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Chargers lead league in making San Diego into 'America’s Finest City'

This writer remembers well moving to San Diego just before our city was given the terrible nickname “Bust Town USA.”

The aerospace industry was dominant at that time (1958). Then, in 1961, things started to change after the 1960 election when John F. Kennedy was elected president. Aerospace jobs started to go away, with Texas adding most of those jobs as companies departed the San Diego region. The federal government led the way to award contracts with Texas winning and the Johnson Space Center was opened in Texas.

I took the California bar exam in 1961 and became Home Federal’s first house counsel. I then got training in real estate problems: the unemployment rate jumped and foreclosures became a way of life. The people who lost their jobs could not get new jobs and San Diego’s financial problems were no fun.

We started to lose aerospace jobs in 1961 when the Chargers decided to move here from Los Angeles. The city quickly agreed to add a double deck to Balboa Stadium increasing seats to 35,000. This was a real plus for San Diego State Aztecs and their games were moved there. Don Coryell became the head coach and he immediately started a winning era with great recruiting and being able to play in Balboa Stadium.

This writer remembers well how the Chargers were a real positive during a terrible era for San Diego. A positive remembrance was TV of the Jan. 5, 1964 AFL championship game between the Chargers and the Boston Patriots. The Chargers won 51-10. It was the only game on national TV on a day when the Midwest and East had freezing temperatures and snow while San Diego had an 80-degree day. San Diego was discovered by many on that beautiful day. The Padres were a minor league team at that time and played in a fairly small stadium in the now Fashion Valley area. The Padres were pleased when in 1965 the Chargers started to work with the city to build a larger stadium (50,000 seats) at the current location.

The Chargers agreed to have the new stadium also built for baseball which is a negative today because the sideline seats for football had to be built back further from the field in order to have the stadium handle baseball. The stadium opened in 1967 with 50,000 seats and the Padres were able to then become a major league franchise in 1969. The Chargers were successful and wanted the stadium to be enlarged to 70,000. I was appointed to the committee of 10 members in 1982 by then-Mayor Pete Wilson to review the Chargers proposal and make recommendations. We recommended 61,000 seats with the ability to add 4,000 more seats in the end-zones in order to have Super Bowls. Gene Klein, the Charger owner, agreed and it happened.

As a result we've had three Super Bowls and great national exposure with our warmer weather in January each time. At the 2003 Super Bowl game the TV announcers, Al Michaels and John Madden, said repeatedly “The Super Bowl should be in San Diego every year." The real problem today is the great national competition to get Super Bowls.

Today, our team's location needs an upgrade. The taking back by the state this year of re-development (real estate tax) funds from our downtown area is a real funding problem. The image of our region is at stake.

San Diego is fortunate to have ownership of the Chargers by the Spanos family who are well-known as leaders in making charitable contributions and doing great things (like a major donation after the Cedar Fire). Without the Chargers support, the Padres would probably not be a major league franchise. Let's have everyone team up and recognize the importance of the Chargers to the region and support and develop funding ideas.

Let's get to work moving the Chargers downtown in the re-development area. The stadium can tie into the convention center and be used to attract more conventions with benefits like more transient occupancy and sales taxes. Also, thanks to Mayor Sanders for his leadership in going to other cities to help develop a plan for the Chargers in downtown San Diego area.

Schmidt is a retired banker and attorney and was Gov. Reagan’s appointee to three positions in state government. He is active in the San Diego Regional and East County chambers of commerce.

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1 UserComments
Jason Riggs 10:58am September 2, 2011

Jim, This a tremendously well-written editorial and I thank you for taking the time to publish this piece. We have an organization working to get a new stadium built in San Diego. Please visit our website and let me know if we can discuss this issue with you at some point in the future. We are a community coalition of volunteers working with the City, Developers, Taxpayers and the Chargers who share your vision. You can visit us at http://www.sdstadium.org Again, thanks for summing everything up so nicely and I look forward to speaking with you in the near future. Best Regards, Jason Riggs