For the past 40 years, an equestrian group named the Asociación de Charros de Escondido has occupied a 1.5-acre area in northeastern Escondido just below Dixon Lake.
Ensconced in a secluded, mostly wooded area also near the humane society, the group has held Mexican-style rodeo events in the arena located there. During the past few years, however, relations with the City of Escondido have been rocky.
In January 2011, the Charros received an eviction notice to make room for a public works facility. In an interview with the North County Times in January 2011, Jerry Van Leeuwen, Escondido’s community services director, said, “City officials concluded that the 18-acre public works yard near the Sprinter line and transit center could be put to better use than storing vehicles. The City decided the Charros site was best suited for its water distribution services because it is near Dixon Lake.”
The controversial lease termination was an agenda item up for a vote during the March 9, 2011, council meeting. However, the motion that ultimately passed was only direction to city staff to look for a relocation property for the Charros — no formal eviction.
The lease issue faded into the background and the Charros, led by association president Ben Cueva, held events as usual for the remainder of the year and through 2012.
According to Charros attorney Victor Torres, their 2013 event calendar was initially approved by the city but permission was rescinded in early 2013 when another group claiming to be the Charros objected to the Cueva-led Charros’ use of the arena.
The opposing group consisted of about four people led by José Castrellon, a former member of Cueva’s Charros. Confused by two parties claiming to be the legitimate Charros of Escondido, the city canceled the initial 2013 event approvals and held a meeting to understand the situation better.
On April 18, both sides met at city headquarters on Broadway. Torres stated, “We came in with Ben Cueva and Toby de la Torres, an official with California’s Asociación de Charros. Castrellon arrived with his attorney, Vanessa Kajy. The city had Joyce Masterson, Debra Lundy, and Adam Phillips.”
“We showed them our proof,” Torres said. “We showed them all our documents, the insurance, the letters [from the Asociación de Charros].... Castrellon had two pages of a rider to what looked like two pages of a homeowner’s policy and said nothing about the property. They also had a vague handwritten letter from Ben Cueva about solving some problem and a handwritten document purported to be November minutes where Cueva appointed Castrellon as president. It doesn’t work that way; you have to be elected by members.”
On June 10, Michelle Geller of the city manager’s office said the meeting of April 18 was inconclusive regarding Charros leadership: they weren’t sure which Charros they should deal with for a formal lease.
Due to the lack of clarity, the city proposed to enter into an occupancy license arrangement with both sides so each party could use the arena.
“Occupancy license forms were sent to both parties, and the city is waiting for either or both to apply to use that property,” said Geller. “Any dispute as to which group is the ‘Charros of Escondido’ is a matter to be resolved between the groups.”
“An occupancy license is like buying a ticket to a Padres game,” attorney Torres stated. “These agreements take a lot of maintenance. Who’s going to maintain it? In theory, we’re not opposed to it, but we advocate for an exclusive lease.”
Attorney Vanessa Kajy declined to be interviewed, and Castrellon could not be contacted for comment.
The following day, June 11, Cuevas had a beneficial meeting between city manager Clay Phillips and Ben Cueva. According to Cueva, “Clay Phillips expressed that the situation should be worked out for both the Charros and the city. So we agreed to start with a modified occupancy lease structure first and hopefully move back into a formal long-term lease. Clay asked me to get with [property negotiator] Debra Lundy and work things out.”
The Charros will hold their first event in eight months on June 23 at their arena in El Caballo Park: 3410 Valley Center Road, Escondido.