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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Commentary - Where is the Outrage?

The proposed Minor League Baseball Stadium for Escondido has been controversial from the beginning.

San Marcos turned it down. How many others before Mr. Moorad and his group came to Escondido looking for a few rubes to skin, we don’t know.

What we do know is:
• The Escondido City Council has chosen to use people very close to the Padres, Mr. Moores and Mr. Moorad to “assist” them in negotiations. The City decided to hire Mr. Charles Black to advise, consult and negotiate the deal with Mr. Moorad.

Mr. Black worked for The Padres and Mr. Moores. Indeed, at one time Mr. Black was president of The Padres. There is no doubt that the new minor league team has a significant, financial benefit to The Padres ...thus, if Mr. Black has any ties or receives anything from The Padres, he has a conflict.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a ‘courtesy’ seat in the Padres sky box, or a VIP reception with the players. Mr. Black, having served as president of The Padres, would be hard pressed to totally separate himself from the present administration and its various influences. The “assistance” that Mr. Black has provided, thus far, amounts to $80,000, the legal fees billed by Black. The total paid for Black and other consultants is $750,000. Money that could much more wisely be used in serving Escondido taxpayers.
• Councilmember Olga Diaz quite properly criticized Escondido city staff for not being more forthcoming in their due diligence research on Mr. Black and his connection to the Padres and Mr. Moores and Mr. Moorad.
• This has all the appearance of the city of Escondido hiring the fox to guard the henhouse. The city wants this ballpark and has hired the ‘yes people’ to make it happen. Witness:
• The city also chose to hire Gary London, to do the economic impact analysis of the proposed ballpark and surrounding redevelopment target area. Mr. London is a professor/instructor at the Burnham/Moores Center at USD. One would presume Mr. Moores donated millions to start and endow the center and he may well donate additional funds to help pay the bills, one of those bills, presumably, is Mr. London’s compensation for teaching there. Technically there appears to be a financial connection between ANOTHER city consultant AND The Padres.

“The London Report” on the projected redevlopment in the ball park area includes raves about “two large hotels, hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space and scads of retail, retail, retail and condos, condos, condos! (We say, and other studies show, BS, BS, BS).

Do either Mr. Black or Mr. London enjoy gifts, consulting fees, shares of stock, property ownership, private social meetings, with Mr. Moorad, Mr. Moores, or the San Diego Padres? If so, there is a clear possibility of conflict of interest. Does Mr. Black retain any residual connection to the Padres in the form of free season tickets, Emeritus status, or a stipend of any kind for off and on consulting work?

The bottom line is, the city needs to take a hard look at both Mr. Black and Mr. London and ensure what, if any, current connections exist between them and the San Diego Padres ownership and management. We would recommend an attorney from outside the county replace Mr. Black - one who has been thoroughly vetted and who has absolutely no vested interest in the negotiations.

We sent an email to each of the councilmembers which read as follows:

We are working on a story about Mr. Black and the apparent ongoing negotiations with the Moorad Group on the ballpark issue.

I am asking that each council member comment on the following:

"Has anyone asked for a list of all his CURRENT clients, projects, sources of income, loans, real estate holdings, partnerships, etc etc?"

Mayor Sam Abed responded within minutes of the email being sent:

“We've been presented with Charles Black when Lori was there. He is a valuable resource. He put the Petco Park deal together. We directed him on what the council wanted to do. On every issues, he has followed council direction.

I met with Clay Phillips this morning; we would have taken action if he had been on the board of directors. When we learned he was not, we agreed to continue our negotiations.

I am concerned about three issues on the proposed stadium: cost cap (which is presently at $50 milllion), a quality stadium, and the Escondido name being attached to it. We have concessions on all those areas.

When it was pointed out to Mayor Sam that larger stadiums such as the 10,000 seat Maryville Stadium outside of Phoenix had been built for $25 million, and that the 11,333 seat Peoria Sports Complex, also near Phoenix, was built for $32 million, and that $50 million seemed a lot of money for little old Escondido, Mayor Sam responded that the Maryville stadium was built in 1998, the Peoria complex in 1994 and you have to allow for inflation which means the cost of construction at least doubles every 15 years. (We should also point out that the Peoria stadium was funded by a tax on rental cars and was built by HOK Sports and became baseball’s first two team training facillity with the Padres and Seattle Mariners as tenants, not owners. The complex is surrounded by 2,700 paved parking spaces that cost $5 each.

The Maryville stadium is owned and operated by the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, (not an investor group of baseball owners) the Maryvale spring training complex features the main ballpark, five full practice fields and two half-sized practice fields. The Brewers began training there in 1998.

Summing things up, Ed Gallo said: “Until the RDA issue is resolved in Sacramento the ballpark discussions to my knowledge are not proceding at the same pace as in previous months. Deadlines keep being continued to dates uncertain. I will say that discussions have been held with the other council members. Had I been on the council when Mr. Black was hired I certainly would not have agreed to have him represent the city in negotiations. And that decision has nothing to do with Mr. Black's professionalism but rather I would try to keep everything transparent. I am certain there are other people with similar backgrounds and credentials who can negotiate a real estate lease.

Olga Diaz voices similar concerns and was concerned that staff seemed alarmed when the Council collectively expressed concerns about prior employment with the Padres and the potential or appearance of potential conflict of interest on Messrs Black and London.

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