Stallga Norte Park: The Wait Continues

by The Editors on April 21, 2009

042109 57ATonight, 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.

Other coverage:
Barbara Henry in the North County TImes
Michael Burge in The San Deigo Union-Tribune

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Robots? April 22, 2009 at 1:13 am

Great coverage of a very disappointing and almost unbelievable outcome. If the wonderful crowd tonight and the amazing opportunity to save 10-30% due to the economy couldn’t move Lewis, Hall, and Packard to finally greenlight it, they must be robots.

What we really needed tonight was an elementary school math teacher to work it out for them. Like Keith Blackburn and others patiently explained, if it can be built for 10-30% less than projected due to the economy, take the savings and use that for operating costs. Doesn’t take a cent away from the safety training center or cost any librarians their jobs, for corn’s sake. No one is asking for anything crazy or reckless or naive.

Of course, if they drag their feet for another year or two, construction costs will go back up and this opportunity will be lost. So they sit on the millions for the park for year after year. Where is the interest going? How much interest has accumulated so far?

And tonight it became tragically obvious that even the drownings of several local children couldn’t shake them from their fantasy that swim lessons are a luxury.

A lot of the staff “news” tonight was not news. Carlsbad’s office vacancy rate has been the worst in the county for a long time, way before the recession. They use the drop in car sales (and therefore sales tax) as a reason to fret and postpone the park but they should see it as a wake-up call that we are too dependent on it. Rather than biding our time waiting for car sales and development to rebound, why can’t they drink some V8 or something and get some new ideas and revenue streams?

Are the Mayor’s great depression references bothering anyone else, math-wise? Not to be rude, but Mayor Lewis is 77 years old which means he was born in 1932. The great depression ended in early 1933. Granted, it took the country time to recover but his lack of a job during the great depression and following years was because he was an infant and toddler.

The people who spoke to the council tonight were, for the most part, respectful, alert, and well-informed. Some had remarkable energy, poise, and ideas. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all our elected officials were as impassioned, interesting, or even interested in the community’s well-being?

Bonnie Wren April 22, 2009 at 7:31 am

“Stallga Norte!” Very well-described!

I can NOT wrap my brain around the fact that Lewis, Packard and Hall voted to stall yet AGAIN. I thought Julie Nygaard’s letter might help push the vote in the right direction, but even that fell on deaf ears.

Kudos to Keith Blackburn and Ann Kulchin for voting to proceed. Kudos to Evan Delaney Rodgers for once again demonstrating the leadership I hope she’ll one day be allowed to exercise as a member of the city council.

My prediction:

1. The rough-graded site will sit for at two or three years.

2. During that time construction costs will go up again, possibly to what they were estimated in 2007 — or even higher — as the economy heats up again.

3. Because of the increased construction costs, short-sighted council members once again will determine that Carlsbad can’t afford to build and/or operate Alga Norte.

V. Burns April 22, 2009 at 9:59 am

That is very unfortunate. True to the city’s operation to not complete anything for example the roads leading into and out of town.

This project has been funded: built it! The money was not allocated to sit in the bank to earn interest. In addition, the revised construction costs save almost enough money that soon the interest will offset some larger portion of the operating costs.

I hope we are not discussing this for years to come. Costs will increase again and it will be another cycle of discussions.

This new complex could also legitimately demand premium fees from visitors: especially if the water park portions were built. Residents would get the benefit of a top notch facility and a lower rate. The swim complex and ball fields, when used for other special events and if properly marketed could generate substantial fees, these events could also create expanded revenue of hosting some major events that impact the community through large numbers of visitors. Run the operation like a business! For example charge softball leagues closer to the actual pro-rata operating costs to operate the facility, the same with other activities like swimming.

I am appalled that I spend 90 % of my recreation / park time outside the City of Carlsbad. Oceanside, San Marcos, Encinitas, and Escondido ALL have superior and more facilities. This is likewise with so many other (parents) that are required to take their children to pools as far away as Coronado for swimming related practice.

Public spaces and organized recreation are an integral part of positive activities for our city’s youth, keeping them away from the negative influences like drugs etc.: this cost per resident is quite small.

Thank you Ann and Keith for your support and to the rest of the council, lets start looking out for the best interest of the community and quit shorting the residents of this city.

Looking for other revenue? Increase the TOT, people will still come to visit. Invite new quality retail into the city. Our family spends most of our dollars in other cities as they have the necessary shopping we all do on a daily basis (from groceries to Target, Wal-Mart etc.)

We all want to live, shop, work and recreate in our own neighborhood: lets make this a reality in Carlsbad so we don’t have to rely (freeload) as much on the surrounding municipalities.

John Marshall April 22, 2009 at 10:36 am

It’s not all doom and gloom, the council voted to start the park, although they authorized just the rough grading and to then determine when city revenues (not savings or on-time surpluses) can support the operating costs. The swimming pool activists are well organized and presented every possible arguement for building the swim complex now. What was not particularly pleasing, was the option to have the park run by for-profit companies. One speaker appealed to the council to consider the revenue potential to the city, if large regional swimming competitions were held at the park. I would like everyone to read the Capital Projects Description for the park. It is for the benefit “of current and future residents”, not big, noisy events, attracting bus-loads for people. It is a neighborhood park. It should be built when the cost to operate it as a city park can be met by the city budget. It should not be built if it will depend on large for-profit events that might add a few nickels to the city coffers, but burden thousands of current and future neighbors, who just want a place for their kids to swim and play ball, for themselves to enjoy floating down the laz river and having a picnic with friends and family.

green April 22, 2009 at 11:50 am

Last night’s council session proves yet again that we MUST have transparency and accountability at all levels of government. Not to mention people who can do math!

When they get the video of last night on the city website, tell everyone to watch it. Did you just pay your property taxes? See who’s managing part of that money.

After all, the government has NO money of its own. Every dollar of tax money came from a taxpayer.

It really is worth the almost 4 hours to watch! What will you learn from watching the video of last night’s session?
Lewis, Packard, and even Hall are using fear (and refusing to use math) in order to lamely rationalize another stall. The only people who are into it are themselves and staff. It’s hard to tell if they’re out-of-touch and irrelevant, just saying no because they can, embarrassed about the golf course and resolved not to get taken behind the wood-shed again, or just so perversely impassive or obscenely clue-free that they can say repeatedly in public and the press that swim lessons are luxuries or niceties? If so, I want to “spoil” my kids completely rotten with swim lessons! I hope every kid in Carlsbad is so thoroughly “spoiled” that they don’t drown.

You’ll see Hall throwing in with the past (Lewis and Packard) when Blackburn clearly has the people on his side. Is Lewis’ endorsement for Hall’s run for Mayor worth that much? Is it worth anything after last night?

You’ll see that the mayor is proud to assert that he listens to his staff. Clearly he rarely listens to his fellow citizens. The staff? They obviously can do math but are so terrified of making a mistake that they seem to be immobilized. This would never fly in the business world. You have to consider different options, brainstorm, etc. Just sitting on the park money because you’re scared is not a plan. It’s wrong. You are hurting people of all ages and you are putting little kids in harm’s way because they can’t swim. You invited the developers here, took their public facility fees (to build things like parks and pools), let them build zillions of houses, and then left them high and dry (literally).

You’ll witness the mayor’s bitter disdain for his subjects. “You can clap your little hearts out…”

You’ll learn that the mayor thinks a lot about the Great Depression. (Thank you to the earlier poster for pointing out that he was only two or three years old.) If you go back and watch other sessions, you’ll see this is a recurring theme.

Another is that the mayor frequently complains that people are always coming asking for things which he has to say “no” to yet when several people offered things (in a self-sufficient Great Depression spirit) last night, he ignored them completely.

You’ll notice that the staff does not suggest any plans which are pro-citizen or pro-park or even all the ones which financially make sense. Blackburn had to practically twist arms to get them to admit that, yes, you could use the $10,000,000 savings to run the park for a few years! He must feel like he’s fallen into an alternate universe.

You will celebrate that Blackburn has the cajones to take on Lewis-Packard-Hall the way he did last night. There’s obviously a lot more to Blackburn than the pretty face, nice guy who we saw during the campaign. Thank God!

You might be sad to see Kulchin focused more on her reputation as pro-pool, pro-senior, etc than on successfully convincing Lewis-Packard-Hall to do the right thing. She has real influence on these guys and we wish she would use it and let others sing her praises.

You’ll see that Arnold and Rodgers promoted the average resident’s willingness to pitch in and help, including momentum for a grassroots fund-raising campaign. We would love to see her run next year but expect she’ll be writing speeches for much bigger races by then.

Most of all, if you watch the video, you’ll see that we all have to be vigilant.

A suggestion to Mr. Hall:
If you start practicing now, saying “Mayor Blackburn” won’t be so bad next year.

No excuses for the 3 amigos April 22, 2009 at 1:05 pm

The 3 amigos had no excuses last night for failing to put it out to bid.

Mr Blackburn took away their excuses by proving there is a way to pay for the pool and operate it, without compromising anything else….a way that won’t be around long!

Ms Rogers took away their excuses by showing that operating costs could be gathered now voluntarily from residents, fund-raisers, and foundations.

Mr Arnold, Mrs Rodman, and the speakers they organized took away their excuses by giving clear facts that these community needs are acute and have been allowed to become chronic.

But Mayor Bud Lewis, Matt Hall, and Mark Packard would not put it out for bid.

Let’s say Adios to all 3 of them next year!
THEY are a luxury Carlsbad can no longer afford.

pat April 22, 2009 at 3:24 pm

What’s it going to take to get those three to wake up & smell the coffee? The Claude “Bud” Lewis Therapy Pool and Frivolous Competition Pool, The Dr. Mark Packard Luxury/Nicety Instructional Pool, and The Matt Hall Ball Fields-of-Mayoral-Dreamsl?

They recognize the threat to the lives of 26 Carlsbad residents who need organs and plead with us to sign up to be organ donors yet are abso-@#%&-lutely blind to the danger that hundreds – perhaps thousands – of Carlsbad kids and adults are in because they can’t swim. When they want to get into swim lessons, they are more likely to be turned away than to be able to sign up because Carlsbad outgrew the pool very shortly after it was built, many years ago.

I don’t think of them as the 3 amigos but the 3 monkeys who see no reason, hear no reason, and speak no reason. Hopefully Keith Blackburn will hang in there. It’s pretty clear that they’re trying to discourage him from speaking the truth.

green April 24, 2009 at 7:41 am

In May and June, we need to show up at the budget workshop and when they announce the budget, etc to press them at every turn on their funky numbers, evasiveness, petulant refusal to do the people’s business, and blase’ attitude toward kids who can’t swim.

The City Manager does not even live in Carlsbad. The Staff’s only inspiration seems to be Bud Lewis’ whiny Great Depression-fueled fears of starvation and deprivation, which they validate upon demand. When Packard asked Staff how close their estimates have been over the past years, their reply was dismissive, as if he’d asked a completely irrelevant question. Apparently they have never looked at how their projections tie to reality and claim it can’t be done. Did anyone buy that?!

Would someone who has access to this info please take a look at this and see how accurate Staff’s crystal ball is? Bud and Staff are (and have been) reinforcing each other’s bleak outlook and no one holds anyone accountable for it. Like the Emperor’s morose clothes or something. Would Staff quake in their boots so much if they did the math and realized Bud was an unemployed toddler during the Great Depression?

When the office vacancy rate of 26% was stated as if part of the recession, they all knew (or should’ve known) that it was that high (worst in the county) long before the recession. When Bud is gone, will someone please hold these people to a higher standard?

Did anyone else catch the suggestion that the “private partner” who they want to run Alga Norte also be allowed to run Monroe? Geez! What a slap in the face to our great aquatics staff, who do so much with so little! More than a few up there on the dais and the front table had to be familiar with the fine work of Mr. Pope and his people. Someone should have spoken up for him against that punk suggestion. Councilmembers shouldn’t let Staff and fellow councilmembers get away with that kind of stuff. Who handles the parents who can’t get their kids in lessons, a situation city council could’ve solved long ago? Mr. Pope and other city employees who go to work every day knowing they’re going to have to turn kids away from swim lessons. What a stab in the back to hear Staff’s plans for Alga Norte and Monroe as well Tuesday night.

Staff, Lewis, Hall, and Packard also favored the management plan which opens the door to negotiated changes (read deletions) to the plans. That means if their “private partner” doesn’t want a skatepark, they can erase the skatepark from the plans, etc. Are you starting to get the picture that the average citizen or family of Carlsbad doesn’t factor into their thinking very often?

Let’s ask Keith to run for Mayor and get some other honorable people in too.

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