As the city dives back into lease negotiations with the company that runs Mission Beach’s Belmont Park, two City Council members are split over what any deal should look like.

Their differing views emphasize once again that the city as a whole is figuring out on the fly how to get the most out of the property it leases to private companies.

Back in September, the City Council voted down a lease extension with Pacifica Enterprises, which runs the seaside amusement park.

The deal gave Pacifica $8 million in rent subsidies, to spend on fixes to the park’s decaying features, especially the historic building that houses the community pool, The Plunge.

But the Council, led by Councilman Ed Harris, whose appointment to represent the district will end in December, said the city was getting a bad deal. Harris recently told the OB Rag he’s running for state Assembly in 2016.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who’ll start representing the area in mid-December, wanted more answers from city staff on the deal and was open to making some changes, but wasn’t nearly as critical of the arrangement.

In a closed session this week, the Council again discussed the proposed lease extension, and staff is expected to bring back whatever agreement it can work out.

But Zapf and Harris clearly have different expectations.

Zapf sent a memo last week proposing some modest changes to the deal. 

She’s asked to cut the deal to 40 years – with an option for a 10-year extension – instead of a 50-year deal, to make Pacifica responsible if scheduled renovations are more expensive than expected, and to require additional, though unspecified, capital improvements on the back end of the deal.

“I believe these changes are amenable to all parties and would be responsive to the input provided by Council at the previous hearing,” Zapf wrote in her memo to the director of the city’s real estate assets department and the mayor, after she says she met with department staff, community members and Pacifica.

She also asked that the lease include commitments to $18 million in upfront improvements, including the $5.9 million renovations to the plunge building, and some projects that have already begun or been completed as part of a “good faith agreement” when negotiations started, like $4.2 million in building new restaurants and $3 million in improvements to common areas and community space.

Harris wants a lot more, and it’s not clear all of his requests are even possible. He’s asked to make the lease a 30-year deal with possible extensions. He also wants Pacifica to pay more rent, pay for trash collection in Mission Beach during summer months (estimated $250,000 a year), remove all beach concessions and to stipulate that Pacifica can’t sell the lease in the first five years, and that the city would get a cut of any deal after that.

“Below are some provisions that we have reviewed and (Harris) suggests for consideration in the ongoing negotiations,” reads the memo from Harris’ office. “As you know, we haven’t yet had the benefit of meeting with you, and we haven’t been privy to the negotiations.” 

In September, the Council was pressured to approve the deal right away, because Pacifica said it was trying to take over a separate lease of the park’s Big Dipper roller coaster, and the company that leases that property couldn’t wait any longer.

At least for now, it appears consolidating the two leases is no longer part of negotiations.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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