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Trustees to Vote on Vigilantes Stadium Deal

TIMES STAFF WRITER

South Orange County Community College District trustees today may approve a new deal aimed at keeping the Mission Viejo Vigilantes baseball team from leaving the city over a stadium flap, but the plan would not be likely to end a two-year squabble between college officials and the city.

Trustees are expected to act on a proposal that would provide a renovated 4,000-seat stadium on the Saddleback College campus. The stadium would have restrooms and concessions with running water, upgraded from the more rustic structure in place now.

But officials in Mission Viejo, necessary partners to the deal, haven’t approved the agreement--even in principle--and will hold meetings of their own on the issue next week, City Manager Dan Joseph said.

“My council has not approved it, and I doubt they will,” Joseph said.

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The city and college district have discussed a deal for the stadium since the team moved from Long Beach to Mission Viejo in early 1997.

Following a stormy series of give and take, the city cut off discussions publicly in May, although talks continued behind the scenes. The college district brought back retired Chancellor Robert Lombardi to help craft new proposals.

As a result, college trustees meeting in closed session today will consider a deal that drops many of the amenities college officials had sought in the stadium package, including a new road and other improvements.

The owners of the minor league team, in their second season in a stadium with temporary furnishings and lighting, said they are not sure where they would go if talks fall through, but cannot keep playing in temporarily equipped facilities.

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“We’ve got our fingers crossed that something good will come of this, but we’re not sure that’s the case right now,” said Patrick Elster, team president. “We’ll hear when the rest of the world hears.”

John S. Williams, president of the South County college board, said the plan would finance stadium improvements by having Mission Viejo sell an estimated $3 million in bonds through its South Mission Viejo redevelopment agency. The bonds would be repaid through tax revenues.

Half of the revenue would belong to the city and half would belong to the college district, Williams said. The funds would be combined and used for the stadium improvements.

Beside improved seating, lights, concessions and restrooms, upgrades would include an office, a classroom and some sort of multipurpose building, Williams said.

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The Vigilantes would use the stadium for its home schedule of about 50 games, and Mission Viejo would be given use of the stadium for between five and 40 days--the precise figure would be negotiated, Williams said.

The college district could also use the stadium for other purposes, such as commencement or music festivals, Williams said.

“We want the community to come onto our campus,” he said. “We think of this not solely as a stadium, but as a very large classroom.”

The outcome of today’s meeting is uncertain. The college board has split on the issue of stadium improvements in the past.

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Even if approved, it must be ratified by Mission Viejo officials, who City Manager Joseph said have grown frustrated with college officials.


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