Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Stadium Debate Wrap-Up

I was thrilled to be present at the inaugural official Craft Beer Debate. Thanks to Omar Passons for conceiving and organizing! To be clear, the question under scrutiny was whether there should be taxpayer funding for a new (privately owned) stadium. The points I reproduce below don't represent the whole discussion - for that go to the Craft Beer Debates website, where they will soon post video. Even if this discussion isn't your thing, Passons has big plans for serious local topics to be discussed at future events, so get on his mailing list!

Greg Koch, co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing, moderated. Consequently there were lots of pointed questions for the pro-stadium side about the poor beer selection at the games. (Myself, I enjoyed a Scotch ale during the discussion.)

National University economist and major sports fan Eric Bruvold spoke for the no-taxpayer-money side and quickly made the point that stadiums are black holes. Even if you use them as more than just football stadiums, they don't bring dollars in from outside the region, and they certainly don't offset their cost. There have been peer-reviewed studies by economists showing this to be the case.

Mark Fabiani spoke in favor of taxpayer dollars funding the stadium, not surprisingly, since he's the lawyer that works for the president of the Chargers. I reluctantly admired his mastery of rhetoric. For instance, one of the best arguments against a taxpayer supported stadium is that if it's ever justified to use taxpayer money for a private venue, it certainly isn't now, when the city is broke! Before this point could be made, Fabiani co-opted it by saying that old Qualcomm is costing us money already (ahem, sunk cost fallacy) and since the city is so broke, we can't afford NOT to build a new stadium! (He didn't explain why the new stadium will also not cost us money to maintain.)

At one point the pro-taxpayer money for stadium side said that the area around PETCO used to be pretty bad, but now it's redeveloped. During the audience question part, I asked how he knew that downtown San Diego's improvement happened because of PETCO, and wasn't just part of the national improvement that happened in just about every city's downtown during the 1990s. He said he just didn't believe that. Up to you to decide if that's a good argument.

I don't think the audience was overwhelmed by the taxes-for-Chargers argument, and what's more interesting, both Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio are opposed to it. But overall it was a fun night with a lot of good beer and spirited by civil debate. I'm really looking forward to future events!

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