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Chargers stadium in Oceanside could help alleviate commutes

 

Last updated 5/24/2007 at Noon



The San Diego Association of Governments and the Western Riverside Council of Governments are part of an Interregional Partnership which was formed to address the imbalance of jobs and housing between San Diego County and Western Riverside County which has led to an increasing number of commuters on Interstate 15 between the two counties. The potential plans by the San Diego Chargers to build a new stadium in Oceanside may contribute to that solution.

“There’s a potential there of having some significant employment centers be developed,” said interim Oceanside City Manager Pete Weiss.

The Chargers have not settled upon a specific development project, but the stadium arrangement will also likely include additional acreage for the Chargers to generate revenue. “What we’re trying to do is find an underutilized piece of land,” said Mark Fabiani, special counsel to the Chargers.

“They’re looking to get the land,” said Oceanside City Attorney John Mullen. “We’re not offering any city funding at this point.”

The Chargers are not looking for municipal funding of the stadium other than provision of the land. “They’ve stated publicly that they do not want the city to fund it,” Weiss said.

“Our concept is first of all to privately finance it,” Fabiani said. “Whether that involves owning the land, leasing the land, some sort of joint partnership over the land, all of that is open to discussion. We don’t have our minds closed on any of that.”

The Chargers had been considering sites in Chula Vista and National City before the Oceanside possibility arose. “All the Chargers have said is they’re looking at a number of sites in the county,” Weiss said. “Oceanside is one of them.”

Participants in some of the preliminary discussions for an Oceanside stadium also included Jerry Butkiewicz, the executive director of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.

“When the issue came up I just said something to Mayor (Jim) Wood,” Butkiewicz said.

“I’m hoping that the Chargers can find a city in San Diego [County] where they can work a deal where it’s a good deal for the city and a good deal for keeping the Chargers in the county,” Butkiewicz said. “If it can’t be worked out then it can’t be worked out, but I don’t think we should leave any stone unturned.”

The Chargers currently have one of the smallest press boxes in the National Football League, leaving little room for sportswriters from suburban weekly newspapers who have learned to live without the Chargers and have little to lose if the Chargers leave San Diego County. A Chargers stadium in National City or Chula Vista likely would not receive a friendly reception from the Chula Vista Star-News, thus making a vote for an Oceanside stadium a more politically feasible option.

In the case of the preliminary Oceanside talks, that vote would involve a land use change rather than funding. “We need to see exactly what the proposal would include,” Mullen said. “In all likelihood a vote of the people would be required.”

The Chargers have not yet asked the City of Oceanside for land or building permits. “We are one of several locations that they are looking at in regards to potentials,” Weiss said.

The site being explored in Oceanside is the Center City Golf Course, also known as the Goat Hill course. A majority vote from the city’s electorate would be required to change park use in the city.

While the Chargers are seeking land and building permits rather than financial contributions, no specific plans have been put forward. “They have not given us any specific projects,” Mullen said. “This is the beginning of the beginning.”

Mullen noted that public involvement would take place prior to any vote. “It’s going to be an ongoing process, so the public’s going to be heavily involved,” he said.

The Center City Golf Course is an “executive course” rather than a regulation-size course and totals approximately 4,500 yards over 18 holes. The elimination of the golf course would not affect Avocado League high school golf, as Oceanside High School and El Camino High School utilize the Oceanside Municipal Golf Course.

The site on the northeast corner of Interstate 5 and Oceanside Boulevard is also about one mile from the Oceanside Transit Center which serves several bus lines - including the Riverside Transit Agency’s 202 line from Murrieta - along with Amtrak and the North County Transit District’s Coaster light rail line. The North County Transit District is also working on the Sprinter light rail line between Oceanside and Escondido, and a Sprinter stop at the bottom of Oceanside Boulevard has been proposed.

“There’s a whole lot of mass transit into and out of the area,” Fabiani said.

Fabiani noted that the Oceanside land’s proximity to the Oceanside Transit Center makes it attractive to the Chargers. “You do not want to be building stadiums that require a huge amount of on-site parking,” he said.

That could provide traffic congestion relief benefits through transit use as well as through the possibility of shorter commutes for Riverside County residents. “There could be a small transit benefit,” said Kevin Viera, the Western Riverside Council of Governments program manager for the I-15 Interregional Partnership (IRP).

“People would probably ride it,” Viera said of the 202 line, “to get to the stadium, but that would be a weekend one-time deal.”

That could provide some additional revenue to fund the line, but it wouldn’t be of direct benefit to those commuting from Riverside County to San Diego. “It’s such a single-use item,” Viera said of football home games. “It wouldn’t have the benefit that we would want to directly benefit the commuters.”

The I-15 Interregional Partnership Phase II final report was approved in April 2007. “What the whole IRP is really looking at is the job-housing imbalance between the two regions,” Viera said. “The idea here is to create affordable workforce housing in San Diego and find a way to generate jobs in the Riverside area.”

The stadium-related jobs in northern San Diego County might bring those jobs closer to Riverside County residents, although it would still be an inter-county journey. “Would it help Riverside? That would be hard to say,” Viera said. “You would probably see bigger benefit to Orange County than to Riverside County.”

Viera explained that Oceanside was more direct for Orange County residents than for Riverside County commuters. “Probably not a huge impact,” he said of reducing Riverside County traffic in San Diego County. “A lot of it would depend on what occurs at the stadium.”

Since the Chargers’ desires include the ancillary development, employment may be produced beyond that of football-related generation. “I’m not sure that the stadium itself is that significant as an employer long-term,” Weiss said.

Butkiewicz noted that stadium-related jobs include ushers, parking attendants, and concession workers as well as players, coaches, and other team employees. “I don’t think people think about them because they’re all behind the scenes,” he said. That employment was cause for Butkiewicz to become involved. “I want to be able to keep those jobs,” he said.

The San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council covers several labor unions in the area. “I don’t represent any of the workers directly,” he said.

Since he represents union workers in general, he can support a project which benefits union workers from Riverside County as well as San Diego and Imperial Counties. “There’s no conflict,” he said.

“I would think that people from Temecula probably would end up working there,” Butkiewicz said. “Jobs are jobs.”

Butkiewicz realizes that a stadium and other development would provide construction jobs as well as permanent employment. “If we get 500 jobs people would drive down from Temecula and Murrieta,” he said.

Butkiewicz himself lived in Temecula for ten years and commuted to San Diego County before moving to a City of San Diego neighborhood three years ago. He had lived in Vista before moving to Temecula and had played the Goat Hill golf course.

An Oceanside stadium would reduce the commute of construction workers and contribute to reducing the jobs-housing imbalance. “That would be spectacular,” Butkiewicz said.

A stadium elsewhere in the county would also likely provide jobs for Temecula workers. “I think construction workers have no problem driving from Temecula to San Diego to work on a construction job,” Butkiewicz said.

Local construction employment might reduce overall commutes for the stadium site even if some workers in other cities are still required to commute elsewhere. “No matter what city they end up with, there’s workers in that city,” Butkiewicz said.

Fabiani’s discussions have also involved the North County Economic Development Council, and during those conversations Fabiani became aware of the I-15 Interregional Partnership. “It’s something we thought was relevant,” he said.

Although the Chargers’ current stadium lease with the City of San Diego allowed them to negotiate with other cities for a new stadium as of January 1, 2007, the City of San Diego approved an amendment which would allow them to negotiate with other cities within the county in May 2006. “We’re still in the early stages with everyone,” Fabiani said.

The Chargers began talks with Chula Vista and National City in Spring 2006 and had their first meeting with Mayor Wood of Oceanside on January 2, 2007. “We’re very early in the process with Oceanside,” Fabiani said. “We’re somewhat further along with National City and Chula Vista.”

Butkiewicz does not have a preference for any of the three cities under consideration. “I think they’re going to explore all the options,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure it’s a good deal for whatever city.”

A future step for the City of Oceanside is informed discussions. “It’s more of an exchange of information,” Mullen said of the current talks. “At some point we suspect that they’re going to need to present us with some sort of proposal.”

The Center City Golf Course currently has activity of approximately 20,000 rounds per year. “Until we get more specifics it’s hard to say whether it’s a good deal or not,” Weiss said. “We’re interested in listening.”

The decision likely won’t occur soon. “Finding a suitable location for an NFL stadium is a difficult prospect to say the least, and it’s a slow process,” Fabiani said. “It takes a while.”

 

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