Back in September, when the San Diego City Council first considered a new long-term lease for the operator of Belmont Park, everyone was in a big damn hurry.

That’s not the case anymore.

Approval of the new lease skipped a committee hearing and went directly to the full Council. That’s because Pacifica Enterprises, the company that operates the park, said it needed the deal right away. It was trying to acquire the company that leases the Giant Dipper roller coaster at Belmont Park, and that company was out of patience.  If Council didn’t approve the deal by Sept. 30, Pacifica wouldn’t be able to buy the coaster company.

The city has long wanted the same company to control both leases, so it had real motivation to make sure that part of the deal didn’t fall through.

But Council didn’t approve the new lease, and the hard deadline to acquire the roller coaster company came and went. Then, in early November, Pacifica managed to acquire the roller coaster company anyway.

The fact that the deal happened even without rushing through a new lease bolsters some skepticism that the deal ever needed to be locked in so quickly. Councilman Ed Harris, who was the driving force behind blocking the new lease, said the urgency concerned him.

“There was one thing I learned on Council early on, and that’s if people are rushing something through, it probably has issues,” Harris said.

And Maurice Robinson, an expert on municipal leases who has worked with the city in the past, said false urgency is pretty common.

“I’ve seen (San Diego) do some last-minute, 11th hour proposals where the lessee says they need to do the deal now, which probably wasn’t true, and (the city) certainly should be criticized for not taking their time,” he said.

Chris Wahl, a lobbyist working for Pacifica, said the subsequent coaster acquisition is not evidence Pacifica was bluffing, or that the deal was being rushed.

“It followed 18 months of negotiations, so that’s a false premise,” he said. “(Pacifica) decided to move forward even without a new lease in place. They took on significant risk, but they’re hopeful that a resolution on the new lease will move forward.”

City negotiators and Pacifica are working on that resolution right now, and two Council members have proposed possible new terms.

Based on the previous deal, Pacifica’s roller coaster acquisition triggers some additional investments in the property.

That deal said Pacifica would need to make $2.5 million in investments to the roller coaster within the next five years, in addition to the $10 million in investments it had agreed to make on the rest of the park (and the $22 million in investments it’s already made since taking over in 2012).

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

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