargers in San Diego in a fiscally responsible way that the public will support," said Murphy, who set Oct. 15 as a deadline for the task force to submit its recommendations.

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