by: Ruarri Serpa
More than golf versus soccer, bizarre Goat Hill deal was about good governance
Oceanside CA- City Council rejected Dell Loy Hansen’s bid to install a private soccer facility at Center City Golf Course , Wednesday night, at a public hearing on terms for a lease. Instead, they directed city staff to pursue discussions with Goat Hill Partners, whose plan (pdf) would maintain the golf course, and enhance public space.
Hansen, CEO of Wasatch Property Management, and owner of professional soccer team Real Salt Lake in Utah, approached the city with a plan to build six fields, and a 5,000 seat stadium. The terms also left open the possibility of a tax rebated hotel.
Over 40 golfers, and neighbors of Goat Hill showed up to voice their opposition at the meeting, citing the need to maintain public parkland under existing city ordinance. Only three speakers supported Hansen’s soccer proposal, before Hansen left during public comment to take people to the airport.
“It’s our parkland,” said Pam Myers of Oceanside. Don’t give, lease, or rent our parkland without a city-wide vote, she said.
The ordinance prohibits action that would prevent the public from using any part of city-owned parkland, unless put to a city-wide vote. “Five fields would be privatized,” said Janet Lacy, whose father helped enact the ordinance.
Opponents to the soccer fields also raised concerns about the effect on the community that a large stadium would have. “Soccer would generate a lot of money, but at what social cost?” said Robert Leesburg, of Oceanside.
“My 12 year dream would be destroyed with the stadium,” said Kelly Polk, who recently purchased her home adjacent to the park.
The soccer parks’ supporters however noted the general lack of opportunity for Oceanside’s youth. “The Youth Leagues are where the dream ends for kids,” said Dan Rivera.
“Disadvantaged children have the most to gain,” said Rick Rodriguez, a soccer coach. Often the kids who love soccer the most, have the least money to commit to it, he said.
Beyond soccer versus golf, and the fate of public land, is the issue of the speed, and hushed way in which the proposal was brought forward. Many accused city staff, and council members of trying to sneak the deal through in closed door negotiations.
The deal was a, “sham pulled by city staff,” said Jimmy Knot, who sits on the Utilities Commission, for failing to mention many key parts of the deal in their report to the city at the start of the hearing. And former City Councilman Chuck Lowery displayed Councilman Kern’s campaign finance disclosure forms, which recorded a $1,000 donation from Dell Loy Hansen in 2012.
“It could be perceived as behind closed doors,” Kern said. “It came fast. That’s all.”
Kern also said that his friendship with Hansen was never a secret, and that all communication was handled by Peter Weiss.
All members of the council expressed that the deal was never meant to be sneaked through, but that it progressed quickly. Hansen had placed a 60 day limit on any delays during negotiations, after which the deal would fall through, according to Weiss.
“It felt like one meeting was, ‘let’s talk’ to the next meeting being deal points,” Councilwoman Sanchez said.
Talks with Goat Hill Partners ceased in December, after Peter Weiss asked them to wait 90 days, while the Council reviewed the details of a new plan, said John Ashworth of Goat Hill Partners. According to City Manager Steve Jepsen, the 90 day period had nothing to do with Peter Weiss’s retirement, and return as a part-time consultant to the city.
“They just said that the council wanted to review a new plan, but would not give me any information of what that plan entailed,” said Ashworth.
Ruarri Serpa is a freelance reporter from Oceanside, CA. You can contact him directly at RuarriS@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @Ruarris