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Prosecutors end probe of Norco’s SilverLakes park, say city did nothing ‘criminal’

Riverside County’s district attorney has cleared Norco of wrongdoing in connection with the controversial SilverLakes Equestrian and Sports Complex on the city’s north side.
In a report released late Tuesday, Oct. 9, the district attorney’s office said it investigated complaints brought in a Riverside County grand jury report  critical of the city’s handling of the 122-acre project and “no criminal conduct was discovered.”
In May, the grand jury called on the office to probe how SilverLakes came to feature a  full-service restaurant and bar and to charge people for parking and admission.
The report contended SilverLakes is “not a public park” as was envisioned in a federal court order restricting the use of the property along Hamner Avenue, near the Santa Ana River. And the grand jury alleged the city misled a Riverside County court when it sought — and ultimately received — the court’s blessing for its SilverLakes development plan several years ago. The jury maintained that a different, highly commercialized park emerged, instead of what was planned.
The district attorney concluded the city did not furnish misleading documents and “fully informed” the court of “the nature of the park.” Those documents “made repeated reference to the sale of merchandise as well as food and alcohol,” the office wrote.
The district attorney also wrote that the city informed the court of plans to charge parking and admission fees.
A county civil grand jury is different than a criminal grand jury. It reviews the operations of county, city and local governments and issues reports but has no binding power.
Norco Councilman Kevin Bash praised the DA’s conclusion.
“We’ve been vindicated,” Bash said. “As we’ve said all along , we’ve done nothing wrong.”
Norco resident Nita Hiltner said she was not surprised by the district attorney’s finding, though some in town have concerns about the project.
“A lot of people in Norco expected something different than what came out,” Hiltner said.
Many were anticipating a public park that they could use freely on a regular basis, she said. And they were expecting the permanent equestrian center to have been completed by now.
“I don’t think they expected so many soccer fields. I think they were surprised by that,” she added. “I didn’t expect a big restaurant that’s pretty expensive.”
Objections to project details aside, the project has been criticized for its lengthy delays. Finally, after those delays and a crippling 2010 flood, SilverLakes  opened in September 2015 .
Today it hosts concerts, equestrian competitions, soccer tournaments and regional cross-country meets, among other events, which drew 1.4 million visitors in 2017, according to the city. The complex has 24 soccer fields, five equestrian arenas, a 12,000-square-foot outdoor cafe, a 10,000-person-capacity concert venue called The BackYard and a 150-seat restaurant called The FieldHouse.
Much has been made, said Bash, about the lack of a permanent equestrian center — but that is on the way. An environment impact study is being done for the complex, which would include facilities for equestrian-style camping, he said.
Kathy Azevedo, a former Norco councilwoman who handles public relations for SilverLakes and runs horse shows there under a contract, said the plan is to build the permanent center next to the river bottom, away from the soccer fields. An effort is under way to purchase eight to 10 acres to make the equestrian facility bigger .

Related links

Grand jury wants DA to probe how public park ended up with admission fee, sit-down restaurant and bar
1 year in, did the Silverlakes sports park in Norco live up to the hype?
NORCO: Silverlakes opens despite glitches
NORCO: Construction to start on long-awaited Silverlakes Park
Volunteer-rich Norco tries to remain rural

“We will have a phenomenal, first-class equestrian center,” she said.
Azevedo said the center will feature covered arenas — the existing five arenas aren’t covered — as well as a permanent show office and 250 horse stalls.
Bash suggested SilverLakes is already “an economic juggernaut.”
“I am very proud of that place,” he said. “Is it perfect? No.”

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