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FOCUS: ORANGE COUNTY COMMUNITY NEWS | SADDLEBACK/SOUTH
BEACH: MISSION VIEJO

College District Makes New Offer to Vigilantes

October 14, 1998|CHRIS CEBALLOS and BILL SHAIKIN

While the city is suing the Vigilantes for $135,000 in back rent, the South Orange County Community College District made a new offer Tuesday for the baseball team to continue renting the ballpark at Saddleback College.

The Vigilantes face a Thursday deadline to inform the Western League whether they intend to remain in Mission Viejo, move or sell the franchise, or sit out the 1999 season.

Should the semiprofessional team's owners reject the district's offer, the team will likely be sold and then moved outside Orange County.

District Chancellor Cedric Sampson said the team's financial credit wasn't a consideration in drafting the college district's proposal. Sampson said that would be for trustees to consider if the Vigilantes accept the district's offer.

Add this uncertainty to the removal of stadium seating from Saddleback College, and another lawsuit filed by the city against the district for $300,000 worth of field lighting, and it appears to be the end of the bitter, two-year battle to build a permanent stadium for the Vigilantes.

Mission Viejo--along with the college district--invited the former Long Beach Riptide to relocate to Saddleback College in 1996 with the promise of a permanent stadium.

But the city and the district were unable to come to an agreement on the financing of the proposed stadium, and the city now has nothing to offer the team in terms of a new playing field--stadium or otherwise.

"Their lease expired and our contract is up and now it's just loose ends to tie up," said Rick Howard, Mission Viejo deputy city manager.

Tom Kowitz, Western League executive director, declined to comment on the Mission Viejo situation. Kowitz said the league would not allow a franchise with outstanding debt to move and would not pick up such debt to keep a franchise afloat.

The league last month revoked the franchise of the Oxnard-based Pacific Suns. Suns chief executive officer Paul Regina said the team owes at least $750,000 to creditors.

The Grays Harbor (Wash.) Gulls dissolved in midseason, and uncertainty surrounding the Bend (Ore.) Bandits means the league might lose half of its eight-team membership. However, Kowitz said, the league plans to expand to Sacramento and St. George, Utah.

Team owners were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

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