Sports Park Vote Delayed to Consider Alternative Plan

Published June 6, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

With many in the crowd holding up yellow “Vote NO!” signs, the Imperial Beach City Council again delayed a vote Wednesday to enter into negotiations with the South County YMCA to manage the city Sports Park.

Instead the city will take time to consider a plan proposed by a coalition made up of major Sports Park stakeholders who suggest the Boys & Girls Club of South County manage the park, gym, skate park and its baseball and softball fields.

More time is needed to consider the alternative and speak with local residents, councilmembers said. Meetings will be held this summer to explore the alternative plan.

Residents again voiced near unanimous opposition Wednesday to a recommendation by city staff to enter into contract negotiations with the YMCA.

“I think we should postpone this decision tonight. I think it would be an injustice. We’re always talking about the need for more public input and we actually have it this time,” said Councilman Brian P. Bilbray.

A petition made by Candy Unger’s I Heart IB gathered more than 850 signatures from citizens in favor of the city working with the public to consider alternative plans and against YMCA management or fees to use the skate park.

Wednesday was the city’s second attempt to vote on the matter. Declaring a lack of public input, City Councilmembers delayed a vote at a meeting in March. A public workshop promised to residents by the city in 2012 had not yet been held.

Following the public workshop held in April, a coalition led by Unger formed known as the Imperial Beach Sports Park Collaboration to hold meetings and develop an alternative plan.

The Boys & Girls Club of South County, Imperial Beach Little League, Imperial Beach Girls Softball, IB Skateboarding Association, I Heart IB and more than 70 concerned citizens took part in the collaborative effort.

“When it’s not working one way we have to pull back, reconsider and try to make it work another way. This is life. And this isn’t working, despite the best efforts of city staff,” said Councilman Ed Spriggs.

Citing a lack of funds, city staff started to search for a private entity to operate the Sports Park complex in April 2012. There was no formal bid process or direction given by City Council to do so, but staff approached the YMCA, Calvary IB and the Boys & Girls Club and decided the YMCA made the best offer.

Both plans would cost the city approximately $50,000 but save more than $100,000, staff said.  A Boys & Girls Club proposal could mean lower registration fees, the collaborative said.

YMCA annual membership could cost $95 for kids ages 5-11 and $150 for teens ages 12-17, said Executive Director Tina Williams. Scholarships would be made available for kids who cannot afford membership fees.

Boys & Girls Club annual membership would cost $40 for children 17 and under, $60 for families and free for military dependents, according to the collaborative.

City staff has made a concerted effort to balance the concerns of residents, sports leagues while doing what’s best for the city and its residents, Spriggs said.

In response to opinions expressed at the public workshop in April, city staff changed its YMCA proposal, which now incorporates the following:

  • No per-player fee for baseball or softball teams.
  • Any Imperial Beach resident under 18 may use the skate park for free.
  • City will give $10,000 a year to support scholarships for young people who cannot afford membership fees.
  • A citizen advisory group will be formed to inform the YMCA

Still, people have consistently rejected the plan and city staff has not succeeded in producing any converts, Spriggs said.

“To me, I just don’t see any other way other than working with the coalition and trying to form and figure out whether that proposal can hold water,” he said.

Councilwoman Lorie Bragg said she came to the meeting Wednesday prepared to vote in favor of proceeding with a YMCA deal but reconsidered after hearing the public speak.

“This has been a painful process for us as a community,” she said. “And unfortunately, Mr. Brown and I were discussing this and it’s deteriorated into an us against them mentality. That’s not how it should be. We’re all in this together. This is our community. We all have children, families, kids, friends.”

Sports Park management did not appear as an agenda item until March but dozens of local residents expressed concern with what YMCA management could mean during the public comment period at multiple meetings since last September.

While Bragg is open to continued discussions with the community, she said, actions needs to be taken soon for the sake of the community and local government.

“I think that we just cannot keep this wound open. It’s become a wound for all of us,” she said.

Among more than 30 comment and questionnaire forms filled out by residents at the public workshop in April all were against YMCA management.

Similar opinions were expressed by people like Greg Hughes Wednesday.

Hughes has lived in IB for decades, loves skateboarding and helped build skate ramps at the Sports Park in the 1990s before money was raised to build a skate park.

If fees are charged for the skate park that was originally intended to be free for all, Hughes said, he will tell councilmembers “things that will make my mother cringe” when he sees them around town.

“My heart’s racing right now because I’m passionate about skateboarding. I’m passionate about these kids needing a place to do it without an adult around,” he said. “I do live here and I will see you on the streets and I will be as civil as possible, but you’re going to hear it from me.”

Jim King, who lost a City Council reelection bid last fall, called the idea of establishing a foundation “a brilliant idea.”

“I think you should look at this further and I think you should engage the community more,” he said. “Let’s see if we can create a more transparent kind of process here.”

King had words of criticism for the public as well.

The city’s process could have been more transparent from the start, but the community could have been more open to staff telling them the city can no longer afford to manage the Sports Park complex, King said.

“A lot of people don’t pay attention a lot of time until the wolf is on the porch,” he said. “I think the community needs to be collaborative. I think they need to open their hearts and their minds.”

Over the course of the past couple months, citizens have become very active in a search for cost-saving solutions and the city has made concessions to come closer to the desires of the public, he said.

Those constructive moves toward each other should continue, he said.

Comments are closed.