Controversy brewed: Bond funds and Alameda’s Boys & Girls Club
Perhaps – or perhaps not, given the busy pace of most of our lives – you’ve heard about the proposal before the City Council to green light $2 million of East Bay Regional Park District funds (dollars raised from WW, a bond sale, that voters approved last November) to help build a new Boys & Girls Club facility on Alameda’s West End.
The proposal has pitted park and youth advocates against park and youth advocates, and there’s been name-calling, accusations of arrogance and generally a feeling of this not that! And, frankly, with things in California falling down on our ears, it’s no wonder that there’s a squabble over a few dollars. Local park infrastructure has an air of neglect, and the suggestion that these funds go to a private organization, noble though it is, has many rankled.
As best as I can discern, there is no villain here, just hard-working volunteers and staffers advocating for the programs and projects that matter to them. And unless we want to point fingers at a tax system that leaves public institutions chronically undercapitalized, there is no one to blame. (By which, I suppose I mean, there’s no one to blame but ourselves, the citizens of this legislatively-constipated, proposition-hamstrung, once-great state.)
“It’s tough when there are so many worthy projects and there isn’t a whole lot of money to go around,” said Dale Lillard, director of Alameda’s Recreation and Park Department. “There are ardent and dedicated people in the Boys Club and ardent and dedicated people on the parks.”
“I’m glad I don’t have to make the final decision,” Lillard confessed.
I don’t blame him, considering that members of the Recreation and Park Commission, some of who have been active supporters of the Boys & Girls Club, signed a letter opposing the use of WW funds for the Club facility. Others, like green space advocate Jean Sweeney, say WW money should not be used to support a nonprofit’s project, and should go instead to support local green spaces like new estuary or Belt Line parks.
But the other uses actually proposed for the WW actually have very little to do with greenery. Projects on the list submitted by the Recreation and Park Commission include resurfacing the tennis courts at Washington Park, building a new recreation center at Krusi, and updating a gym at the Point – nuts and bolts park maintenance and facility updates, not tree and trail work. (Oakland, by way of comparison, will use $4 million of its WW dollars to help fund a veterinary center at the Oakland Zoo, a private nonprofit. San Leandro is considering using more than $2 million in WW money to build a pool at the city swim center.)
No one opposes the aims of the Boys & Girls Club. And in fact, many have spoken eloquently about the importance of engaging youth during after-school hours – in particular those young people who cannot afford basketball league dues or martial arts training or piano lessons or any of the host of other enrichment activities to which children of families of means have access. The Boys & Girls Club is slated to include a gym, a stage, a teen center, a computer lab, a game room, a high-tech media center, as well as offices for on-site medical, dental and counseling services.
Some who support the use of WW funds for the Club see it as a way to redress past inequities. And indeed, the history of how East Bay parks funds have been spent in Alameda ought to raise eyebrows. Sixty-five percent of the AA funds – the bond that preceded WW – were used on Bay Farm projects; only 7.2 percent of AA monies were spent west of Park Street.
Councilwoman Lena Tam says that providing funding for the Boys & Girls Club is a way to make the most of limited public resources. “For every dollar the city puts in, we get four dollars. We leverage the funding,” she said. “We can’t do that with any other opportunity.” The current proposal, modified since it was first presented, calls for the Boys & Girls Club to pay back $1 million of the $2 million over five years.
My best guess is that for many reasons – a leveraging of resources, investing in the West End – the city council will support this proposal. And my hope would be that when we’re all finished shouting “yes” and “no,” concerned citizens will spend their time monitoring the details of the agreement made between the city and the Boys & Girls Club.
Objections raised by opponents like Sweeney deserve consideration. “In reality is this a facility that will serve all people?” Sweeney asked. Exactly right. Will the Club’s facilities be readily available to community groups? Who will fund staff and maintenance?
With resources and community facilities in short supply, the Boys & Girls Club – with or without an infusion of WW dollars – should be maximized for the benefit of the entire community.