Mavericks Score Runs In Stadium Fight With Adelanto But Still Lose Traction

Even as the High Desert Mavericks scored three simultaneous legal victories in the team’s dispute with Adelanto over its continuing use of the city-owned ballpark where the minor league baseball team has played its home games since 1991, city officials were able to claim they are winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the city’s residents.
Founded in 1988 as the Riverside Red Wave, the Mavericks over the years have been the Class A minor league affiliate of the Padres, Marlins, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Royals, Mariners and now the Texas Rangers. They moved to Adelanto in 1991, changing the team name to the Mavericks and playing their home games at the city’s 3,808-capacity public venue, known from 1991 to 2007 as Maverick Stadium and since 2007 as Stater Bros. Stadium. In 2012, the city, which was then headed by a city council with only two of its current members, entered into a lease arrangement with Main Street California, LLC, the Mavericks’ ownership, stipulating that the Mavericks only pay $1 annually for the use of Stater Bros Stadium. The rationale for the miniscule rent was the belief that the continual draw of baseball fans from around the High Desert into Adelanto served as a boost to the city’s sales tax-producing businesses.
Adelanto’s financial situation has been deteriorating for years. In 2013, the city council declared a fiscal emergency. In 2014, all three incumbents up for reelection were turned out of office by the city’s voters. In 2015, the newly composed city council began looking at the city’s bleak financial picture and undertook a review of past practices that were contributing to the city’s financial malaise. Last fall city staff undertook a “city subsidization review” which examined the city’s delivery of services to various entities which were not defraying in full those services’ costs. Cataloged in the staff review were itemizations showing the city had subsidized the High Desert Mavericks 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, the city maintained it had covered 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. Driven home to the three newest council members was that the city was receiving only $1 annually in return from Main Street California.
Ultimately, that review would conclude that the three-and-half-year old deal with the Mavericks violated the state constitution in that the lease served no public purpose. Thus, city staff said, the arrangement was a “gift of public funds.”
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.
Based on the tentative findings of the staff review, which was not officially released publicly until two weeks later, the city council on January 13 voted unanimously to terminate the agreement for the Mavericks to use the city-owned stadium.
For its part, however, Main Street California has asserted it is the city that has cost the ball club money. Previously, the Mavericks were paying roughly $110,000 per year to use the stadium. The rationale for the change to $1 in 2012 was the team’s commitment to maintain the field, which Main Street California claims costs $150,000 per year.
The city went to court in Barstow, filing an unlawful detainer action against the High Desert Mavericks, essentially seeking to evict the ball club from the stadium.
On January 29, the Mavericks went to court, asserting the terms of the lease were binding and 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 does not address the city’s contention that the facility use contract does not serve a public purpose and that it is harming taxpayers, but it does 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 is not respecting the spirit of ongoing arbitration but proceeding as if it has 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.”
On April 4, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville made three rulings in the ongoing dispute between the city and the Mavericks that were at least temporarily in favor of the team, essentially preventing the city from evicting the team from the stadium prior to its home opening yesterday and augering that the Mavericks will very likely be able to remain at Stater Bros Stadium for the remainder of the 2016 baseball season.
McCarville granted the team’s request for a preliminary injunction, preventing the city from interfering with the team’s use of the ballpark until the litigation between the parties is definitively resolved. McCarville further denied Adelanto’s request to evict the team from the stadium, deeming the city’s petition to be premature prior to a final determination of the merits of the case. McCarville submitted the dispute to arbitration, as the Mavericks had requested in accordance with a finding that the 2012 contract compelled the parties to arbitrate any disputes and the city had not presented a compelling rationale to void the arbitration requirement.
“The Mavericks are delighted that the court has found in our favor on all three matters that were litigated today,” said Mavericks owner Dave Heller on March 4. “The court spoke in a very clear voice and told the City of Adelanto in unmistakable terms that its legal argument is flimsier, thinner and more full of holes than the thinnest slice of Swiss Cheese known to man.”
“The City of Adelanto has now lost four times in a row in court,” added Maverick’s General Manager Ben Hemmen, referencing a previous ruling by McCarville to disallow the fast tracking of the team’s eviction as part of the unlawful detainer petition. “At some point, Adelanto taxpayers have to wonder when the city council will stop willfully burning taxpayer dollars pursuing a failed legal strategy.”
“The California League is delighted that the court ruled in favor of the Mavericks on all three matters,” said California League president Charlie Blaney.
The ball club’s euphoric crowing in the aftermath of the April 4 rulings has been tempered by the erosion of support the Mavericks once enjoyed with a cross section of Adelanto residents, including Mavericks fans. Spurred by city officials’ recitation of the degree to which local taxpayers have been subsidizing the team and the salary and profits enjoyed by Hemmen and Heller, a group of residents held a protest at Stater Bros. Stadium in Adelanto in support of the city’s stance at the stadium during the Maverick’s season opener against the Inland Empire 66ers last night. Organizers dubbed the event “Take Back our Ball Park Night.” A flyer the group distributed called upon the Mavericks to “play fair.”
City officials insisted they were not behind the protest, but did grant the group a permit to hold the demonstration.
With the season having been initiated at the Stater Bros. Stadium venue and the continuation of the California League Season hanging in the balance, it is unlikely that arbitrators, using the “balancing of hardships” standard, would evict the Mavericks from the stadium this year, although the mediators may call upon Heller to pony up more money than the $1 specified in the 2012 lease for the Mavericks to remain in place.
Next week, the matter will return to McCarville’s courtroom, where he is to hear the merits of a second unlawful detainer action filed by the city.

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