Redding voters will decide in November whether 14.7 acres of public land at Turtle Bay Exploration Park will be sold to the McConnell Foundation, a transaction that would allow Turtle Bay to build a four-star hotel free of prevailing wage obligations.
The Redding City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to put the matter on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot. It was the first, and possibly the last, unanimous vote in connection with the controversial land sale and proposed Sheraton hotel.
A dozen speakers, supporters and opponents alike, addressed the council and lobbied for the Nov. 4 election date. “Place it on the ballot and let’s get this thing built,” said Rocky Slaughter, head of the pro-hotel group REVIVE (Redding Empowered to Vote for Increased Visitors and Employment).
The council, which voted 3-2 on March 4 to sell the land to McConnell for $600,000, was reacting to a referendum asking the council to either cancel the sale or put it to a vote of Redding residents.
The petition for referendum was supported by construction unions and led by the Northeastern California Building & Construction Trades Council, whose members vigorously oppose Turtle Bay’s plans to not pay prevailing wages during construction of the hotel.
Turtle Bay officials contend the hotel is needed to augment the museum’s revenue in the wake of a recession and the loss of financial support from the city of Redding. If the private McConnell Foundation purchases the land and provides it for the hotel, Turtle Bay would not be subject to prevailing wage requirements. Paying prevailing wages would make the hotel too expensive, museum officials say.
The council had three options, according to City Clerk Pam Mize: repeal the March 4 resolution approving the sale, call for a special election, or place the issue on the Nov. 4 consolidated municipal ballot.
A special election would cost the city an estimated $200,000, compared to an estimated $40,000 to have the issue placed on the General Election ballot, Mize said. The McConnell Foundation has agreed to reimburse the city for any election expenses tied to the referendum.
If the kerfuffle over a simple description of the ballot item is any indication, the Turtle Bay land sale/hotel project campaign promises to be a long and feisty one. At issue Tuesday was the phrasing of the central question:
Should the resolution selling 14.7 acres within the 60 acres currently leased to Turtle Bay for $600,000, “an amount which exceeds the highest appraised value of the city’s leased-fee interest by $157, 000,” be adopted?
Councilman Gary Cadd said the mention of the appraisal clouded the issue and lent the project an unfair sense of extra value. The city has already spent $80,000 on the project, he noted. “The $157,000 is not telling the whole story,” he said.
Councilwoman Francie Sullivan countered that the issue has been thoroughly clouded already, thanks in part to misleading statements made by the people collecting signatures for the referendum. She said she talked to people who were told the appraised value of the land was actually $4 million, or that both the museum and the rodeo arena would be torn down to make way for the hotel.
“It’s important we add that there was an appraisal,” Sullivan said.
Mayor Rick Bosetti, who joined Sullivan and Councilwoman Missy McArthur in voting for the sale, said the figures cited in the ballot question are correct. The problem, he said, is that some people refuse to accept the fact that the land in question is tied up in an 88-year lease to the Alliance of Redding Museums.
A motion to delete the appraisal figure from the ballot question failed on a 3-2 vote with Cadd and Councilman Patrick Jones in the minority. The council also voted unanimously to let the designated proponents and opponents write the respective ballot arguments.
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.