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A Vote for Cultural Center

Proposition A on the ballot in Escondido on Tuesday offers residents there the opportunity to help turn their city into the vibrant hub of inland North County for years to come.

Several facts stand out concerning the plan to allow the city’s redevelopment agency, using tax-increment financing, to build a six-part government and cultural complex for an estimated cost of $52 million:

- The North County Fair shopping center under construction at Kit Carson Park--while a major boon to the city and surrounding area--will have the effect of leaving Escondido’s downtown blighted.

- As one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation, North County will provide ample numbers of people to be attracted to the new civic center’s events--and thus to restaurants, shops and other businesses that will develop around it.

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- Even if it takes a while for the center to catch on in popularity, the financing scheme is conservatively drawn to protect the taxpayers from undue risk.

The six components of the civic center are a new City Hall; a regional government building for federal, state and other offices; a civic auditorium; a community theater; a fine arts museum, and a meeting and banquet facility.

Escondido is certainly stretching--if not reaching beyond its grasp--when it dreams of bringing traveling companies of Broadway shows and major art exhibits to the city. But officials are prepared to lose money on the cultural attractions in order to create an environment they believe will bring about enough long-term growth to more than compensate for the loss.

Tax-increment financing is simple in concept. As the government-backed development enhances the area and draws more people to it for work or entertainment, nearby property owners become motivated to improve their land or sell it to someone who will. Under the rules of Proposition 13, this drives up the property taxes. The amount of increased property tax collected is the tax increment, and it--in the case of Escondido--is dedicated to pay for the civic center.

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Having sold its current City Hall, the city soon will have $8 million on hand to use either for construction or operation of the civic center. North County already needs the planned meeting facility and community theater. And the large theater and museum will help Escondido grow culturally as well as economically.

Proposition A is a good plan, and the voters should support it.


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