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Friday, Aug. 3, 2007 | The ongoing negotiations between the Chargers and the city of Oceanside for stadium land at Goat Hill is giving longtime resident Harriet Bledsoe a sense of déjà vu.
The city designated Goat Hill as parkland 30 years ago after Bledsoe’s late husband Marvin waged a two-year court battle against transferring the property to a private party. His efforts produced a city law that requires the Oceanside City Council to hold a public vote before it turns over parkland to developers.
Getting the Goat
Now the parkland that resulted from that effort is the target of the ambitious stadium development proposal. But unlike 30 years ago, residents have the power to reject the development in a public vote.
For some time, the council has been investigating ways to develop Goat Hill, currently the Center City Golf Course, to generate revenue, said former Councilwoman Shari Mackin.
“Many developers have been licking their chops over that property for years,” Mackin said. “How it tends to be in Oceanside is that people are given land for awhile until it is looked at and deemed better-used as something else.”
With National City bowing out and Chula Vista on precarious development footing after an ambitious plan to build a convention center was abandoned, Oceanside has become San Diego County’s frontrunner for a new Chargers stadium.
City officials are negotiating with the team over the 72-acre site, which is being considered because of its proximity to major freeways and rail lines.
As the city discusses different scenarios for the land, the same ordinance that created Goat Hill will be tested. While the council is adamant that voters will have the final say through a public ballot about whether the land could even be used for a stadium, some residents worry the Chargers could wield significant influence over the vote.
The Chargers’ plans for the site are in their infancy. The team is currently conducting closed-door negotiations with the city, and has financed a study investigating the feasibility of building an office park in the area to finance the stadium’s construction. But without a definitive plan in place, many residents are unsure whether they would support the team’s transplantation to the area.
“You are looking at David and Goliath, the neighborhood groups against the Chargers, who knows who they could influence,” said Nadine Scott, a longtime Oceanside resident. “We are up against people who have really thought this through.”
Council members said they haven’t seen any schematics for the stadium or office space, and don’t know what it would look like. The majority said they are waiting to form their opinions until more details become available.
“It would be great to consider it and it is kind of exciting to think of the possibilities,” said Councilman Jack Feller. “But the impacts on the community, good or bad, have to be weighed before we seriously make the attempt to pass an initiative to bring them here.”
Other council members, such as Esther Sanchez, are concerned about the project’s anticipated costs. Sanchez, who initially proposed the idea to the council, has now come out strongly against the stadium because she said it’s not a good financial fit for the city.
The public vote would not be about a tax increase but rather approval of the terms of the land acquisition. Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said the team is looking for a city with an underutilized piece of land it would be willing to allow the team to turn into a profitable venue.
“Our working assumption from the beginning was that the public does not have an appetite for increasing taxes for sports facilities,” he said.
Many of those in favor of the project have said it would put Oceanside on the map, transforming the sleepy beach community into a tourist destination.
Gary Knight, president of the San Diego North Economic Development Council, said game day broadcasts could be a boon for attracting people to the area. “The days where we have the camera panning out over the ocean and the Oceanside pier will be a great day,” he said. “You can’t pay for that type of publicity.”
While the Chargers have made plans to fully finance the stadium, Villanova University sociology professor Rick Eckstein said that the city should be wary of the fine print.
“There has been no case of a corporation coming in and paying for a stadium in its entirety,” he said.
Stadiums almost never make money for their host cities, said Eckstein, who has written a book about how public money is used in the financing of private stadiums.
“These things are usually agreed upon before and are never a surprise to the politicians,” Eckstein said. “But they are usually a surprise to the public later on.”
Some vocal community activists are resisting any and all advances from the Chargers. There are obvious logistical challenges to building a stadium at the site, including massive road changes.
Resident Jeeni Criscenzo would prefer a different kind of recognition for the city. “I don’t want to be known for a stadium,” Criscenzo said. “I want to be known for our three miles of beaches.”
Fabiani said quite a bit of work remains to determine how infrastructure would need to change to handle the major traffic a stadium would create. Oceanside is an appealing location for the team because of its proximity to fans in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Goat Hill is also located directly off Interstate 5 and near the Amtrak, Sprinter and Coaster lines.
“We all came to the conclusion that although there were serious issues to tackle, there wasn’t a reason to stop working on it,” Fabiani said.
|The Oceanside golf course that the Chargers are eyeing for a new stadium has been at the heart of land use debates in the past. Photo: Sam Hodgson|
If the negotiations between the Chargers and the city are successful, the team would need to gather more than 10,000 resident signatures by early spring to put the issue on the November 2008 ballot.
Harriet Bledsoe said she hopes the residents remember her husband’s fight to keep public land before signing it all away to the Chargers.
In 1970, the Oceanside City Council agreed to sell a 10-acre park off Mission Avenue to developers looking to build a Kmart.
“They decided to sell the park out of the blue, which was a terrible thing to do because it was heavily used, especially by underprivileged children,” Harriet Bledsoe said.
Marvin Bledsoe led an unsuccessful legal effort to stop the sale. Despite losing the case, he circulated a petition calling for an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of public parkland without a vote. Though he received all the necessary signatures, the council refused to act on it. After he took the city to court again in 1972, the council was ordered to adopt the ordinance.
In addition, the council dedicated Goat Hill — a former dump site — as public land to compensate for the lost park.
“Our kids got a landfill to play on and Kmart got prime real estate,” said Mackin, the former councilwoman.
Harriet Bledsoe said that, this time around, the developers and council will not get the final say over the fate of public parkland.
“There are some pro-development people on this council who want to build, build, build,” she said. “But fortunately the people get to say whether or not they want to have it sold.”