City ends Clippers license agreement

**Update 5 pm** Quotes from Mayor Rob Schroder

The city of Martinez has ended its license agreement with the Martinez Clippers Baseball Corp. because of nonpayment of fees, the city announced Wednesday in a news release.

Whether a new team will take the place of the Clippers remains to be seen, but should be decided soon, according to several authorities.

The city’s announcement said the license agreement was terminated February 16 due to “for nonpayment of fees associated with the use of City field facilities during the 2018 baseball season.”

The Clippers ball club, part of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs (PAPBC), is owned by Paulette Carpoff, who with her husband, Jeff Carpoff, own the embattled DC Solar companies that recently filed for bankruptcy and Chapter 11 reorganization after the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a December raid on their home and the company’s Benicia headquarters.

One FBI agent’s testimony in court papers indicate his agency believes the Carpoffs were running a Ponzi-type scheme through its DC Solar companies.

The Carpoffs owe the city approximately $30,000, and paid none of the money they were billed for three months’ use of the field, Mayor Rob Schroder said Wednesday.

The city’s agreement with the Clippers corporation originated March 16, 2018, and had been for the use of Field 3, which received an additional $400,000 in improvements before the Association’s opening day May 31, 2018, launching the local team’s inaugural season, according to the city’s announcement.

The improvements were paid by the city to bring the ballfield up to professional baseball standards.

This and other playing fields were among the projects included during the $9.23 million upgrade of Martinez Waterfront Park using Measure H bond money. But the additional expenditure at Field 3 came from city reserves.

Schroder, in his State of the City address on Tuesday, told the audience that the city field could be used by a professional club as well as baseball teams of those 14 and older.

He said Wednesday it was incumbent on the city to take the action against the franchise and the owners, and that Martinez was pursuing recovery of the fees through filing in the Nevada bankruptcy court that is handling the DC Solar case.

The city sent the Carpoffs invoices for the fees due for the field’s use, and followed up by reaching out to the club owner as well as having city staff debriefings about the Clippers’ 2018 season and what improvements might be needed for the 2019 season, he said.

Schroder said the city’s primary communication was with Leanne Peterson, who was hired away from Main Street Martinez June 1, 2018, to become the ball club’s director of community partnerships. Through Peterson, the Carpoffs told city staff that checks were about to be cut or were in the mail. But they never arrived.

Shortly after some December 2018 talks, FBI agents crashed through the Carpoffs’ front door and removed multiple items from the home before turning their attention to DC Solar’s headquarters in Benicia Industrial Park.

Initially the city gave Paulette Carpoff a two week notice that her agreement with the city was in jeopardy, and that she had two weeks to rectify the nonpayment before the agreement was considered void, Schroder said.

City staff agreed to grant Carpoff two additional weeks to pay the debt after her attorney, Ari Lauer, asked for additional time. But when no payment was received, the city terminated the agreement and started procedures to recover its fees for lights, water, field maintenance and other amenities, Schroder said.

“This is the public’s money,” he said. While he couldn’t predict what may happen in the Nevada bankruptcy court, Schroder said that because the city is a governmental agency, it’s likely placed farther ahead in the line, ahead of private creditors.

Vice Mayor Noralea Gipner and Schroder make up the Council subcommittee that had been working on behalf of the city to secure one of the Pacific League’s expansion teams in Martinez. The Association added two teams in 2018; besides the Clippers, the other club is the Napa Silverados.

As for the Clippers’ owner and the money due the city, Gipner said, “They had their time to say they could do it, and they can’t. They broke the contract. We’re doing what we have to do.”

Gipner said the city billed Carpoff regularly. “They always had an excuse,” she said.

“It’s time to move on and try to get a new team,” according to Gipner. “We’ll know in a week or two if investors are going to do it or not.” She said the potential for new owners is good.

Schroder said he has been in contact with the Pacific Association’s commissioner, Theo Fightmaster, who learned through Lauer that Carpoff would not be able to field the Clippers for the 2019 season.

“I’m watching this unfold. I’ve talked with Theo,” Schroder said, confirming that the commissioner is speaking with prospective local ownership groups. The mayor acknowledged time is short, but expressed hope that a professional team would be playing on Field 3 this season.

“I don’t know if will be ‘the Clippers,’” he said, since Carpoff may retain ownership of the name. “The attorneys have to figure that out.”

Schroder said he saw for himself the value of the independent baseball league team, from the Clippers’ appearance in the Fourth of July parade to the games themselves.

In speaking with other team owners, he had been told that having such a ball club was more than the sport itself. “It’s the community getting together and having fun,” he said. It also brought other communities together through the various cities’ friendly team rivalries.

According to PAPBC officials the Clippers ranked third in attendance in 2018, with close to 9,000 total fans and an average of 225 per game. The finished with a record of 29-51, going 21-19 in the season’s second half.

According to the city’s announcement, “The City and PAPBC representatives are presently evaluating options for the upcoming season. More details will be provided as they become available.”

In December, shortly after the FBI raid that shut down DC Solar’s operations, Fightmaster said, “The Pacific Association learned of the allegations against DC Solar last week, and we await further information on this ongoing investigation. What we do know is 2018 was a tremendous inaugural season for the Martinez Clippers Professional Baseball Club.”

He praised community support for the ball club and expressed hope the Clippers would continue to be part of the Pacific Association.

The loss of the Martinez club would have an impact on the league, which normally expands its teams two at a time to have an even number for scheduling purposes. Like Martinez, the association has been monitoring the DC Solar case.

Fightmaster said the league has been speaking with some local people in hopes of finding new team owners.

As a backup, rather than trying to develop a league schedule with just five teams, Fightmaster said a travel team might be formed, but it would have no home games. However, that solution is far from ideal, he said. Another option would be to build in more days off into the schedule.

League tryouts start April 20 in Sonoma, he said, and spring training should start about May 20.

Schroder said that even if there is no Pacific Association club in Martinez, Field 3 would be used, whether by a women’s team or those from other organizations.

Michael Chandler, deputy director of Administrative Services, agreed the field has other uses besides professional baseball.

“At present, we just have some field times scheduled for youth baseball and tournaments and a traveling men’s group,” Chandler said.

While he hasn’t heard from other associations, he said, Martinez “would certainly consider working some field time in for them if it’s available. Everything will depend on whether or not there’s a Martinez PAPBC team this season, and we should know the answer to that in a few weeks.”

This is not the only sport to be impacted. NASCAR driver Ross Chastain lost a full-season ride for Chip Ganassi in the Xfinity series, which DC Solar was supposed to sponsor. Ganassi’s racing operation dropped its entire Xfinity participation as a result.

Kyle Larson, Ganassi’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver, managed to find enough sponsorship to assure his full season in that series.

DC Solar also sponsored several races, but several of the NASCAR-affiliated tracks have filed documents saying the company owes them a combined millions of dollars. A long list of companies also are lining up at the Nevada bankruptcy court with similar complaints.

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