Vote on City-YMCA Deal Delayed After Outpouring from Community

Published March 21, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

The Imperial Beach City Council delayed a vote to determine whether the city should turn over its Sports Park to the South Bay Family YMCA at its meeting Wednesday citing a need for more community input.

A public workshop will now be held in the near future before a final decision is made. The city committed to hold at least one public workshop in a letter to members of the community last December.

Though the city started a search last spring for a private entity to manage the entire Sports Park complex which includes a gym, music room, skate park and baseball and softball fields, Wednesday was the first time the topic appeared on a meeting agenda.

More than 60 people filled council chambers and another 80 gathered in overflow seating in the Community Room next door, numbers unseen at a City Council meeting since medical marijuana was put on the ballot last June.

Due to the volume of public speaker slips on the matter, Mayor Jim Janney limited public comment to one minute instead of the common three minutes.

Elizabeth McKay, secretary for the Imperial Beach Little League, said the league received a letter last October promising public input before City Council formed an opinion on a YMCA takeover and Mayor Jim Janney promised a public workshop at a City Council meeting attended by Little Leaguers a month later.

“I am concerned that council has been given a staff report regarding this matter yet there’s been no workshops or public discussion,” she said.

Redevelopment agency funding taken away by the state last year should not have been used to fund the sports park or keep city departments afloat, she said.

“The city should have addressed the weak deficiencies within the program long before it got to this point,” she said. “Why should our families and our league pay because the city failed to properly manage and operate the recreation department?”

Derrick Brantley wants a workshop to be held so programs offered at the Sports Park reflect what people want.

“The main issue with the lack of programs currently is that there’s no demand. So your proposal is for programs that the city, its residents, aren’t really looking for,” he said.

Perhaps the most consistent point made by dozens of speakers Wednesday was that Imperial Beach residents cannot afford an increase in fees to access the Sports Park, skate park or ball fields.

Under Sports Park and Recreation management, skaters and baseball and softball leagues currently pay no fee and young people who use the gym pay an annual $25 fee.

The YMCA has proposed an annual fee for all people who use Sports Park facilities ranging from $96 for kids 5-11 and $150 for teens 12-17.

Annual membership for teens and adults at nearby Border View YMCA is about $250 and fee changes by the YMCA will require no approval from the city, said South Bay Family YMCA Executive Director Tina Williams.

Scholarships will made available for those who are unable to pay, she said.

Months prior to the Wednesday meeting Sports Park employees, Imperial Beach Little League, Imperial Beach Girls Softball and others said cost increases would hurt local young people and families.

Most recently the Tony Hawk Foundation urged the city to keep its skate park and charge no costs.

Jeremy Holly said he has skated on the street for 30 years and understands the dangers associated with street skating and nuisance skaters can be to local businesses.

“I’m a father of three and sole supporter for my family,” he said. “We need a safe place for our kids to skate. And it’s got to be here. I can’t afford for all four of us to come skate at the park if there’s going to charges associated with that.”

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 28 percent of IB has a household income below $25,000 and 54 percent of the city’s population has a household income below $50,000.

Imperial Beach also has one of the highest percentage of renters and single parent households in San Diego County.

Anthony Okovich spoke after his son Anthony Okovich Jr. and said he understands the city needs to balance its books and fight a money crunch but costs should stay low to benefit IB.

“I too think that the extra cost is going to be really difficult for people to burden. It’s going to be a burden, so the lower we can keep the fees, the more kids will be able to enjoy and benefit greatly from the experience there,” he said.

Okovich suggests the city keeps its Sports Park and seek more help from volunteers from the community and local colleges to offset costs.

Imperial Beach Girls Softball president Jim Lacone said a $25 per play fee would cost the league $5,000 more a year to operate and could mean the end of the league.

“That would basically rob our bank account of everything,” he said.

Joining Lacone’s thoughts that a change in how the Sports Park is operated could threaten baseball and softball leagues, some yelled, some pleaded and Erika Lowery sang a song.

“I say Council please help our young ones. There’s no need to sell them out,” she sang. “Council, there is a group to support. I say council, look here: all your neighbors agree. There are programs that will help out today. We don’t need the YMCA.”

The YMCA has proposed the baseball and softball leagues pay $25 an hour for use of lights, a $25 per player fee each season and the leagues would be required to give 20 percent of all concession stand and other proceeds raised to the YMCA.

Negotiations have continued between the city and baseball and softball leagues since last December but no deal has been agreed upon between the parties. Under a proposal suggested by city staff, the city could cover some repairs and lighting fees.

City staff and members of the City Council insist that change is necessary due to the city’s current financial outlook after the dissolution of redevelopment agencies statewide.

Handing the Sports Park to a private entity would save more than $100,000, staff said, and increase activities and classes at the Sports Park for the community, young and old.

“And it all boils down to the fact that the city can no longer afford to have our parks and rec department as it is. It’s time for a change,” said Councilwoman Lorie Bragg.

Administrative Services Director Kathleen Von Achen said the city’s 2013-14 budget may have a $178,000 surplus with $10 million in reserves, however many factors could impact the city’s economic outlook. Von Achen said the Sports Park costs the city roughly $144,000 a year, or 1.2 percent of the annual budget.

The city indicated plans to cut the Sports Park from the 2013-14 budget at a meeting earlier this month.

Bragg suggested the IBLL and IBGS pay no maintenance, fencing or electric fees, have exclusive use of the concession stand, have priority use of

the fields and pay half of a flat field use fee instead of a $25 per child fee proposed by the YMCA. The city could pick up the other half, she said.

City Council and members of the community have had many sleepless nights over this issue, one of the toughest issues the city has been asked to vote on in a while, Bragg said.

“We’re all in this together, we’ve all got to pay for it together and nothing’s for free anymore,” she said.

Bragg supported Councilman Ed Spriggs’ initial call for at least one workshop.

The city needs to address “perception problems” before moving forward, Spriggs said.

“I absolutely support the idea of a workshop or public forum where people can have time to put their thoughts together,” he said.

While people take more time to consider the option of YMCA management, Mayor Jim Janney said, they should think beyond themselves. The city’s goal has been to save money and increase offerings not just children but also for adults and seniors.

“Change is difficult. I think we all have to embrace change once and a while,” he said. “But I want you all to think about it. It’s for everybody, not necessarily for ourselves, but for everybody around us.

Councilman Bobby Patton suggested a tier system be created to gradually increase per player baseball and softball costs. The leagues will survive and the potential problems that could arise if the YMCA runs the Sports Park have been exaggerated, he said.

“From what I see IBLL and IBSB regardless of what happens is not ending. There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. In his analysis, the YMCA management is a good thing for the community, Patton said.

“I think it’s a win-win situation for us in Imperial Beach. The kids win,” he said.

Janet Cabral came to the meeting Wednesday with her son Joshua Zamora, a baseball player, daughter Juliette Zamora, a softball, her husband and niece Jackie Cabral, who also plays softball.

IB is a small but close-knit community, she said, and people are going to fight to make sure the baseball and softball leagues stay alive.

“They [parents] can barely stand $100 registration, so it [the league] is in jeopardy no matter how they see it,” she said. “It just feels that, listening to the council, it sounds like they’ve already made up their mind.”

Leanne Truitt played softball in the 1970s. Her husband and children also played baseball in IB.

“I don’t have any interests. My kids are grown,” she said after the meeting to address the mayor’s comments about people thinking beyond themselves. “The Y is a good thing, but we already have a Y at Camp Surf.”

“My kids don’t play anymore but as a citizen I want to make sure it’s there for future generations,” she said.

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