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Mayor says city can't afford Chargers stadium

SAN DIEGO (April 21, 2006) -- Cash-strapped San Diego doesn't have the money to help the Chargers build a new stadium, Mayor Jerry Sanders said, opening the door for Southern California's only NFL team to leave the city it has called home for 45 years.

Sanders said he plans to ask the City Council to amend the Chargers' lease to allow the team to begin looking at sites elsewhere in San Diego County before the end of the year. If the team fails to find a new home in the county before Jan. 1, the Chargers would be free to negotiate a deal anywhere in the country.

The Chargers can leave San Diego after the 2008 season if they pay off the approximately $60 million in bonds the city issued in 1997 to expanded Qualcomm Stadium.

"I do not think it would be prudent or honest for me to say to taxpayers 'We can't resurface our roadways, but we can finance a stadium,"' the mayor said.

The Chargers' negotiator, Mark Fabiani, said the smaller cities of Oceanside, Chula Vista, and National City to the north and south of San Diego have approached the team, along with a private investor whose identity Fabiani wouldn't disclose.

"It's tough to make a deal like this in seven months, but it's enough time to get a sense of whether something can get done or not," Fabiani said. "This does give us an opportunity to really figure out whether there's anything promising out there."

San Diego is facing what the mayor called a financial and a managerial crisis, which includes a $1.4 billion city employee pension fund deficit and federal investigations into city finances.

The Chargers have been in San Diego since 1961, the year after they started playing in Los Angeles under the ownership of hotel magnate Barron Hilton.

Last year, the team proposed building a $450 million stadium as part of a commercial development the Qualcomm site, but dropped the plan because it could not find developers to share the estimated $800 million upfront costs. The team offered to pay for the stadium and traffic improvements, but wanted the city to give it 60 acres for development to recoup its costs.

Earlier this year, the mayor of San Antonio signaled that his city would welcome the Chargers to fill the Alamodome, where the displaced New Orleans Saints played three games last season.

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