The Escondido city council Wednesday, February 1 heard a preliminary presentation from the staff on the process involved to get proposals from possible BMX operators.
BMX, the popular name for bicycle motocross is a sport that began in the early 1970s in Southern California, has grown to be popular all over the world. It is now an official Olympic sport, and saw its first Olympic competition in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The nearest BMX parks to the city are Kearny Moto Park, 26 miles away, Cactus Park BMX in Lakeside and BMX Development Track in Chula Vista.
The city council gave direction to put out a request for proposal (RFP) from potential BMX operators.
This presentation followed a previous action plan where the council asked staff to develop more activities for the youth.
Graham Mitchell, city manager, and Jeff Wyner, management analyst with the city’s public works department, made the presentation. They told the council that the city is positioned to create a state-of-the-art BMX course that could attract visitors from all over southern California and to host state, regional and possibly national events.
Mitchell said the minimum size for a viable BMX course would be one acre, but three would be optimum. City staff has identified several locations within the city that would be suitable. They include land at Kit Carson Park near the fire station, at Jesmond Dene Park and at two other locations.
Mitchell recommended the city establish a relationship with a BMX course operator to run the venue day-to-day.
The RFP would ask the potential operators to identify the best spots for a BMX course within the city; identify site preparation and construction costs, and present a business model to operate the course, including hours of operation, times open to the public, entry costs, and frequency of competition. The RFP would also ask for an estimated lease cost.
Wyner said the RFP would help the city to pick the right operator and estimate construction costs and operational costs.
He spoke to operators. He and Mitchell visited several sites. They talked to BMX operators and professionals in other cities. They took a field trip to the BMX track in Chula Vista where they train Olympians in the sport. Wyner said that one option would be to build a regular track for racing events and have a “pump track” for practice.
The difference is that a regular track is from 800 to 1,400 feet, with 1,200 being about average. It has a beginning and end. A pump track is a continuous circuit for practice and warming up, and unlike a track, it can go in both directions. A pump track can be used by others while events are on. The RFP would ask operators if they could include a pump track.
“The ideal park size is three acres,” said Wyner. “One acre is really tight. We don’t have to be near to a freeway, but the closer you are the more people you can attract. You don’t want just local riders but state, regional and national. The closer you are to the freeway the more you get and the more prestige. You need parking. For state level events, you need acreage for parking. You have people coming in with RVs and toy haulers. They park for the weekend.”
Spectators will also need seating, he said. Benches can be multi-tiered, like the bleachers of a basketball game. The proper soil for a track is clay base with some sand. “The track is abused so it needs water,” he said.
The design of a track can fit the plot, whether rectangular, circular or triangular. “Most BMX tracks have lights,” said Wyner. “You probably need a registration shed, snack bar and announcers’ booths.”
There are three models for tracks, he said. 1) Limited access tracks are used only for sanctioned events. 2) Open access tracks are like baseball fields where you have sanctioned events and they are open to anyone the rest of the time. 3) A hybrid track would combine a pump track with a limited racetrack.
The purpose of the RFP, said Mitchell, “would be to understand from an operator’s perspective what they need. We don’t know what the cost is to build yet because they are so unique. We want the operator to help us to understand the size, and help us us to understand the budget. We would ask them how they would finance a course and whether they would need city participation.”
City council member Mike Morasco, whom Mayor Sam Abed described as the “biggest advocate,” for a course, said, “I’m really excited to see this presentation. I look forward to hearing comments. . . We’ve met before with BMX USA and they showed where the users live and why Escondido is such an ideal site.”
There were two speakers from the public. The first was Vincent McCurry, who operates two BMX tracks, in Lakeside and San Diego. He has been operating BMX tracks for 26 years, and has helped build five, including one in Perris and one in El Centro.
He called Kit Carson the best of the four sites that had been identified by city staff. “That seemed to be pretty nice! A lot easier.” He called the Jesmond Dene site, “a nice area but it would need a lot of money to put that into potential.” He noted that the Mountain View is in the middle of a residential area, “and you generally get lots of whoopin’ and hollerin’” with BMX racing. “Most of what you have is pretty much right on the money.”
Councilman Ed Gallo interjected, “From a visitor’s standpoint Kit Carson works the best in my opinion.” He described the land on that park available for the track as being next to the fire house and the Girl Scout area.
Mark Day, a bicycle shop owner in Escondido, told the council “I don’t see a BMX being fiscally beneficial to Escondido.” However, he said that he preferred the Kit Carson site because of safety. “Jesmond Dene would be vandalized, and same for baseball park. With Kit Carson, you have the fire department right there.”
However, he said he would like to see a track that would be open to other uses, not just BMX. I would like to make it more efficient. Let’s build a pump track along with it so it can be used for daily use. BMX pump tracks can be a multi-use track and not just for private people to make a profit but something we can use as a community resource.
Councilmember Olga Diaz noted that all of the proposed sites “are surrounded by residential uses. Part of what caused us to handle this in an ungraceful manner before is that it was done without talking to the residents. I’m not sure we’ve gone out to engage the active users of the parks.” She said Kit Carson park is used so much that sometimes its parking is full. “You would need to add parking. And Jesmond Dene has so much illegal parking. “She added, “At the end of the day we haven’t engaged anyone in Mountain View, or Jesmond Dene. I think we need to do that. I’d lean toward a facility that everyone can use.” She added that the disk golfers at Kit Carson would probably be displaced.
Mitchell said they hadn’t engaged the public yet because they thought it best to identify an operator to work with, and then talk to the community.
Councilmember John Masson said, “I’m excited about this. I don’t want to build this for other people. I want to build it for the people of Escondido. I’m as excited about BMX as I am about skateboarding. It’s a great resource and we need to make it happen. I’m looking forward to some action.”
Morasco commented, “A lot of people fear motorized bicycles with some hellions, but it starts at age 4 and on up. It is an Olympic event. It’s really more than what a lot of people have been exposed to. We have the land; we just need to figure out the best site. I’m hoping we will be able to do it.”