The Escondido Democratic Club held a meeting at their headquarters in downtown Escondido on October 9. Open to the public, the meeting’s purpose was to hear presentations by San Diego Padres representatives along with pro and con voices from the community regarding the proposed ballpark in Escondido.
Mayoral candidates Sam Abed, Tom D’Agosta, and Joe Bologna and city-council candidates Jim Crone, Carmen Miranda, and Ed Gallo gave brief statements to the 100-plus attendees.
Although not currently serving on the city council, Ed Gallo stated that he is “...predisposed that this is not a good deal for the City of Escondido. I don’t like the idea of indenturing our future redevelopment money for the next 25 years. We have other major issues in this town that the money could be better used for.”
Councilman Sam Abed stated, “The ballpark is probably the most critical decision the council will make for the future economic prosperity of Escondido. [The ballpark] could be the most exciting thing that happens to Escondido; it could be a financial liability for a long time.”
To give the perspective of real-world experience, Gary Washburn, the mayor of Lake Elsinore in 1994, described the experience of building a ballpark complex in his city. It wasn’t until now, Washburn asserted, 15 years after construction, that Lake Elsinore is making the project economically viable with the addition of homes, an educational complex, and retail establishments.
Unable to estimate a return on investment, Washburn stated that the City of Lake Elsinore pays $250,000 annually in operating expenses and will be free of that cost in a year or two.
Washburn described three major difficulties that caused the ballpark's cost to go from $18 million to $21 million.
The first was the economic climate: “We were in a recession; we thought we would come out of it, but it kept going.” The second was the State of California: “They came down like an IRS agent and took $3 million from our [redevelopment] fund.” And, lastly, “The City tried to build and operate the facility. Cities probably should build things but they should not operate businesses like ballpark operations.”
Steve Peace of the Padres and Erik Judson, a consultant, described their background and expertise from their involvement with Petco Park. Judson said, “We are in the business of developing projects that are of great benefit to the broader community as well as their prime partners.”
Judson described his analysis of why it makes sense to build the ballpark in Escondido: close to Padres home field, proximity to north San Diego and southern Riverside county population, ease of freeway access and existing high quality infrastructure.
The reason the location of the ballpark is under wraps, explained Judson, is to prevent speculators from bidding up neighboring property prices and thus costing the City more. Financial details are still in negotiation and were not disclosed. The City Council intends to make a decision by December 1, as Padres ownership has until that date to exercise its option to purchase the Portland Beavers.
Escondido will consider signing a memorandum of understanding with the Padres at the October 27 city-council meeting.
Photo: Padres consultant Erik Judson