Technicality holds up plans for Oceanside Sea Center

Parimal M. Rohit

OCEANSIDE — Change was supposed to be coming to Oceanside Harbor, but a provision in Helgren’s Sportfishing’s lease contract with City Hall could throw a monkey wrench into plans to bring a visitor-serving destination to North San Diego County’s waterfront.

Sea Star Charters, Chubasco Sportfishing and Pfledger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER) won a bidding process to convert Helgren’s Landing into a destination offering sportfishing, fishery science and marine education.

However the three-team venture might be in jeopardy after it was revealed Helgren’s Sportfishing still has the opportunity to renegotiate its lease.

Helgren’s Sportfishing is set to expire May 5, 2017. Oceanside city staff issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in hopes of finding a new use for the city-owned property at 315 S. Harbor Drive. The RFP issuance might have been premature, however, as Helgren’s Sportfishing reportedly has a 60-day right to renegotiate its lease with City Hall.

The 60-day option expires Dec. 4, according to news reports.

Joe Cacciola of Sea Star Charters, along with Chubasco Sportfishing and PIER, responded to the RFP and was nonetheless awarded negotiation rights in late August, giving the three-member team the impression they would be able to iron out details of its “Oceanside Sea Center” plans with City Hall.

The Sea Center project proposed to expand from sportfishing operations to a destination for anyone seeking to learn about ocean resources and sustainability.

Cacciola said he and his team met with Oceanside city staff shortly after being awarded the RFP and a second meeting was scheduled. He told council members at their Nov. 2 meeting he has not heard from anyone at City Hall since the first conference.

“After an open and fair request for proposals published by the department of Harbor and Beaches, the Sea Center was unanimously selected to begin exclusive lease negotiations with the city for this property,” Cacciola told council members. “On Sept. 6, a very productive lease negotiating meeting was held with city staff. A much anticipated follow-up meeting was to be scheduled for the next week.”

Cacciola added city staff notified him and his team, two days after the lease negotiation meeting, of a glitch in the process.

“Eight weeks now have passed and no other lease negotiating meetings have occurred,” Cacciola told council members at their Nov. 2 meeting. “We are quite concerned with this delay and have had to retain legal counsel.”

Chugey Sepulveda of PIER told council members the Sea Center project would make resources available to the public and interact regularly with youth who are interested in fishing and marine life.

“We will help [Sea Star and Chubasco Sportfishing] expand their educational component. Right now it’s very difficult for schools to get a place aboard these small vessels so that students or underprivileged individuals can get their first time on the water,” Sepulveda said.

Supporters of Helgren’s Sportfishing addressed Oceanside’s City Council about six weeks earlier, campaigning to keep the local business in place after its lease expires next year.

“These guys have been here as the city has grown,” Eric Perez, a Helgren’s supporter, told council members at their Sept. 21 meeting.

Capt. John Alvarez, who operates Nautical Bean Co. at the harbor, said allowing the Sea Center to become operational would mean decreased revenues for the city.

“The sportfishing industry season is about four months. It’s taken years and years to establish what they call the runs of the sport boats. This new company that comes in is going to operate at one-quarter of [current sportfishing operations],” Alvarez told council members. “The city of Oceanside is going to be losing.”

Mayor Jim Wood told supporters of Helgren’s Sportfishing the council is trying to do everything possible to address the issue, but did not give any other specifics.

Whether Helgren’s Sportfishing will be allowed to remain in place with a new lease or Cacciola will be able to move forward with plans to build Oceanside Sea Center would be determined after Dec. 4, when Helgren’s Sportfishing’s renegotiation period reportedly ends.

Helgren’s Sportfishing and Cacciola have been at odds for quite some time now. A federal court recently ruled Helgren’s Sportfishing was prevented from pursuing its eviction proceedings against Cacciola until the end of this year.

The legal battle appeared to be over when City Hall awarded Cacciola and his team the right to pursue their plans to build Oceanside Sea Center at Helgren’s Landing – at the expense of the city renewing its lease with Helgren’s Sportfishing.

The future of Helgren’s Landing and Oceanside Sea Center, however, will remain undecided for a few more weeks.

Cacciola hopes the final decision would be in his favor. He told council members Oceanside Sea Center would be a great benefit to the city.

“We believe the Sea Center represents the highest and best use of this property,” Cacciola said, adding the project is endorsed by Visit Oceanside and Oceanside’s Chamber of Commerce, among other community groups. “It is the right project for Oceanside Harbor.”

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