Park Advocates Wary As Grabinski Park Proposal Moves To Committee
Some Speakers And Councilmembers Indicate They Favor Using Park Land For As Yet Undefined Other Uses
(August 30, 2000) 7th district Councilman Ray Grabinski's proposal, claiming to protect LB park land by enacting a Municipal Code amendment "to dedicate in perpetuity public park land owned and controlled by the City for park use only," got a wary reception from grassroots LB park supporters at the August 29 City Council meeting. The Council sent it to its Housing and Neighborhoods Committee (Chair, Kell; members: Grabinski & Shultz).
Numerous park advocates warned that a Municipal Code measure could be too easily changed or circumvented by future Councils.
However, letting City Hall avoid stringent park protecting rules to permit certain other uses seemed exactly what other speakers, and some Councilmembers, wanted. Several Councilmembers indicated that deciding what those other uses are and when they'd be allowed on park land should be an important issue for the committee.
Council colloquy and public testimony are presented below in the order in which they took place.
Councilman Grabinkski began by brushing off criticism that he'd waited until after the deadline (which passed on August 11) for putting a binding measure on the ballot for a public vote. He said he'd been "looking for a good place to bring this up where there might not be some controversy surrounding it or people questioning my motives" but "there's almost no good time to bring it up when there wouldn't be a little bit of controversy."
He effectively conceded that his measure would not ensure the future protection of park land:
I would like us to put into the Municipal Code that park land is for parks and recreation use, and that if we want to change that, we would have to take the ordinance that we have and amend it, which means there'd be two notices to the public before any of that took place.
So this is not going to be what some people wanted, and Ann Cantrell and I are good friends. Ann Cantrell would love to have all the voters decide once and for all what goes into parks. And that may happen. That may happen. It's not gonna happen this week, or this month."
Councilman Grabinski then moved to send his proposal to the Housing and Neighborhoods Committee and the Mayor sought public comment. Public testimony included the following (i.e., not a complete listing):
Ms. Gigi Fast Elk Porter, President, Friends of Scherer Park called Grabinski's move a step in the right direction but favored putting a measure on the ballot "to bring the vote back to taxpayers on the issues of park land use in Long Beach and further protect parks from non-recreational use." She added, "With the proviso that this does not allow any non-recreational construction in Scherer Park, the Friends of Scherer Park whole-heartedly support your resolution."
Mr. Art Bullard, identifying himself as "just a citizen...[and] on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Long Beach" and stated:
We have three facilities in this city right now that are actually in parks. And I do not think we would have been able to develop those facilities without the cooperation of this city....So all I ask, is if you're going to do something, don't make it so difficult to allow groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs to utilize the facilities providing the services to the city...So all I ask is don't make it so difficult that the right things can't happen in the parks."
Mr. John Deats, long-time Bixby Knolls activist, testified:
There's a harsh reality, that Long Beach is land locked. We cannot grow geographically. There's simply no more land around us to annex. I believe you need the flexibility to do some less than ideal things in this less than perfect world....I don't believe that park land should be viewed as a big land bank of free real estate to be taken, but it should be offset, pocket parks, the park that was proposed at 55th and Paramount [as mitigation]...
Ms. Ann Cantrell of the El Dorado Audubon society, who successfully fought, sued and stopped City Hall's plan for a "sports complex" in El Dorado park:
As many of you know, many citizens have been working for over four years to provide more protection for our parks. I am concerned that this proposed change in the Municipal Code [Grabinski's proposal] will not afford enough protection as it can be changed at any time by five votes of the Council. In fact the current protection for parks in the local coastal plan has not saved Victory Park, which is scheduled to be the entrance for the Marriott Hotel, Santa Cruz Park...or Shoreline Park which is scheduled for the Queensway Bay.
Ms. Cantrell then referred to a proposed Charter amendment that would protect park land with the force of law, a measure for which she had been working for years:
The Save the Park petition, which was signed by over 25,000 Long Beach registered voters, proposed to restrict the sale, lease, transfer disposal and development of city parks and beaches. It stated that construction within any city park or beach of a sports complex, road, golf course, driving range or building consisting of more than one story or exceeding 1,500 square feet in floor area, must be authorized by a majority vote of the entire Council and a majority of the electors voting on such a proposition. [Publisher's note: Ms. Cantrell did not mention that her petition measure had been drafted for her by Dennis Carroll, now the 4th district Councilmember. Councilman Carroll said nothing publicly of any kind during the entire discussion of the park agenda item.]
Ms. Ann Denison zeroed in on another park-related agenda item that sought to promote "pocket parks," small single-lot size areas, sometime with a bench or the like. Ms. Denison warned that such "pocket parks" should not be used as "mitigation" to offset the taking of genuine park land:
...I would urge the Council to work with those organizations who have already prepared an updated initiative addressing these issues. I would be in favor of referring this matter to Committee, with public hearings and a date certain for its return to Council. Meanwhile, I would call for a moratorium of construction of non park buildings on public park land."
Is it just coincidence that the concept of pocket parks is proposed at the same time that the plan to gobble up Scherer Park is being pushed by several Councilmen? Pocket parks with grass and a bench are nice to look at, but they're no substitute for losing land from larger parks...
When the matter returned to the Council, 1st district Councilmember Jenny Oropeza stated:
[W]hile we are a built out city, we just, we will next month, open the community center at a beautiful new park in our city, and it was not built on empty vacant land, and so what it was was a positive reuse, we added green space, and we replaced tenement, nasty housing with great green space and great active park...
Frankly, I am not a fan of the initiative process. I think it is important in a democracy to allow for the initiative, but that is when the people do not believe that their governing body is responding or providing leadership, and so I think if we provide the leadership there is no need to go to an initiative or ask the voters to vote on something. If we listen and we develop something that is practical and workable, I think that will be the best of all possible worlds....
8th district Councilman Rob Webb (in whose district Scherer Park is) said:
I respect what my colleague Councilman Grabinski said when he called me up this weekend and he told me this is not retroactive to a decision that has already been made for a police station on Scherer Park and that this has nothing to do with Scherer Park....
Webb then cited a list of in-park uses apparently prepared by park protection advocate Lester Denevan to make an opposite point:
I mean I grew up with a lot of these things. These were done long before me coming around, but the city library that's in El Dorado Park, and a library in Heartwell Park. the neighborhood facilities center in Houghton Park, the neighborhood facilities centers in King Park,and would we not be able to build these facilities today should this ordinance be in place? And, I don't know that these are all bad things....
9th district Councilmember Jerry Shultz explicitly reserved judgment on Grabinski's proposal until he'd heard more in committee.
3d district Councilmember Frank Colonna spoke, focusing mainly on City Hall's ability to allow or expand certain uses in parks:
My concern is truly what is the definition of a park. For example, we are working diligently now with the unified school district and their green space program to partner up with the schools and look for additional space. Does that mean that we will put the schools at a particular risk in that partnership if in the event the schools need to expand and take some additional space that is considered open space?...Will a park allow a senior citizen annex or community room that can be used by seniors?
...If we tie the hands of this Council, or any future Council, with the desire or the ability to assemble property to develop more park space because we'd limit what the use of the park is, will that will to want to assemble park space be lost?...So, I support sending it to committee...and I think we need to proceed with caution and in the end it may be inevitable that we may be dealing on a case by case basis with some of these issues...
After final comments from Mr. Grabinski, thanking his colleagues, Mayor O'Neill added:
There are so many questions that come to my mind when you talk about parks. Some people think it's a soccer field, some think it's a baseball field, some think it's a, but some people think it's just green. And so, those things really do have to be defined. My feeling of what is a park, we wouldn't have senior citizens areas on parks or think of expanding them or even refurbishing if it's just going to be green, so we need to figure out what actually we're talking about when we talk about parks.
The Council then voted unanimously to send Councilman Grabinski's proposal to its Housing and Neighborhoods Committee.