Escalating Stadium Showdown, Adelanto Officials Want Ballclub Owners Jailed

ADELANTO—The relationship between one of San Bernardino County’s most financially challenged municipalities and the minor league ballclub that for more than two decades had served as the primary magnet for potential customers willing to spend money at the marginal tax-revenue producing commercial businesses within that city’s borders has degraded over the last four months into an increasingly acrimonious contretemps.
The unseemly back and forth began with the city, Adelanto, seeking to get the team, the High Desert Mavericks, to share more of its revenue from the gate receipts from the games played at the city-owned Stater Bros. Stadium than what the most recent lease between the team and the city signed in August 2012 stipulated. After a series of escalations, city officials are now looking to use their governmental authority to have the team ownership arrested.
How did America’s Pastime lead to this?
The City of Adelanto has been on the financial ropes for years. In June 2013, the city council, as it was then composed, comprised of only two of its current members and three others who were turned out of office by the voters in the November 2014 election, declared a fiscal emergency. Since that point, the city has remained but a stone’s throw from bankruptcy. In late 2015, the City of Adelanto’s finance division undertook a study of the city’s subsidization of businesses within the city. There had been rumblings in the fall to indicate city officials had begun to question whether the city was being taken advantage of by Main Street California LLC, the owner of the High Desert Mavericks. On December 9, the city council publicly broached the subject of concerns about the arrangement the city had with the team, and that evening made a finding that the public facility use agreement between the city and the team served “no public purpose.”
Though it was not publicly disclosed at the time, on December 18, 2015, the city served Main Street California with a notice to vacate the stadium.
Though the report on subsidizations was not finalized and filed until the end of January, findings contained within it brought into focus that the contract with Main Street California, LLC committed the Mavericks to paying $1 annually for rent at Stater Bros Stadium. That was too much for three of the current council members who were not in office when that contract was agreed upon.
Based on those tentative findings, the city council on January 13 voted unanimously to terminate the agreement for the Mavericks to use the city-owned stadium. In making that vote, city officials asserted, the three-and-half-year old deal violated the state constitution in that the lease served no public purpose. Thus, they said, the arrangement was a “gift of public funds.”
Less than two weeks later the subsidization report was released, showing the city had covered the High Desert Mavericks’ costs by roughly $600,000 per year – more than $1.8 million since 2012. In breaking down costs the city had sustained as a consequence of the agreement that had been voided, the city maintained it had picked up an estimated $675,938 of the team’s rent costs, $486,635 for city personnel in support of the stadium operation, $157,500 in janitorial fees, $46,521 for insurance, $14,000 in parking fees, $229,688 for utilities and another $200,000 in miscellaneous costs including catering.
For its part, however, Main Street California has asserted it is the city that has cost the ball club money.
The city has gone to court in Barstow, filing an unlawful detainer action against the High Desert Mavericks, essentially seeking to evict the ball club from the stadium.
In the meantime, the Mavericks responded with the team’s perspective, noting the city had not exactly been the most gracious of hosts and had engaged in action that was not in keeping with protections guaranteed to the team under the terms of the lease. On January 29, the Mavericks went to court, filing suit to force arbitration with the city. Two-and-a-half weeks later, on February 16, Main Street California filed another suit against Adelanto for breach of contract.
In its suits, Main Street did not address the city’s contention that the facility use contract does not serve a public purpose that is harming taxpayers, but it did allege the city’s action is damaging to the Maverick’s fans, players, charitable organizations, the Adelanto economy and the California League.
According to the second suit, the first suit calling for arbitration was needed to protect the team’s rights and that the city had not respected the spirit of ongoing arbitration but proceeded as if it had the right to lock the team out of stadium “rather than wait for a judicial ruling on the validity of the contract.” Furthermore, according to the suit, “the city is actively taking steps to disrupt the team’s upcoming season in a blatant attempt to force the team out of the ballpark. The team will be irreparably harmed if the city is permitted to continue sabotaging the upcoming baseball season.”
According to the Mavericks, the team, its employees and players had been locked out of the ballpark.
Early last month, Judge Brian McCarville turned down the city’s request for an expedited eviction of the team from the stadium, granting Main Street California LLC’s motion to quash a five-day summons in the city’s unlawful detainer civil suit. McCarville directed the city to instead proceed with the serving of a 30-day summons. That extension raised the hopes and expectations that the Mavericks would be able to actually play its home opener at the field on April 7.
Undaunted, the city proceeded with a second unlawful detainer filing on March 17, 2016 to have Main Street California LLC, doing business as the High Desert Mavericks, evicted from the stadium.
“The Mavericks have given no accurate accounting of revenues owed to the city which they have generated from facility parking lots and the facility conference room,” said Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr. “This was supposed to be a self-sufficient enterprise. However, the burden continues to fall on the Adelanto taxpayers. The City of Adelanto declared a fiscal crisis in 2013 and is still not in a position to continue to assume financial responsibility to pay for water, gas, electricity, landscaping and maintenance for the stadium the next seven months to accommodate the team’s schedule. I am surprised at the gall they have to plan a season and promotions as if this matter has already been resolved in their favor.”
With the tension between the city and ball club already at a fever pitch, the city council then moved to escalate further, twice subpoenaing “the person most qualified” with Main Street California LLC to show up for an oral deposition before it, setting 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23 in the council chambers at City Hall as the time and place for that testimony to occur and to “continue from day to day thereafter, excepting Saturdays, Sundays and holidays until the deposition is completed.”
In demanding that the appropriate Main Street California LLC corporate official testify under oath, the council also demanded the production of records in Main Street California’s possession relating to the number of its employees and the amount provided to Adelanto in parking and conference room revenues. The city indicated it was determined to ascertain whether the High Desert Mavericks owners Dave Heller and Jim Coufos had “accurately reported the numbers of full-time and part-time employees” to qualify for the economic development subsidies provided to Main Street California and determine if the LLC had indeed complied with the stadium agreement signed in 2012. Main Street had previously balked at turning over its operational information, which it deems proprietary.
Legal representatives for the team objected to the public deposition subpoena as highly inappropriate. Apparently, a little more than six hours before the deposition was to take place, Adelanto City Attorney Julia withdrew the subpoena in an email sent to Main Street California LLC attorney Jon-Jamison Hill at 12:23 p.m. Sylva told Hill “the two legislative subpoenas have been withdrawn and there is no appearance necessary tonight.”
When the council convened that evening, members of the council were informed by Sylva that she had been informed by Hill that no one from Main Street California LLC would be present. This provoked outrage among the council members, who suggested that Main Street California corporate officers be arrested and held in custody until they consented to appear for the deposition. Ultimately, however, since the Main Street California officials were under no legal obligation to show, no arrests were made. The council on March 23 moved to issue a third subpoena to Main Street California corporate officers for 4 p.m. on April 13. Defiance of that subpoena, city officials vowed, would result in a criminal prosecution.

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