Sacramento - -- The landmark Cow Palace got a new lease on life Tuesday when state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, dropped efforts to put the aging arena in Daly City up for sale. Instead, he settled for a compromise plan that will allow only an adjoining parking lot to be sold.
The state Senate's Agriculture Committee, meeting in Sacramento, voted 4-1 to approve the revised measure.
The bill, SB1527, would allow the state to begin negotiating the sale of the 13-acre overflow parking lot along Geneva Avenue to Daly City, which wants to use the land as an anchor for a larger development that would include a supermarket, businesses and housing.
"The senator feels this is a good compromise," said Adam Keigwin, a spokesman for Yee. "It allows negotiations to take place."
Yee's original bill would have allowed the entire 68-acre Cow Palace site to be declared surplus, which could have spelled the end for the state-owned, 67-year-old arena. But opponents of the measure packed a committee hearing in Sacramento April 1, forcing Yee to pull the measure from the agenda and look at rewriting it.
"This is a dramatic step in the right direction," said Kevin Patterson, executive director of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair and a leading opponent of the bill. "This was a totally unnecessary bill, since the Cow Palace directors already were negotiating with Daly City over the parking lot."
Daly City leaders had complained that long-running discussions with the Cow Palace had gone nowhere because the facility's directors wanted too much for the parking lot. The city argued that Yee's bill was needed to let the city buy the land at a fair price.
The revised bill takes the Cow Palace directors out of the negotiations and calls for the state Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversees state fair facilities like the Cow Palace, to set a fair price for the parking lot and begin negotiating a sale to Daly City.
Yee has argued that the Cow Palace is a beaten-up, out-of-date relic of the past and that the land would be better used to improve the surrounding Bay shore and Visitation Valley neighbourhoods.
The revised bill "allows the Cow Palace to continue to operate, in hopes that the dilapidated structure can be rehabilitated, while also allowing Daly City to revitalize the Bay shore community," he said in a statement.
There are still plenty of concerns that will have to be dealt with before Yee's bill makes it to the governor's desk. While the money from the sale of the overflow parking lot will go to the state fair system, presumably for use in upgrading and refurbishing the Cow Palace, the facility's supporters still would prefer a long-term lease with Daly City.
A lease would provide the arena with a steady stream of revenue, rather than the one-time windfall from a sale made when California's real estate market is spiralling downward.
"When the bill goes to the (Senate) Governmental Operations Committee, we're hopeful we can convince them of the wisdom in leasing the state property instead of selling it outright," Patterson said.
State Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, echoed those concerns when he voted against Yee's bill Tuesday, saying that this is not the right time to sell state property.
If approved by the Governmental Organization Committee, the bill still has to be passed by both the full Senate and the Assembly before it takes effect. No date has been set for the next hearing.
"This has made all of us realize how many thousands of people use the Cow Palace and want to see it revitalized," Patterson said. "It's an incredibly flexible facility that couldn't be built again."
John Wildermuth - www.sfgate.com
Posted: 18th. April 2008