Operators of the Giant Dipper roller coaster will have to file an environmental impact report with the city before they can begin running the famed coaster this summer, a City Council committee voted Wednesday.
The Public Facilities and Recreation Committee voted unanimously to approve a city manager's recommendation to require the environmental report. The council is expected to approve the committee's action next month. The city manager's call for the report came after several community groups expressed concerns about noise, traffic congestion and parking in Mission Beach once the attraction opens.
No deadline was set for completion of the report, which will be paid for by the San Diego Seaside Co., which has been negotiating with the city to operate the coaster. The company, working under a different name, operates a sister coaster to the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz. The committee also directed the city manager to negotiate an agreement with the company.
However, negotiations will not begin until the City Council approves the environmental report. Councilman Bruce Henderson, who represents Mission Beach and is a staunch supporter of the coaster, promised Mission Beach residents who attended Wednesday's hearing that the city would hold several public meetings to solicit input on the report.
Depending on whose survey is quoted, Mission Beach residents either want the coaster restored but not operated, or restored and operated. A recent survey done by the Mission Beach Town Council showed that a majority do not favor operation of the coaster but want it restored. Henderson said that a survey that he did shows majority support for the restoration and operation of the coaster.
Ed Hutton, a partner in San Diego Seaside, said after the meeting that his group is now committed to spending about $1.2 million to restore and operate the Giant Dipper. The restoration will include a new track, train and brakes.
Hutton said he hopes to attract as many as 500,000 riders a year, and indicated that at the very minimum about 300,000 people would have to ride the coaster annually for it to be profitable.
"If we get fewer than that, we'd have to think over our options," Hutton said.
He added that the coaster alone cannot draw that many people and said that it would be necessary for the City Council to approve the controversial Belmont Park development. The development, which calls for a shopping center built around a renovated Plunge and adjacent to the roller coaster, has been mired in controversy since December.
Mayor Maureen O'Connor has expressed strong opposition to the development, charging that the developer--Belmont Park Associates--negotiated too favorable a lease with the previous council that will allow it to profit by more than $19 million on the lease agreement alone over 30 years.
Plans to operate the coaster cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when the City Council voted that the attraction has a "vested right" to operate at Belmont Park. However, the park development has not yet been extended vestment rights--despite claims by the developer that the company has spent almost $17 million in construction. The council will address that issue on April 18.