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Padres in Escondido, Bad Checks In Vista, Cancer in Carlsbad

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Aired 8/2/10

Will Escondido get the Padres' Triple-A ballpark? Will Vista City Councilman Frank Lopez be charged with check fraud? Has the question of soil testing at Carlsbad's Kelly Elementary been answered? And what new outrage will be perpetrated on the Cardiff Kook? Inquiring North County minds want to know.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Recently North County headlines have ranged from alleged cancer clusters to the Cardiff Kook. We'll explain some of the most intriguing news stories going on San Diego's northern communities, including a race against the clock that's developing to approve a ballpark for the Padres minor league team. Joining me to talk about North County news is my guest Logan Jenkins, North County columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Logan, good morning.

LOGAN JENKINS (Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune): Good morning. Welcome to North County, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks so much. Well, okay, let’s start out with the Padres minor league team stadium. The supporters in the City of Escondido are trying to get that built in Escondido and I understand that there’s now a sort of short timeline. Explain that for us.

JENKINS: Well, there is a lot of pressure on the City of Escondido. Let me just set the scene a little bit.

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

JENKINS: The Portland Beavers are one of the charter Pacific Coast League teams. It’s been in Portland for more than a hundred years. But the team will be leaving Portland, that much we know for absolute certain. The ballpark is being converted to a soccer-only stadium and there’s no chance for the team to stay in Portland. So the pressing question is where does the team go? Padres co-owner and CEO Jeff Moorad has put together a team of investors and they are in the process, we understand, of buying the Beavers. Now every indication is that Moorad wants to bring the team to North County. San Marcos, which has a university district and some land available was considered the frontrunner early. Carlsbad was in the mix. But Escondido, which had flirted with the Chargers to bring the NFL stadium to Escondido…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JENKINS: …had a pretty well developed redevelopment plan for an area south of 78 and east of I-15. And so they’ve – they jumped to the front of the line and said, you know, we’ve got a financing plan, we’ve got a redevelopment district that we can put into motion. Think of us. And every indication is that Moorad is in serious negotiation with Escondido to bring the team there.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you for that because that really gives a very, very good background but why is the rush on to get the approval for this?

JENKINS: Okay, the – now this is one of those things that you, you know, it’s – People can look at this differently. But the Pacific Coast League has said that they will allow the team to play in Lake Elsinore. The Padres have a Single-A team there. The Beavers would be a Triple-A team, which is a lot closer to the major leagues. That’s the one step down from the major leagues.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

JENKINS: So the PCL has said we’ll let you play 2011 at Lake Elsinore but after that, for the 2012 team, you have to have your own ballpark.

CAVANAUGH: Ahh…

JENKINS: There has to be a home. So, think about it, building a stadium for 9,000 people, all of the infrastructure that would go along with that. I mean, that’s a big task. And even the planning aspect of it is daunting just to get, you know, before you get started. So this is why the clock is ticking and there’s been absolutely no talk of putting this in front of the public for a vote. The council would have to vote up or down to even come close to meeting that timeline.

CAVANAUGH: So what will the City of Escondido get out of this deal? Doesn’t the city have to pay for the construction of the entire park?

JENKINS: That’s true. The price tag is put at about $45 million. It could go higher. The team would take all of the naming rights, for example, would take, you know, all the concession income for the games. What’s in it for the city is a modest amount of rent and the – a redevelopment zone that would provide jobs and economic vitality in a part of the city that’s close to downtown. It’s within walking distance of the Sprinter station. But it is – it’s what you might call underused at the moment, and Escondido’s looking for that brass ring that’s going to help its economic development.

CAVANAUGH: So in order to get a stadium ready to open by April of 2012, aren’t there an awful lot of environmental protection hoops that the city has to jump through?

JENKINS: Well, this is true. And what I think they’re hoping to do is to bypass a lot of that. There’s an angle called a negative declaration where they can basically say this thing just won’t have that much environmental impact so let’s just go ahead and build the thing. However, our experience up here – We’re had a landfill that’s been in the planning process for, you know, going on 20 years. You know, there will be people who’ll step forward and say you need to get an environmental impact report, you need to go through every single – you’ve got to dot every I. So then it might up to a judge to say I’m either going to stop the process or let it go on.

CAVANAUGH: So where does the Escondido City Council stand on this deal? And when will the vote be taken?

JENKINS: Well, there will be – Oh, the ultimate – If it happens, if everything falls into place—and, believe me, a lot of moving pieces have to fall into place…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

JENKINS: …it would probably be sometime in the fall. You know, there – you know, we’ve discussed the time element. The finances are going to be a big part of it because basically the city would be betting that the ballpark would generate the same kind of economic activity on a much smaller scale as Petco Park. Now, so that’s going to be a big issue and it’s going to play – and it’s going to become important politically especially in the mayoral race. You have Lori Holt Pfeiler, Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, who’s very much a cheerleader for this. You can just read all of her body language and see that she really wants this for her legacy. She has named – she’s endorsed Dick Daniels, who’s on the council, and he also appears to be really on board. Now there’s another councilman on the council, Sam Abed, who’s running for mayor, and he’s sent out every signal that he’s kind of the doubting Thomas, if you will. He’s going to look at all the numbers and make sure that it’s a good deal for Escondido. So there’s going to be a little bit of – probably a little bit of political space between Abed and Daniels. And then you have yet another candidate, Tom D'Agosta, who’s prob – if Sam Abed’s going to be the doubting Thomas, he’ll be the mocking Charlie because he’s probably going to run against the ballpark as a good business deal for Escondido. So you have three different positions, three different mayoral candidates.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Logan Jenkins. He’s North County columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. We’re joined now by Kent Davy, who’s editor of the North County Times. Good morning, Kent.

KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Kent, can you tell us the saga of two-term Vista Councilmember Frank Lopez. His troubles seem to stem from his Mexican restaurant.

DAVY: Yeah, Mr. Lopez, who’s been on the council for quite a while, has been in and out of various kinds of fiscal trouble for years. This latest thing, he was investigated for passing insufficient funds checks to his employees for their wages. The district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department, I think, ended up investigating about 650 bad checks. The DA’s office eventually kicked it to the Workers’ Comp section. The Workers’ Comp section looked at it and said, well, they didn’t think that there was enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew that he was passing bad checks at the time. The – His trail of fiscal mismanagement, however, extends all the way back, I remember, oh, say, eight, nine years ago our staff writing stories about federal tax liens against Mr. Lopez and his wife and their restaurant, so this is not anything new in that sense.

CAVANAUGH: So it looks as if charges probably won’t be filed? So does he have ethics problems then?

DAVY: There is a single misdemeanor level…

CAVANAUGH: I see.

DAVY: …charge that’s being lodged and I believe the appearance date was continued last week or the week before to further – and then that was on a Workers’ Comp failing to pay premiums kind of thing.

CAVANAUGH: Do we have any idea, Kent, why his restaurant seems to be having so much trouble meeting payroll?

DAVY: Well, I think that the – his critics are apt in saying that, you know, either he is ethically challenged or he’s incompetent in terms of the way he runs his business.

CAVANAUGH: Logan, is this going to have ramifications for his political career?

JENKINS: I think it will. Two members of the council, the mayor, Morris Vance, and Bob Campbell, Councilman Bob Campbell, told our reporter last week that they’re going to seek his resignation. They’re going to urge him to sort through his financial difficulties off the council. I think the soundtrack for his career, at least at this point, appears to be Bill Withers’ classic “Lean On Me.” He’s had so many liens against his property, it’s just a real tangled web.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we’ll leave that story to one that has really been occupying the headlines at least for the last month or so. The Carlsbad School Board has now unanimously voted against further testing of the soil around Kelly Elementary School. And this is an issue because of a possible cancer cluster, at least a group of parents and interested people believe that there’s a cancer cluster surrounding people who used to work and used to attend Kelly Elementary School despite a state ruling that says that they have found no evidence of a cancer cluster. So are parents still unhappy, Kent, with this decision by the Carlsbad School Board?

DAVY: I believe so. I got an e-mail from last week from one of the parents involved in organizing the push complaining about the way the school district had pushed out a message to area residents and parents that the testing had come back clean. I don’t think they’re satisfied, that they wish for additional testing to go on in consideration of what’s going on.

CAVANAUGH: So, Kent, what’s next? Can the parents take soil and actually pay for testing?

DAVY: I think that, in fact, they can and I think that I recall there was some conversation about going to outside scientific bodies with soil samples and paying for additional testing. Part of the question in front of the school board was an issue of if they did additional testing here would they basically open themselves up to a push for testing at all of Carlsbad’s schools? And I think ultimately it was an economic decision, saying since there appears to be no scientific evidence on a statistical basis of a cancer cluster, then it’s a whole lot of money that could be used for school in other ways.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

JENKINS: I think I’ll just throw this in…

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

JENKINS: …that it was a unanimous decision by the school board which, for them, politically, is crucial, I think. And I thought the most telling remark was one of the trustees saying, I would send my own child to Kelly Elementary.

CAVANAUGH: And yet it’s such an emotional issue. Kent, do you think we’ve heard the last of this?

DAVY: No, I don’t. Cancer is—and I speak just from my own personal experience having lost somebody dear to me from cancer—cancer is such a traumatizing thing that it is hard to sort out the emotional wind behind you from the fact that, in fact, many, many people, a very high percentage, about half of us in our lifetime, will end up with cancer.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Thank you. We’ll keep our eye on that and see what comes up next. Finally, from that very sad and sobering issue, Logan, your column last week talked about the latest outrage perpetrated on a certain statue in Cardiff. Tell us about this statue and tell us what happened.

JENKINS: Well, for the last three years this statue in Cardiff, it’s formal title is “The Magic Carpet Ride” but everybody calls it the Cardiff Kook. It’s a statue of a beginning surfer, if you will, someone who’s sort of teetering on a surfboard, doesn’t look particularly athletic. The local surf community, many just felt that it was kind of an insult to their sport, and what’s happened is that there’s a great tradition of punking the statue, dressing it up with, you know, with a bikini or with, you know, tennis gear or – and the latest and certainly the most elaborate was this papier mache great white shark that is looking like it’s going to devour the Kook. And what’s great about it is that everybody loves it. It’s almost like a hazing ritual for this statue. And they may not like the statue all that much but they love what’s being done to it. And I think as long as it doesn’t descend to vandalism, you know, where people throw paint on it or try to dismember it, I think most people would agree it’s a great little local diversion.

CAVANAUGH: You call it one of the best examples of interactive art that any community has.

JENKINS: I will stand by that and I contacted Hugh Davies, who’s the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, and he called it a brilliant piece of art.

DAVY: A little detail on this…

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

DAVY: …on this haze – on this prank that I think is fascinating is that there were shark fins that started showing up all the way beforehand…

JENKINS: Yeah, right.

DAVY: …leading eventually to the statue and the events coming up.

CAVANAUGH: It’s a great story to end on. I have to thank you both so much for speaking with us today.

JENKINS: Our pleasure.

DAVY: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: That’s Logan Jenkins and Kent Davy. If you’d like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Now coming up, we’ll discuss California’s deadly whooping cough epidemic as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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