Public Discuss Alternatives, Express Outrage As City Pushes YMCA Deal

Published May 7, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

In his first public meeting since leaving Congress a few months ago, Brian Bilbray stood up to address the idea of the city turning over management of its Sports Park complex to the South County Family YMCA.

“What I’m basically proposing is that we try to get the community together to do a counter-proposal so the five councilmembers have a better alternative and so it’s capable to be maintained,” he said. “Instead of saying we don’t want those SOBs, we’ll say hey, take back their proposal and let us put ours in so the council has more choices rather than just one or two.”

Bilbray, who was mayor of IB from 1978 to 1985, sat next to his son Councilman Brian P. Bilbray for the majority of the meeting. “What I’m saying is if the community comes in and says by using volunteerism, by using community involvement, we’ll reduce the cost to the city so we can keep the parks open until the revenue comes up,” he said.

To address questions, share information and “spot flaws in our own ideas,” City Manager Gary Brown said, the city held a workshop Thursday evening at the Marina Vista Community Center to discuss a proposal by city staff to hand management of its Sports Park complex to the YMCA.

City staff believe the change will offer more services for local residents and save the city more than $100,000. More than 100 members of the community attended the meeting including several associated with Imperial Beach Little League and Imperial Beach Girls Softball who oppose the idea of paying more fees for use of baseball and softball fields as well as the skate park and gym.

Initially the plan was to split up into separate groups but instead, after repeated interruptions by people anxious to ask a question or comment, the two-hour meeting was one large forum and Q&A session. Comment slips were collected but no recording or notes were taken by city staff.

“The meeting wasn’t for them to give another presentation. It was for them to listen,” said Laura Barbato after the meeting.

Yelling was not uncommon, dialogue was often combative and the word disrespect was used repeatedly by members of the audience, Brown and Assistant City Manager Greg Wade.

The meeting started with a presentation by Brown to go over what a contract between the city and YMCA might look like. The meeting wasn’t five minutes old before members of the audience questioned why the YMCA wasn’t there to answer questions instead of the city.

If you have an issue, you have an issue with city staff, not the YMCA, Wade said.

“We didn’t think we wanted to subject the Y again to being maligned and persecuted,” Wade said. “The Y has been maligned in all this through no fault of their own other than to respond to the city who wanted to get a proposal for better opportunities for our entire community to share in recreational opportunities.”

Ron Billings with the Imperial Beach Little League said he felt like Brown and Wade were discussing a foregone conclusion. “It sounds like it’s already a done deal,” he said.

Though the Sports Park’s fate first appeared on a City Council meeting agenda last month, city staff have explored options for a private entity to manage the park since last April. Calvary IB and the Boys & Girls Club of South County were also considered potential managers but the YMCA was the best option when bids were requested last August, Wade said.

Closed session meetings to discuss YMCA “price and terms of payment” were held last fall, at which time members of the and Little League voiced their opposition in the media and during the public comment period at City Council meetings. Meetings to discuss terms with Little League and Girls Softball started last December. At a March 20 meeting city staff asked City Council to approve moving forward to sign a contract with the YMCA.

City Councilmembers said they support YMCA management but argued public forums promised by Mayor Jim Janney months earlier should be held before any decision is made.

City Councilmembers attended the meeting Thursday but did not speak.

YMCA management means more services for people of all ages and the city government should no longer subsidize the Sports Park, Janney said in a letter to the community published Monday. City Managers Wade and Brown echoed that message Thursday.

“The population of the youth that you serve represents eight percent of the youth population in our community,” Wade said about the Little League and Girls Softball leagues. “What we were hoping to achieve here was a broadened, expanded recreational opportunity for the entire community.”

One of the few things all involved seem to agree upon, Brown said, was that the way the city currently operates the Sports Park is broken and needs to change. Boys & Girls Club of South County CEO and Imperial Beach resident Ken Blinsman told IB Patch Friday the Boys & Girls Club would be interested in running the Sports Park but would only submit a proposal again if the YMCA backed out of a deal.

“We’re interested obviously in operating the Sports Park and about a year ago we were in discussions to run the sports park,” he said.

The Boys & Girls Club of South County said they would be willing to run the Sports Park for $50,000 a year, a rate comparable to what the city paid for the Boys & Girls Club to operate the Sports Park until their contract ended in the late 1990s, Blinsman said.

Like Bilbray, some proposed that a solution involve the formation of a youth committee before deciding on the Sports Park’s future or to operate the facility with local volunteers. Candy Unger suggested the city form a parks and recreation advisory board or foundation that works with volunteers and applies for grants for money to operate the Sports Park.

“Why can’t we run our own programs? Why do we have to hire the YMCA to do it?” Unger asked. “Let’s do that ourselves. Let’s find solutions to the problem.”

Michael Carey has worked on several political campaigns in Imperial Beach and said it is false to blame elected officials. Sports Park staff have done an incredible job with limited resources. Brown has also “made something out of nothing” since he came to the city nine years ago.

“If there’s spirit in the community of people who want to be involved with a recreation thing, if they want to do something collaborative with the Boys & Girls Club, if the kind of energy that goes into the Little League goes into the recreation program, perhaps there might be the energy there,” Carey said.

Little League and Girls Softball are both run by volunteers.

Another matter that most seem to agree upon is that any contract signed should have a clause that guarantees priority use of the fields to Little League and Girls Softball.

“I guess it still gets down to if they were trying to squeeze you out or anything like that, we would, I’m sure, hear the dissatisfaction,” Brown said.

Other sports may use the fields under YMCA management but maintenance of the field to a standard that is adequate to baseball and softball leagues may also be part of a contract, Wade said. At times during the meeting anger was pointed at Brown and members of the City Council. “How many budget meetings have we had that people don’t come to?” Wade asked the audience.

A 2013-14 budget proposal presented to City Council last month recommended the city cut funding to the Sports Park at the start of the new fiscal year in July.

The proposed cut was announced before the city received input from the public on the Sports Park however no members of the public spoke at the meeting and few were in attendance.

Against the recommendation of Tony Hawk, the Tony Hawk Foundation and local residents, the skate park would be part of a Sports Park deal so staff can oversee what happens there, city staff said. “It seems fair to us to have a fee to manage the park for skaters, for skater’s safety and the enhancement of the Sports Park environment,” Brown said.

The fee could be low, but nothing is certain until the city and YMCA enter into contract negotiations, he said.

August Collin, who teaches 7th grade at Imperial Beach Charter School, said she likes the idea of having staff present at the skate park.

“Who’s watching the 17 or 18-year-olds who are running that skate park? Who’s watching them when they’re smoking pot and they’re cussing?” she asked. “I teach your community,” she said. “I teach those kids and they confide in me and tell me there’s kids smoking pot there, you know, it’s not a safe place.”

Longtime supporter of the skate park Fred Olande believes parents have to tell those kids to leave, but skaters need a place to go or they will be on the street or other places where they could get into trouble or dangerous situations.

“When they get kicked out of the park or can’t afford the park, who’s going to watch them when they’re getting tickets at the beach and are skating around here?” he asked.

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