Escondido Voting on Civic Center : Controversial $52-Million Cultural Complex at Stake

Times Staff Writer

In the most significant of three elections being held in San Diego County today, voters here will decide whether a $52-million civic center and cultural arts complex should be built, to serve as a cornerstone for downtown redevelopment.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Escondido City Clerk Jeanne Bunch would not predict how many of the city’s 36,863 registered voters would turn out for the special citywide election on the civic center and cultural arts measure, Proposition A.

It calls for construction of a 2,500-seat auditorium, a 500-seat community playhouse, a 25,000-square-foot fine arts and local history museum, a 25,000-square-foot banquet and meeting room, a new city hall and office space for county, state and federal government uses.


The project would be financed through redevelopment money and would not affect property taxes. It would be constructed adjacent to, and within part of, Grape Day Park, bounded by Valley Parkway, Escondido Boulevard, Woodward Avenue and Broadway.

Proponents say the complex would not only become the cultural jewel of North County but would also be a catalyst for the revitalization of the downtown area, which is suffering economically and is expected to suffer more with the completion of the North County Fair shopping center on the south side of the city.

The proponents, who include four members of the City Council and a host of civic, business and cultural leaders in the city, say the measure is a no-lose proposition because it would not constitute a financial risk to the city but would instead generate money for new public schools and to help mobile home owners buy their own parks through city-sponsored loans.

Citizens for a Better Escondido have raised about $55,000--including $10,000 from North County Fair developer Ernest Hahn--to finance the campaign in favor of Proposition A, according to the city clerk’s office.


Opponents of the measure, led by former Mayor Ron Bittner, say they are philosophically opposed to the redevelopment process because City Hall should not meddle in private affairs. They also say they fear that the massive undertaking may come back to haunt the city financially as an unused white elephant and become a drain on the city treasury.

Bittner’s group, Citizens Against Redevelopment in Escondido, has raised about $2,000, according to city figures. In addition, Rancho Santa Fe developer Martin Wilson, a major property owner within the redevelopment area, has contributed $30,000 to oppose Proposition A.

In two other elections in San Diego County today, about 1,000 voters living within the Crest Public Utility District near El Cajon will decide whether they want to dissolve their district and be served by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, while 156 voters who live in the county just east of Escondido will be asked whether they want their neighborhood, known as Beacon Hills, to become part of the city through annexation.