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San Diego paying $5M to soccer company it evicted from North Park water tower site over safety concerns

San Diego is paying out $5 million to an indoor soccer company that city officials evicted from the rooftop of the North Park reservoir in 2019 over concerns the roof was not structurally sound and could collapse.

The payout settles a lawsuit filed by San Diego Indoor Soccer, which said it was forced abruptly to shut down dozens of thriving indoor soccer leagues and abandon many expensive upgrades it had made to the city-owned site after taking it over in 1988.

In its lawsuit, San Diego Indoor Soccer said it was generating monthly revenue of more than $153,000 when the city shut down the facility and evicted the company from the site, which is next to the iconic North Park water tower on Howard Avenue just south of El Cajon Boulevard.

The payout covers lost revenue, compensation for upgrades to the 92,500-square-foot rooftop site and loss of property — benches, fencing, leaf blowers, picnic tables, a wireless camera system and other items.

San Diego Indoor Soccer had also built offices, created bleachers, maintained an elevator and multiple soccer fields and installed scoreboards, turf, energy panels, lighting and fencing.

The city had been charging the company $5,600 in monthly rent, which was subject to increases based on inflation.

In October 2019, city officials sent San Diego Indoor Soccer a letter saying that a recent evaluation “revealed the roof system beneath the soccer fields is in poor condition and does not meet the current California Building Code for recreation activities such as a soccer field.”

The city included with the letter a report from a structural engineer that said using the roof for sports or assembly-like functions posed “an imminent danger that could result in an abrupt mode of failure of the roof structure.”

The engineer said corrosion and condensation from a wet environment were partly responsible for the structural deficiencies. He said the roof could only support 40 pounds per square foot, far below the 100 pounds per square foot required for rooftop recreational activities.

In its lawsuit, filed in 2020, San Diego Indoor Soccer contended city officials should have known when they signed a lease in 2003 that the roof was vulnerable to long-term problems.

That contention is based on the structural engineer‘s statement that a 1996 repair effort by the city had uncovered some problems with corrosion and decay. The lawsuit says city officials never told the company about the 1996 work and should not have signed the lease in light of it.

From 1988 to 2003, San Diego Indoor Soccer subleased the property from Folsom’s San Diego Racquet Club, which had previously operated a tennis facility there. Before that, the rooftop had been a used car lot.

The reservoir and water tower were originally built in 1952. They are officially known as the University Heights Water Storage and Pumping Station, because University Heights was considered to occupy a much larger area then, encompassing current-day North Park and other nearby neighborhoods.

The City Council approved the settlement of $4.95 million on July 12. Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal had scheduled a Feb. 24 civil jury trial in the case.

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