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    Breaking News

    Council Will Meet May 13, 2 P.M. As Charter Amendment Committee To Discuss Requiring Vote Of People To Convert Parkland to Non-Park Use

    (May 9, 2003) -- City Hall's Charter Amendment Committee -- which consists of the full City Council -- has scheduled a meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 13 to discuss "requiring a vote of the people for conversion of parkland to non-park use."

    No communications were attached to the agendized item.

    The City Council voted last year to send the issue to its Charter Amendment Committee (consisting of itself). Although the procedure may seem redundant, it is common (as a "Committee of the Whole") among legislative bodies; it lets a legislative body, in this case the Council, consider a matter before advancing it for a final vote.

    The Council sent the issue to its Charter Amendment Committee after the City Hall appointed appointed Planning Commission sided with park protection advocates...and on July 18, 2002 voted to recommend that the Council put a Charter Amendment on the ballot giving the public (instead of the Council) the power to approve any attempt by City Hall to take park land for non-park purposes.

    The Planning Commission vote was unanimous; Commissioners Sramek, Fields, Moyer, Winn and Hernandez were present; Commissioners Greenberg and Whelan were absent. Commissioner Hernandez voted for the changes, then sought reconsideration; his motion died for lack of a second. .

    A Charter Amendment protecting LB park land from non-recreation uses and commercialization has been long sought by park protection advocates -- and fueled by City Hall's rezoning of part of Scherer Park land to accommodate an expanded police station -- but has been mired over objections from others over exactly what "non-park" uses are. Some of those objecting include entities that City Hall has permitted to use, and in some cases expand on, park land for non-recreational purposes.

    In July, 2001 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell -- whose district contains the largest amount of parkland -- voted with an 8-1 Council majority at a divisive Council meeting (Grabinski dissenting) to rezone 2.5 acres of Scherer park land as "institutional" to accommodate the expanded police facility.

    Before casting her vote, Kell vowed to agendize discussion at the next Council meeting of a ballot measure to ensure this was the last time park land was taken for non-recreational purposes.

    A week later, she agendized an item asking the City Attorney to prepare a ballot measure for the next citywide election to decide if all future building on City park property will be limited to recreational use. She requested Council support "for a motion to request the City Attorney's office prepare a ballot measure for the next citywide decide if all future building on City park property only be allowed if it were deemed to be for recreational use."

    But on the night of the July 24, 2001 Council meeting, Kell's item was pulled off the agenda. Reached later that evening by, Councilwoman Kell indicated several Council members (whom she declined to name) asked her to "pull" (i.e. remove) the item from discussion. Councilwoman Kell told she expected it would return in late summer, perhaps sometime in late August. When asked if she still meant to ban future building in parks for non recreational purposes, Councilwoman Kell replied, "Absolutely."

    As the city hurtled toward the 2002 primary Council and Mayoral elections, the item didn't return although the park issue continued to simmer.

    In February, 2002, Councilwoman Kell told a televised candidate forum, "We may be looking at a Charter Amendment when it comes to parks in perpetuity, and I do believe that we will possibly be doing that parks in perpetuity Charter change in that the voters would want us, I believe, to say that we would not put any non-recreational usage in any of the parks in the city."

    Meanwhile, a separate measure favored by City Hall's appointed Recreation Commission moved forward. It also had its genesis in the Scherer Park controversy but doesn't prevent park land from being taken for non park uses. It focused on the Recreation Commissioners' jurisdiction.

    At the June 18, 2002 Council meeting, Councilwoman Kell agendized -- but at the last minute again backed away from discussing -- an item to discuss the issue of construction in city parks. At the Council meeting, Kell asked her Council colleagues to postpone discussion of her item "for probably a couple of months."

    After the Council agreed to Kell's request to postpone discussion (7-0, Baker & Grabinski absent), Kell voted with the rest of the Council (6-0, Baker, Carroll & Grabinski absent) to put the Charter Amendment proposed by City Hall's Recreation Commission on the November, 2002 ballot.

    Councilwoman Kell tried, but was unable, to discuss her proposal at the Charter Amendment Committee when it met to discuss the Recreation Commission favored measure. When Kell tried to bring up her own park Charter Amendment, it was ruled out of order.

    For part of 2001 and 2002, the issue of protecting park land was clouded by a proposed Municipal Code addition (less than a Charter Amendment) self-labelled by then-Councilman Ray Grabinski as "parks in perpetuity." The proposed Muni Code measure would have left the City Council in ultimate control of what is and isn't built or allowed on LB park land.

    In contrast, a substantive City Charter amendment, passed by a vote of the people, would govern what the City Council could and couldn't do with LB park land.

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