Former San Diego city councilman Bruce Henderson filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of a Libertarian Party activist who challenges the City Council’s approval of up to $299 million in bond financing for the Padres ballpark.
The lawsuit by plaintiff Steven Currie states the council’s action last month authorizing the bonds violates the memorandum of understanding approved by the voters in November 1998, which set the city’s share of the construction on the Downtown ballpark at $225 million.
When the council approved the higher financing package last month, city officials said the city’s share for the ballpark has not changed. The increase was necessary to cover higher financing costs and interest rates involved with issuing the bonds, they said.
The voter-approved memorandum of understanding for the $411 million ballpark calls for the city to invest $225 million; the Centre City Development Corp., the city’s Downtown redevelopment agency, to put up $50 million; and the San Diego Unified Port District to contribute $21 million.
The remaining $115 million would come from the Padres in the form of stadium naming rights and other sponsorships.
Henderson said the council’s approval of the increased bond amount is a blatant violation of the memorandum of understanding’s Section 38, which states the agreement cannot be amended unless it is approved by a public vote.
Assistant City Attorney Les Girard said Henderson is completely incorrect in his interpretation of the memorandum of understanding.
He said the voters understood the $225 million designated for the construction costs have not changed, and that there are financing costs associated with obtaining the city’s share.
Henderson said the city’s own city manager and council never specified anything higher than $225 million in its latest budget.
“If you look at the city’s budget for fiscal year 2000, it very clearly provides that the maximum capital expenditure on the city ballpark project be no more than $225 million,” he said.
Along with challenging the increased bond amount, the suit also demands the city comply with a charter requirement to reveal the ownership of companies doing business with the city.
Specifically, Henderson wants the city to show who are the owners of the Padres.
“I believe there’s a substantial chance there are interests who have not been disclosed that would show important conflicts of interest within the community,” he said.
Henderson and the city were scheduled to meet in court Feb. 18 on a hearing dealing with two earlier lawsuits filed by the city and the Padres against two Henderson clients attempting to collect signatures for an initiative. The initiative seeks to overturn Proposition C, the 1998 ballpark measure approved by nearly 60 percent of the voters.
In response to the lawsuits, the initiative backers have filed a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuits on grounds that these infringe on the backers’ free speech rights.
Henderson and other ballpark opponents have put the initiative on hold while they concentrate on a referendum challenging the city’s plan of issuing up to $299 million in bonds.
The referendum backers need to acquire some 30,000 valid signatures by March 1 to get the measure on the ballot.
Jerry Mailhot, a client of Henderson’s who is coordinating the referendum campaign, said the effort to get the needed signatures has been stymied by another signature-gathering campaign orchestrated by the Padres.
The latter campaign is collecting signatures in support of the ballpark, which will be placed inside the stadium once it’s completed.
Mailhot said the Padres are paying signature-gatherers higher than average prices per valid signature and asking people carrying the petitions to sign an agreement they will not carry anti-ballpark petitions.
The Padres are also paying bonus prices for signatures, up to $3.50 each, for voters living outside the city limits, effectively moving the signature solicitors outside San Diego, where they might be more likely to collect anti-ballpark signatures, he said.
“They’re trying to buy out our signature-gathering pool,” Mailhot said. “It’s legal, but in my opinion, it’s not moral or ethical.”
Mailhot would not reveal how many signatures the referendum has thus far, except to say the number was currently behind the estimate.