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Stadium Talks to Go Into Extra Innings but Critic Will Be Shut Out

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Overriding critics, and accepting most conditions laid out by the developer, the City Council narrowly approved early Tuesday continuing negotiations for another 30 days on a controversial $18.7-million stadium plan.

The bleary-eyed council also voted 4 to 3 to remove an outspoken stadium critic from its negotiating committee. The council, meeting until 3 a.m., agreed to hold two more public hearings before a final proposal is debated Oct. 21.

The removal of Councilman Gary Tuttle, at the suggestion of Mayor Jack Tingstrom, led Tuttle’s council ally, Steve Bennett, to angrily charge that stadium developer John Hofer had orchestrated the ouster.

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“I cannot believe that it is just a coincidence that Mr. Hofer is asking to have Mr. Tuttle removed at the same time the mayor is suggesting this,” Bennett said. “I believe this is a done deal.”

Bennett said the costly stadium plan runs counter to what most citizens want.

“You can go forward with this project. You can ram it down citizens’ throats, but there will be consequences,” Bennett said. “Be ready. It will come right back at you.”

Tingstrom asked if Bennett was threatening the council. The councilman said he was not, but he has previously vowed to fight the project through a ballot referendum if it is approved by the council.

Most council members, however, said they thought the potential benefits of a new stadium made it worth further consideration.

“This is an excellent deal,” Councilman Ray Di Guilio argued earlier in the evening, using slides and columns of numbers to explain his thinking after three months on the committee.

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He said that a stadium would make Ventura a more livable place, and that Hofer is offering Ventura a better deal than other cities have received from California League team promoters.

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“The question is simply whether we want to do this, not whether it meets some magical criteria out there,” he said.

Dozens of citizens packed the council chambers and their testimony reflected the divisions on the City Council. Their arguments were equally passionate.

“It’s time to do something for the residents of Ventura,” Rick Ruffinelli said. “I would like to see Ventura develop something for the future. We have no place for high school graduations, concerts . . . or other community events.”

Diane Neveu, who owns a bookstore downtown, said she wants the public to vote on such a huge city expenditure.

“I believe we have a right to vote on something as large as this,” she said.

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Big stakeholders in the project were also at the hearing.

Robert Pearson, who proposes building a privately funded stadium on 40 acres in Camarillo if the Ventura deal falls through, drove up from Orange County for the meeting. John Gagliardi, president of the California League, flew down from San Jose. And developer Hofer of Ventura paced the corridors and council chambers and watched the proceedings from a close-circuit TV in the next room.

The newest Hofer proposal, following one the council rejected in June, was released last week after three months of secret negotiations between Hofer and a committee of three council members: Di Guilio, Tuttle and Jim Friedman.

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Under the proposal, the city would pay the entire construction cost plus improvements to nearby roads, sewers and utilities--an estimated $18.7 million.

In return, Hofer would pay the city $300,000 a year to lease the stadium, with his rent increasing to $330,000 after five years. But analysts say the city would suffer a net loss of $700,000 annually after interest that could have been earned on the $18.7 million is considered.

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Council critics argued that the hefty price tag is prohibitive, and that the proposal runs counter to a city resolution that requires developers to put up the seed money for any new project.

Di Guilio dismissed the 1985 resolution as an obstacle that the city could easily overcome.

“It is not a policy. It’s a resolution,” Di Guilio said. “You can change that at the drop of a hat.”

Others council members argued that having minor league baseball in Ventura is an attractive idea, but too expensive.

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“I think having this kind of stadium would be great for the city, just like I think a Rolls Royce would be a nice car for me to have,” Friedman said. “It simply isn’t affordable at this time.”

Friedman joined Tuttle and Bennett in opposing a set of terms for continued negotiations.

Joining Di Guilio in the vote were Tingstrom and council members Rosa Lee Measures and Jim Monahan. Except for Di Guilio, the plan’s proponents said little.

In all, the hearing lasted more than five hours. But it was not until 2 a.m. that the council really got down to business.

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At 2 a.m., Di Guilio surprised some colleagues by producing the set of eight negotiating principles, and distributed them for approval.

The principles backed further negotiations, capped the stadium construction cost at $16 million plus the cost of road and utility improvements, previously estimated to be $2.7 million.

It also said that the city would receive a minimum of $300,000 in annual rent for 20 years, that the stadium proposal would not be subject to the council’s 1985 resolution and that negotiations would continue for only 30 more days.

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It differed little from the developer’s newest proposal.

“I’m astonished,” Tuttle said. “This is John Hofer’s proposal--it’s just a little more wordy.”

Tingstrom then moved to exclude Tuttle from the council’s negotiating committee because Tuttle will be on vacation for the next two weeks.

He requested, however, that Friedman remain on the committee. Friedman said he is also soon going on vacation for 10 days.

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Tuttle then produced a Sept. 16 letter to the committee from Hofer, recommending what elements should be included in the committee’s recommendation to the full council on Monday.

Hofer asked for a 30-day limit on continued negotiations and for reappointment to the committee “only those council members who are either conceptually in favor of the project, or who will commit to realistic, good faith negotiations of a definitive agreement.”

After Bennett exploded, a disgusted Tuttle walked over and handed the confidential letter to the press.

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Friedman pushed to have the negotiating deadline extended until mid-November, but Di Guilio stuck to his proposed 30-day renegotiation deadline.

“We need to do something or not do something,” he said. “There are deadlines out there that affect negotiations.”

SLEEPLESS IN VENTURA

The late hour left little time for public input on the stadium. B6

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