City of Visalia buys 3 parking lots near Rawhide and Redwood High School

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Council members split on use of General Fund money to purchase parking lot on Oak Avenue

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Parking on the western edge of downtown is difficult when semi-pro sports, high school sports and performing arts all compete for limited space on the streets. The City of Visalia is hoping to change that after purchasing three parking lots between Redwood High School and Rawhide Stadium.

At its March 19 meeting, the Council narrowly voted to purchase the parking lots, one located at 1301 W. Oak Ave. and two adjacent lots located at 205 and 217 N. Dudley St. from Top of the Third, the ownership group operating the Visalia Rawhide, for more than $300,000. In his staff report, Deputy City Manager Mario Cifuentez said the minor league baseball team purchased the three lots in August 2015 for $166,816.23, but asked for a larger number to recover costs associated with asbestos and lead testing as soil sample expenditures of an underground tank required by the City during the purchase. The sites were used as parking lots until complaints of dust forced the team to discontinue use of the lots.

During negotiations last May to extend the lease between the City and the Rawhide for use of the stadium, Rawhide ownership offered to sell the vacant lots to the city. Councilmember Steve Nelson praised the idea as a solution to the parking congestion in an area that could have a high school softball game, minor league baseball game and a community theater play all going on at the same time.

“Where do they park?” Nelson asked. “I’m in favor of providing parking in an area that doesn’t have any parking.”

But not everyone council member agreed on how to pay for parking lots. Councilmember Greg Collins said he was in favor of purchasing the two lots on Dudley Street because they were both located within the City’s Downtown Parking District, meaning that development fees from the City’s Downtown Parking District Fund would be used to cover the $214,126.23 purchase price. He was not, however, in favor of using $95,553.49 from the General Fund, the city’s unrestricted money, to purchase the lot at the corner of Oak and Giddings avenues.

“I’m not supportive of using General Fund money to purchase land on Giddings,” Collins said.

Collins also said he didn’t like the idea of purchasing property from the Top of the Third, Inc. when the city has been trying to negotiate a long-term deal with the minor league ballclub ownership for more than a year.

Mayor Warren Gubler agreed, saying that the “timing is not good” to move forward with the purchase and that the council should wait until both sides are closer to a deal to discuss any sale of property. “I think we should address this issue part and parcel,” Gubler said. “We should have all of these discussed at the same time.”

Councilmember Phil Cox motioned to approve the purchase and it was seconded by Nelson. The vote passed 3-2 with Collins and Gubler voting no. City staff said the plan is to pave and improve the dirt lots on Dudley to create parking that does not create a dust hazard. No timeline was given to improve the lots. There are no plans to improve the lot on Oak Avenue because it would have to come out of the General Fund.

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