Group challenges Belmont Park lease extension
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 05/21/15 - 06:20 AM | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Giant Dipper roller coaster at Belmont Park. / Photo by Thomas Melville
The Giant Dipper roller coaster at Belmont Park. / Photo by Thomas Melville
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The ink on a lease extension for Belmont Park is barely dry and the action is already being challenged in court.

The person challenging the City Council-approved lease is a familiar foe: attorney Cory Briggs, who has sued the city repeatedly, including a successful suit that blocked the San Diego Convention Center's expansion by challenging its financing.

On behalf of a nonprofit group called San Diegans for Open Government, Briggs filed a lawsuit in Superior Court May 11 seeking to invalidate the Belmont Park lease extension.

If successful, the lawsuit could potentially shutter the high-profile seven-acre park, which includes numerous restaurants and bars, a roller coaster and amusement rides, as well as extensive beach-oriented retail.

Briggs’ suit alleges the City Council’s approval was illegal on grounds that it violated Proposition G, a 1987 voter-approved initiative restricting non-recreational uses at city-owned Belmont Park; the California Coastal Act; the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the San Diego City Charter.

The suit contends Prop. G was violated because it provides for public park and recreation uses but specifically prohibits “retail and commercial uses, except within the historically rehabilitated Plunge pool and related buildings.”

“The lease agreement authorizes a long list of ‘improvements’ that were not included in the Development Plan, such as catering facilities, amusement rides, games of skill, etc.,” states Briggs' lawsuit, which insists violation of Prop. G “deprives the benefit of public access to Mission Beach Park for recreational uses.”

The suit also insists CEQA was violated because Belmont Park activities “have the potential to cause significant adverse impacts on the environment including air quality, noise and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The lawsuit concludes that “the project must be subjected to environmental review before final approval.”

Briggs’ suit also argues that the City Council’s approval of the 40-year lease extension “failed to comply with the San Diego City Charter rendering the approval null and void.”

Responding to Briggs’ lawsuit, Gerry Braun, director of communications for the City Attorney’s Office, said: “Although we do not share Mr. Briggs’ narrow interpretation of Proposition G that would ultimately require closing Belmont Park, we recognize that there has never been a judicial interpretation either way. The mayor and City Council were fully advised on the legal issues before approving the lease and took steps to reduce the city’s risk while allowing Belmont Park to remain open. Our office will defend the lawsuit and the ability to keep Belmont Park open.”

The City Council approved Belmont Park’s lease extension April 6 by a 7-2 vote, with council president Sherri Lightner of District 1 and Councilman David Alvarez of District 8 dissenting.

In an interview with Beach & Bay Press right after the council vote on the Belmont lease extension, former District 2 Councilman Ed Harris, now a San Diego lifeguard, referred to the action as “a really bad deal for the taxpayers because we were not getting fair market value.”

Harris warned then that the council has “put together a deal that completely flaunts Prop. G. I expect that we (city) will be sued.”

More recently, noting that “everybody knew that this (lease) likely violated Prop. G.” Harris added his prediction had come true that the council vote “would be another giveaway of taxpayer money.”

Contending San Diego has “a long history” of making deals with developers that leave the city and taxpayers on the short end, Harris added, “If we don’t get fair value for our assets, the burden falls on the taxpayers. Every dime that we don’t bring in on our assets falls to the middle class and smallbusiness.”

Current District 2 Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who asked to increase capital improvements in the lease extension from $10 million to $18 million, with the potential for $5 million more if the lease is renewed in the future, praised the council’s decision to approve the park's lease extension.

“Pacifica (developers) will spend $5.9 million to fix the city-owned Plunge pool and will also be responsible for all the repairs and maintenance of the Plunge going forward for the remainder of the lease term,” Zapf said. “Without this new provision, the Plunge would have been closed for years, and added to the city’s multi-billion dollar deferred maintenance backlog.”

Zapf also credited developers for “investing millions to bring new life to the once-dilapidated amusement park, turning it into a world-class, family friendly destination.”

In November 2012, Pacifica Enterprises LLC acquired the Belmont Park leasehold in a bankruptcy trustee sale. Pacifica Enterprises, along with Eat.Drink.Sleep, assumed operations of the park and started restoring and revitalizing it by opening new restaurants including Cannonball, Draft, Belmonty's Burgers, and Hot Dog on a Stick, as well as completing a remodel of WaveHouse Beach Club.

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