04 May 2005

Diridon Site Acquisition Illegal?

Courtesy CBS-5 (KPIX)/Bay City News Wire:

Today's news tidbit comes from a recently constructed watchdog group from San José called Ballpark Tax Watchdogs. The group filed a rebuttal to San José City Attorney Richard Doyle's April 22 memorandum, which advised the city and the Redevelopment Agency on how it could proceed to acquire the individual parcels that make up the Diridon South site. The controversy revolves around whether or not the purchase of the Diridon South lots and related expenditures, when used for the eventual construction of a sports facility, requires a referendum.

Doyle's opinion is that the purchase of the land and related costs such as feasibility studies are not subject to a vote. Only actual construction costs, when financed by public means (bonds/taxes), are subject to a vote.

BTW believes that any costs, including site acquisition and exploratory expenditures, do require a referendum.

Who's right? Take a look at San Jose's Municipal Code Section 4.95.010:

4.95.010 Prohibition of the use of tax dollars to build a sports facility

The city of San José may participate in the building of a sports facility using tax dollars only after obtaining a majority vote of the voters of the city of San José approving such expenditure.

A “sports facility” for the purpose of this chapter is to be any structure designed to seat more than five thousand people at any one time for the purpose of viewing a sporting or recreational event.

“Tax dollars” for the purposes of this chapter include, without limitation, any commitment to fund wholly or in part said facility with general fund monies, redevelopment fund monies, bonds, loans, special assessments or any other indebtedness guaranteed by city property, taxing authority or revenues.

Nothing herein shall be construed to limit the city from allowing the construction of a sports facility funded by private investment.

If any provision of this chapter or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, then the remainder of this chapter and application to other persons or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

Where one stands on this issue is largely dependent on how one views sports facilities projects and similar redevelopment work in general. In the end, it appears that this ordinance, enacted in 1988, may have been specifically worded (notice the use of the word "building") to allow for planning-related work to occur. The real question here is, "Will the ballpark opponents take this to the next level?" That level, of course, is court. The last line of BTW's home page indicates this threat is possible. Whether or not they follow through on it remains to be seen.

Note: The BTW domain was registered only 2 days ago (5/2), and the rebuttal was submitted on 4/30.