(December 16, 2002) -- On December 17, LB's City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to preserve and protect LB's scarce parkland or let the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) have its way with parkland and the public on a pretext.
Like some mindless cheerleader splashing perfume on local officialdom, the December 16 Press-Telegram headlined on its front page above the fold -- presumably as news, not opinion -- "A school grows in L.B."
We think that a spun headline like that belongs on an editorial page (like this one) and should be: "A park shrinks in LB."
In simple terms, LBUSD wants to take part of downtown's Cesar Chavez Park for LBUSD's use most of the time: most weekday daytime hours (daytime is when most well intended people use parks) and weekdays (5/7 of the week) and times when school is in session (most of the year).
During all those times, there'd be a de facto Berlin Wall preventing the public from using part of this LB public park.
LBUSD wants this because it's hoping to get away with building a new school that shortchanges inner city residents (again) by failing to include enough outdoor space, a standard considered minimal by other self-respecting school districts.
LBUSD could build a school that provides sufficient outdoor space...but that would mean spending more money to acquire more surrounding property. LBUSD prefers to spend its money for things like fattening its bureaucrats' salaries and televising football games.
LB City Hall could preserve public park land for the public, but that would mean losing valuable land parcels for a school playground...land that might otherwise be offered to a developer to festoon a grand entranceway to downtown LB.
Get it? Those pesky inner city kids and their families are in the way again. So instead of children and their parents getting a park they deserve, and a school they deserve, they'll get part of a park and part of a school.
That some people would try to portray this as a service to historically underserved residents is stupefying.
And it's worse. In the 1990s, L.A. County voters, accompanied by cheerleading from LB's establishment, approved a County bond measure for parkland that included slightly over $6 million to fund improvements at El Dorado Park.
City Hall never used most of that money for that purpose. It diverted roughly $6 million to help acquire property for what would eventually become Cesar Chavez Park. City Hall got away with this because the County bond included small print that let City Hall seek County permission to use the bond money for other parkland type purposes.
When the City Council publicly voted to do this, Ann Cantrell, whose selfless actions saved El Dorado Park, graciously did not oppose it. She cited the need for additional parkland downtown. On receipt of the City Council's request to divert the El Dorado Park money, the County Bd. of Supervisors publicly voted to OK it.
Cesar Chavez Park was then built and has since been repeatedly cited by local politicians as evidence of their dedication to the inner city.
LB City Hall has repeatedly shown its willingness to nibble away scarce LB parkland, brushing aside large, consistent opposition by finding small but intense interest groups who'll applaud it. A day nursery expanded into Heartwell Park (including a wing named for Beverly O'Neill). A NLB police station expanded into Scherer Park (with LBUSD complicit in taking the alternative "Dooleys" site off the table). And now a substandard school that relies on eating part of Cesar Chavez Park.
Asking the public to swallow repeated, willful erasures of parts of LB parks is contemptuous, and doing so with Cesar Chavez park is especially egregious because it shortchanges many who've already been historically underserved by government.
Councilwoman Lowenthal's vote is pivotal because the park is in her district and her eight Council colleagues will likely try to hide behind what she does. For years, she was on LBUSD's governing board and part of its machinery. Saying "no" to her former LBUSD colleagues will not be easy.
But we think protecting LB parkland, and insisting the new school be built to standards, not substandards, is what inner city LB residents deserve. It should trump what LBUSD bureaucrats and future developers want.
We urge Councilwoman Lowenthal and her Council colleagues to stop the park land grab and vote no. ˇYa basta!
[Dec. 17 a.m. update: We're not surprised to find a lockstep PT editorial today, justifying the proposed LBUSD-City Hall park eroding proposal...although it did raise a bogus issue: the new, substandard school will let residents use the school gymnasium after school and on weekends.
But that's an especially clumsy way to justify shortchanging residents. Obviously, a school built to full standards could do the same thing, and let residents use its facilities without eating parkland. (The PT editorial concedes this is done at most high schools but not at most other schools.)
The PT opines that the LBUSD-City Hall backed "proposal reflects a reality of life in many built-out downtowns like Long Beach's." We urge every LB resident and taxpayer to clip and keep that masterpiece.
In our view, it ranks among the PT's most eloquent apologies for lower standards for LB when they have City Hall's or LBUSD's blessing...part of the problem, not the solution.