Tonight, April 21, 2009, with a standing-room only crowd (most wearing bright yellow “Alga Norte Now” stickers) and even more out in the hall pressing posters up against the glass, the Carlsbad City Council voted 3-2 to push off the decision to begin construction on the Alga Norte Park by what could be another year.
The council was faced with 26 public comments in favor of the Alga Norte Park and five options presented by City staff:
1. Continue the project hold.
2. Build the park as designed
3. Rough Grade the site
4. Build just the aquatic center
5. Build everything but the aquatic center
When the discussions were over Mayor Bud Lewis, along with Councilmen Matt Hall, and Mark Packard voted in favor of the “rough grade” (option 3) on the Alga Norte Park property, while Ann Kulchin and Keith Blackburn voted against the motion.
Leave it to the convoluted workings of city politics to have the no votes be in support of building the park. “I am going to vote no on that because I think we have studied it to death,” Ann Kulchin said. “I think the time to build it is now.”
And for once we agreed with her.
Councilman Keith Blackburn said that the City has put this park off far too long already. He said he was tired of hearing from mothers who have to take their children to other cities for swim lessons. “It is time to build the park,” he said. “It’s probably no secret that I’m going to support building the park. I support number 2: build the park as designed.
To back up his decision to stall Mayor Lewis pulled out more stories about growing up in the depression: “I grew up in the depression and I grew up in a family that lost everything,” he said. “I can not go off on a pipe dream.”
Most of the decision was based on City Finance Director Lisa Irvine’s assessment that although there is money to build the park and even though it could be done for $10 million less that originally planned, the current budget projections do not allow for the $1.2 million that it will cost the city to operate the park annually. “We hope it can be delayed until we can afford it,” she said. “And that will be 2013.”
And Mayor Lewis likes to trust his staff. “One of my basic responsibilities as a council member is listening to my staff,” he said. “If the staff tells me that we can’t afford something, I tend to believe them.”
It was a sad, but expected, conclusion to a night filled with public comment from nearly every sector of the Carlsbadistan community. Lifeguards speaking of the need for swimming classes, La Costa Youth Organization speaking of their need more ball fields, competitive swimmers needing places to train, the bombardment of support for the park was relentless.
Former City Council candidate Evan Rodgers gave an impassioned speech in which she suggested a “many hands make light work” solution. “There are 100,000 people in Carlsbad. That’s only $15 a person,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to give $15 for this park. The people of Carlsbad have been clamoring for this since I was in tadpoles swimming. I have faith that you will make the right decision.”
But, none of it mattered, really. That $50 million is still sitting there waiting to be spent, and Carlsbad’s swimmers and skaters are still without a proper facilities. We felt bad for the kids who spent their rides home tonight asking their parents how a park that Carlsbad voters approved years ago could be stone-walled one more time by three people. And we imagined parents saying, that’s how politics works.
At least they didn’t vote to keep the project on hold.