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U-T CEO John Lynch: ‘We’re Gathering the Right People’ to Push Stadium Plan

Mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio denies hints in email that he supports harborfront proposal.

Two weeks ago, U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch told a private club meeting that “we’re gathering the right people” to support the newspaper’s harborfront stadium plan, and “we’re trying to keep it down low.”

Lynch cited county Supervisor Ron Roberts and Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs as backing the plan made public in January.

But an email exchange about the proposal to put an NFL stadium at the site of the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal added a new wrinkle, and stirred up the San Diego mayoral race Wednesday.

In emails obtained and published online by KPBS, Lynch told Scott Peters—a commissioner with the Port of San Diego, which operates the cargo shipping facility—that he has made “significant progress” in pushing for the port site with various entities, including “one of the mayoral candidates.”

The newspaper on Jan. 22 ran a front-page editorial suggesting a massive development project for the area that would include a new playing facility for the Chargers, an indoor arena and other improvements.

The city has been working for a couple of years to locate a new stadium in the East Village, about a mile away from the cargo shipping facility.

The statement by Lynch prompted one of the candidates for mayor, Rep. Bob Filner, to demand that his opponent, Councilman Carl DeMaio, disclose his “correspondence and meetings regarding the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal.”

He made the same request of Lynch and U-T San Diego co-owner Doug Manchester.

“Today’s revelation by KPBS that Doug Manchester and John Lynch have ‘made significant progress’ in promoting their plan to develop the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal ‘with one of the mayoral candidates’ shines a spotlight on the key issue in this mayoral race,” Filner said.

The newspaper has endorsed DeMaio since the primary campaign. A spokesman for his campaign did not specifically state whether he would release the information.

“Instead of focusing on ideas to create jobs, Congressman Filner chooses to issue yet another wild conspiracy theory,” said K.B. Forbes of the DeMaio campaign. “As the congressman knows, Carl DeMaio has never supported the waterfront stadium proposal.”

In a story posted Wednesday night on U-T San Diego, however, Lynch responded by saying: “We never asked for [DeMaio’s] support, nor did he offer.” 

The U-T also reported that Lynch said he may have misspoken.

“I don’t remember saying that as it is not true,” he was quoted as saying.

Lynch said in his email correspondence with Peters that the city’s other proposed site, at a downtown bus yard, is too small to work.

Peters, who is running for Congress against Rep. Brian Bilbray, wrote that the U-T San Diego plan would have to overcome “enormous” obstacles in public opposition and government permits.

Produce supplier Dole recently signed a long-term lease at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, but Peters said the port could exercise eminent domain to clear the way for a stadium.

On Sept. 12, Lynch told a meeting of the Harvard Business School Club of San Diego that “we actually have had some really concrete meetings” on the stadium plan, and “the right people are involved,” including Supervisor Roberts, whose Fourth District includes the terminal, and Qualcomm’s Jacobs.

“We’ve talked to a guy like Ron Roberts about taking the lead and stepping up. We’ll cover his back,” Lynch said in a 4-minute clip [attached to this story] provided by former U-T San Diego business writer Bruce Bigelow, who obtained a 37½-minute audio of Lynch’s remarks.

Roberts told KPBS and I-Newsource that he played no role in the development of the U-T proposal.

“But once [Roberts] heard about it,” the station’s report said, “he thought it deserved to be discussed.”

Roberts was quoted by KPBS as saying: “That property is so prime that we should be considering it for other uses.”

In the audio sent to Patch by Bigelow, who reports for the website Xconomy, Lynch is heard saying: “Paul Jacobs is willing to step up because he believes it’s a quality of life issue—attracting people for Qualcomm, [that] the Chargers should not leave our community.”

In 1997, Qualcomm bought naming rights for the current Mission Valley stadium, agreeing to pay the city $18 million to complete its expansion project, according to chargers.com. The company has naming rights until 2017.

But the old stadium is considered too small to host another Super Bowl, and some observers fear the team might be lured to Los Angeles.

In the tape, Lynch is heard saying: “[Chargers President] Deano [Spanos] was in my office last week, saying: ‘I don’t want to move, but this is forcing me to move. And we’ve got to get some serious leadership.’”

Lynch told the group meeting at a downtown law firm: “I’m highly optimistic we’re going to get something done. … Hopefully, we’re gathering the right people. We’re trying to keep it down low. … We’re just trying to lead the way so our city can be a better place.”

—City News Service contributed to this report.

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