Saturday, February 12, 2011

San Diego Con Game

In 2004 San Diego opened its new baseball park, named Petco Park. Football venues are stadiums and draw the ire of Lawrence O’Donnell, but baseball is played in “parks,” and apparently he has no problem with those, even though they cost just as much money, often more, and baseball players make even more money than football players do. I’m sort of neutral on public funding of such venues, some cities can afford them and others cannot, but I don’t regard any of the sports as socialist regardless.

Anyway, Petco Park was sold to the public as being cost free because the bonds would not be repaid with general taxes. The ballpark development area would be declared a “redevelopment zone,” it was promised, and it would be the increased taxes within that zone that would repay the bonds for the ballpark. That sounded good because Californians are familiar with the concept: in such zones taxes up to the level which prevailed prior to the development continue to be paid into the city’s general revenue, but any taxes over that amount are held in a fund for development purposes.

Shortly after the ballpark opened an outcry erupted when the city began incurring costs for increased police presence downtown on game days. The ballpark, it was said, was not supposed to cost us anything, and here we were with increased costs for police due to the ballpark. I thought at the time that the furor was pretty silly, and sure enough it blew over pretty quickly. But it shows how sensitive the public was to the issue: the ballpark was not supposed to cost us anything.

It now is becoming public, although it was never really completely secret, that redevelopment funds did not pick up all of the cost for the ballpark after all. Of the $454 million cost, some $301 million came from city funds. Redevelopment picked up half of that and the city borrowed the other half, so the ballpark, promised to cost the city taxpayers nothing, actually cost them $150 million -- plus interest.

San Diego has a budget deficit of $56.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year, and of that $11.3 million is the payment on the Petco Park bond.

How much uproar and outrage is there about any of this? Well, none actually. Why not? I’m not really sure. I’m guessing that the subject has merely expired, has gone past the attention span of the San Diego voters. It turned out to be a pretty nice ballpark, the Padres played well in it last year, and the voters no longer care about the manner of its being built.

It seems there is a de facto statute of limitations on cheating the public.

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