September 4, 1998
By Daniel L. Muñoz
Among the many ballot propositions, bonds, issues, and candidates running for office, without a doubt the most emotional and to date, the most talked about has been Prop. C funding for a new downtown ballpark.
While the need for a new ballpark has been widely discussed and supported by the Mayor, Padres administrators, city council, baseball fans, Chamber of Commerce, the downtown establishment, and the major media, the opposition to Prop C has been ignored.
The STOP C (Strike Three on Proposition C) Coalition is made up mostly of residents, businesses, landowners, The People's East Village Association, and Citizens Organized Against Sports Team Subsidies. This loose knit coalition of citizens has volunteered their time and resources in an effort to bring their message to the voters. The editors of La Prensa San Diego meet with Diane Dixon and Christian Michaels, co-chairs of the Coalition, to discuss Prop. C.
How did you become involved with the STOP C campaign?
Diane Dixon: Chris is a property owner in the area, and actually I didn't want to be involved with Prop C at all. I live downtown and do lay ministry. I am a long time Democrat and actually thought I was out of politics, but, as I started to look into the ballpark issue, it became clear that it was going to have a negative impact for everyone and in particular for minorities. That was what got me involved.
What do you see as the main issues?
Dixon: We have three issues. The first is the financial plan. When you take in the cities contributions and the missing $21 million, the public is looking at $291 million dollars of public funds being funneled into an 81 day a year ballpark. We have all sorts of needs like our schools, our beaches, our infrastructure, developing jobs for all folks coming off of welfare to work. We need affordable housing in San Diego.
The second issue is the actual site plan. When they first started talking about a ballpark they were talking about a six to nine block area. It has now gone to 26 blocks. All of which is going to be dependent on the tourist industry.
And last but not least, affordability to fans. Everything will go up, ticket prices, concession prices, parking. The people who vote for the ballparks will probably have to stay home and watch the games on TV because they won't be able to afford the price of admission.
How do the landowners in the impacted area view the issue? Do their feelings vary from that of the STOP C Coalition?
Michaels: Surprisingly they haven't been as outspoken, as you would have expected them. Some are in a situation where they are looking forward to leaving. But I don't think they fully know how they will be impacted. For example there is a building across the street from me, it is a construction building, and I don't think he even knows yet, that his land will be turned over to the Padres. Now of course he will be paid for that, but I think he would rather keep that land and lease it out if possible.
How do they plan to pay for the property?
Michaels: Out of the $411 million dollars there is $143.5 million that will be used for land and infrastructure. They are already coming in and doing appraisals, more than 2 months before the vote California law guarantees landowners fair market value for their property.
Are there any allocations of funds for relocation of private businesses?
Michaels: Yes there is. For example there is a six or eight story building full of refrigeration equipment, about seven million dollars worth of refrigeration equipment that keeps Shamus food cool, and all of that is going to have to moved. So it is going to be an expensive process.
All of these expenses are included in the $143 million?
Dixon: That is what they say. If it goes above that figure then they have to renegotiate. What hasn't been taken into account is that there hasn't been an environmental impact study made, They know that there are tanks of waste buried in that area. The property owners will be financially responsible for whatever the disposal costs of that waste will be. It may be significant enough that there may be owners who will be walking away without anything in their pockets. And they want the voters to approve the Ballpark before they even know what the environmental impact costs may be.
Michaels: The main crux of the situation is that this is primarily a publicly financed project. Two-thirds of the money going toward a ballpark is public. The problem is that there will be very few that benefit. The voters will not benefit. Downtown business will benefit, the Padres will benefit, and players will benefit. So what it is, are the privatization of the benefit and the socialization of the risk. So if this ballpark doesn't work out the city still has to pay $20.7 million per year for the next 30 years.
Who will develop the area that surrounds the ballpark?
Michaels: There is a group called Downtown Development Group that is made up JMI (John Moores Investments) and that is made up of different investors including John Moores (owner of the Padres) and also Sodonia Pacific, owned by Greg Shannon who helped design the ballpark. These two companies and some other companies will be the people who will be overseeing and probably actually doing the investing in the business park.
That makes one to wonder, if John Moores' company and he himself is investing in the business park, the office tower, possibly the hotels that are going up, shouldn't that money be going into the ballpark instead?
The Business Park, office tower and the hotels are separate from the ballpark funding, Why did the city allocated 26 blocks for redevelopment?
Dixon: It is 26 blocks, there are five retail parcels that the title of those parcels would go to the companies that Chris just mentioned. So Moores will benefit from the ballpark but five prime pieces of property, allocated 1 through 5 which are in the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that will go to that company, to develop these prime properties.
They are being given those parcels?
Michaels: Yes. I can show you in the MOU. And this $115 million that the Padres are responsible for, they are not paying it themselves. They are responsible for rounding it up.
Are you planning to take any legal action to stop this?
Dixon: Some individuals might, obviously Henderson has made an attempt. I don't know if other groups will.
You indicated that you are politically involved. Have you made contact with your Democratic constituency, in as much as CCDC funds come from HUD which are for affordable housing, removing slums and they are going to take those funds and give them to the Padres? Have you talked to your Congressman?
Dixon: Senator Moynahan has introduced a bill into the Senate, Bill 121, 122 and 434. He is trying to stop the abuse of these funds, which has been happening nationwide, not just here in San Diego. This area is a redevelopment area and in the original plan 75% is to go toward housing and 25% business. We need affordable housing, we need micro business, low- tech type of businesses that can go in there and give livable wage jobs, not selling peanuts and cracker jacks. I think the development plan is just fine for the area. But it was never designed to be a ballpark or a sports entertainment center. It was designed specifically to be 75% housing. If this project goes through, that housing won't happen.
Isn't this something that you can challenge all they way up to Congress? They are taking money that is allocated for affordable housing, for redevelopment, for the clearing of slums, for beautifying, and the monies are going to a private owner for a ballpark and those are federally taxed monies, those are our monies.
Dixon: I agree with you. We want to try and stop this November 3rd. If we are able to stop this through the vote then taking any other actions won't be necessary because the voters will stop this themselves.
Who are you targeting?
Dixon: We are targeting all the No votes to make sure we get that vote out. We are targeting women; they usually don't give away their house or their children's education for sports. I think women demographically are very likely to vote no. Those that are 55 and up tend to be more fiscally conservative. The Latinos and African Americans, who have the most to lose from this, will vote no.
We are also targeting what we consider our allies, and those would be those folks who get TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) funds. There are currently 184 programs that get TOT funds. A lot of them fall into arts groups and community programs who have a lot to lose if there is a crunch, that $20.7 million is going to be paid before anything else is going to be paid.
How much does the city get from TOT right now?
Dixon: Right now they get $84 million in TOT. The problem is that the TOT they would use for this project is all performa or projections on new hotels being built and occupied. So if those new hotels are not built and not occupied, since we are in very precarious situation right now on the national and international scene, then they would have to go to existing TOT funds and cut out other programs. So there is a lot of risk in this. When you compare this sort of risk/benefit, for the public not the Padres, but for the public, we have a lot to lose in this deal.
The projects the TOT fund could be cut, the general fund could double its debt ratio because of the amount of its financing per Standards and Poor. If it defaults completely and goes to the general fund that would default the general fund in an economic downturn and it could be your house that is mortgaged for this project. So it is incredible the amount of risk they are willing to take with public funds, and our well being, on this project.
The stock market is crashing, corporations like QualCom and all these high techs, and biotechs are taking the biggest hits, they are playing the fiddle while Rome burns around them.
Michaels: You are absolute right. This is a steamroller and the stock market crash doesn't seem stop the people who are the power players in this, because this project is so steeped in self-interest it is unbelievable.
From what I understand up to 50% of the seats could be designated for private boxes?
Dixon: Right. That is their intention, club seats are what they are calling them.
That will be a season ticket holder only?
Dixon: Well those are going to be corporate people, if they have money.
So we are only talking about 20,000 seats for the general public? And for those 20,000 we are talking about $30 per ticket, so the ballpark won't be for the average fan or for the family?
Dixon: No, the ballpark is so that the revenue for the Padres can be increased. Larry Lucchino's last project was Camden Yards and the ticket prices doubled. They will have more premium seating, they will be able to charge more for concessions, and the value of the team will go up tremendously.
(For further information on STOP C you can contact them at P.O. Box 121489, San Diego, CA 92112-1489. Phone: 619-744-8962. Web site: www.stopC.org.)