The Town of Apple Valley wants to build a minor league baseball stadium. That’s not unusual in California, where stadium building seems only a slice less popular than tailgate parties with free-flowing beer. What is unusual, however, is the way that the town plans to pay– or rather, not pay – for this $20 million to $25 million project.
Insofar as I can see both points of view, I have structured this analysis in the form of a dialogue between two imaginary people, Mr. Apple and Mr. Valley, both of whom are supposed residents of the community. Readers interested in textual analysis should know that, in this representation, Mr. Apple represents free market ideology, while Mr. Valley represents the principals of planning and orderly government.
VALLEY: Hello, Mr. Apple. How goes it this morning?
APPLE: It’s a great day for Apple Valley, I’m telling you that much, Mr. V.
VALLEY: Why, have all the rascals been driven out of local government?
APPLE: Ha, ha! At least we agree on that much, Mr. V. No, I mean that the High Desert Mavericks, a farm team of the Seattle Mariners baseball club, are coming to town.
VALLEY: I thought our friends just up the road in the City of Adelanto had a lock on that franchise.
APPLE: “Had” is the operative word. The team signed a 20-year contract with Adelanto back in ’91, and the lease is up in 2010. The team does not want to re-sign in Adelanto, however, because the city does not want to pay $3.4 million in deferred maintenance on the stadium it built 20 years ago. Seems the local city manager thinks that it would be a waste of money to maintain the stadium, seeing that the structure is only worth $3.5 million. They’re already talking about “redeveloping” the place.
VALLEY (smacking his forehead): Merciful heavens! Not another swap meet!
APPLE: Exactly. And so the Mavericks approached the town government back in February and asked if we wanted to build a brand new stadium for them.
VALLEY: That sounds foolish. Why will we succeed financially where Adelanto failed?
APPLE: Market forces, my dear Valley, market forces! Adelanto built its stadium on the outskirts of town – hardly a good way of encouraging development in the stadium area. We plan to build our stadium near downtown Apple Valley just a short drive off Interstate 15. We’re geographically close enough to the existing fan base to fill the bleachers, and new development to surround the stadium is part of the deal.
VALLEY: I don’t know how we can pay for the land and the construction.
APPLE: That’s the beauty part, Valley! We’re not paying a dime for the land. We actually convinced two local landowners to contribute the land. It’s genius, I’m telling you!
VALLEY: Donate?! What on earth can those land owners be thinking?
APPLE: They’re thinking like smart people, Mr. V. They believe the baseball stadium will encourage new development on their land.
VALLEY: Isn’t that a bit of a gamble? Being a timid sort, I generally balk in the face of risk.
APPLE: That’s the other beauty part! The city is going to allow the developer to build up to 1,644 townhouses and supporting retail on the leftover acreage. The developer will get rich from home sales, the land owners will get rich on the land lease for the stadium, and the city will get rich on new property tax revenues! It’s a win-win-win-win-win!
VALLEY: So the city is only acting as a go-between between land owners and developers? Is this just the latest episode of “Pimp My Ball Park”?
APPLE: The city, in fact, is looking into the possibility of floating some bonds based on rental income from the stadium to pay for road improvements and other infrastructure.
VALLEY: Hmmm! So they’ve gotten it all figured out. Except for one thing….
APPLE: Here comes the pro-government, anti-business palaver! Go ahead, Valley, I’ve been expecting it!
VALLEY: Well, government has big limitations, and business has big strengths, but what about public policy? What about planning?
APPLE: Seems we’re doing pretty well without it.
VALLEY: Was this acreage originally zoned for housing or stadiums in our general plan?
APPLE: No, it was zoned commercial.
VALLEY: Exactly. So whenever a baseball team comes to town, we just throw away all our planning goals and we say, “Build whatever you like.” As your friend Rush Limbaugh likes to say, grab your ankles!
APPLE: I fail to see your problem. Local officials brokered a mutually beneficial arrangement between private businessmen. The result is that the town gets a stadium, plus a new single-family neighborhood, without having to pay for it. This is a brilliant solution.
VALLEY: But doesn’t this “arrangement” set a bad precedent? We are essentially throwing away our planning process in favor of a system that literally encourages developers to build whatever they want. That seems like a disaster to me.
APPLE: Where’s the disaster, Mr. V.? The city gets what it wants – a stadium and some nice housing – without having to bribe developers to build it for us. We’re not a big city like Victorville, with a wealthy redevelopment agency to make these projects happen for us. This is poor man’s redevelopment: We’ve got the dirt, you’ve got the construction loan, let’s shake hands. How can you object? Isn’t the city getting what it needs?
VALLEY: Well, I’m not sure. The general plan is the way we anticipate the city’s needs.
APPLE: To hell with the general plan! It’s just a piece of paper.
VALLEY: This way of development opens the door to a potentially chaotic process! It’s the opposite of planning.
APPLE: And what’s the matter with that? What’s planning done for us lately?
VALLEY: Planning represents the community consensus on the way we want our town to look in 20 years. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be. But as soon as someone comes to town with a fistful of money, we just kick planning to the curb.
APPLE: Honestly, I just don’t see the problem.
VALLEY (in great frustration): You’ll definitely see it in 20 years when you’re living in a mish-mash like Provo, Utah, or in the in post-industrial ruins like the old oil towns in Kern County!
APPLE: Hell, by that time I’ll be retired on Oahu, where bargirls with eyes big as oysters will be serving me drinks with parasols in them. But right now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to see a man about a strip mall just down the street from where that new stadium is planned …