Home » Eve Pearlman

Controversy brewed: Bond funds and Alameda’s Boys & Girls Club

Submitted by on 1, October 16, 2009 – 6:00 am10 Comments
23

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.

10 Comments »

  • Alana Dil says:

    I agree there are no villains in this debate! I can only speak from purely selfish reasons – we need more after-school care in the Krusi Park neighborhood, and we need a center at Krusi (the current cinderblock shed is miserable). Next year I hear that Otis will lose Island Kids for afterschool care. RAP over at Lincoln Park is already over capacity. Otis has added several classrooms, and there will be nothing in place to serve this area's kids on limited incomes (yes, there are poor kids on the east end too). I think the Boys and Girls club should continue to work for private funding, and that the 3.5 million should be put toward ARPD facilities. I also think that we are an independent city from San Leandro and Oakland, and need not follow their model. Although if I look at Silliman Water Park, which seems to be bringing in a ton of cash, it would be great to have ARPD offer an actual money-making facility.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    The thing that rubs folks the wrong way is that B&G Club has taken cuts to the front of the line. Lots of these other projects have been waiting for far too long. Bathrooms at all our parks are a disgrace and cannot handle the numbers of people who use our parks all week long. Facilities are literally falling apart.

    I've got nothing against B&G Club; a good outfit. But our parks have been waiting, while due maintenance and planned projects have been held back. Now, when money finally comes in to address the maintenance and projects that have been waiting, Fairy Godmother Lena steps in and says sure, we can give away half of that WW money to B&G!

    It doesn't seem right to me, and apparently also not to large numbers of others. B&G Club should get to the back of the line, and wait their turn.

  • Eve Pearlman says:

    Hi, Rahn.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and informative comment. I just called and talked to the zoo director, and Joel Parrott confirmed what you wrote: that the zoo facilities and land are owned by the city–though run by the private, nonprofit zoological society. Interestingly, Mr. Parrott says that one of the reason the zoo is specifically included in bond measures (both AA and WW) is that so many people support the use of funds for the zoo, and having the zoo on the bond measure attracts yes votes. I also appreciate your knowledge about when various parks on the island were updated. –Eve

  • Eve Pearlman says:

    Hi, Jayne,

    You are right that the way this came out about – the proposal to give $2 million (and then only $1 million, with the other million being repaid) – made a lot of people angry. There was a process and, best as I could learn, the Boys & Girls Club sidestepped the conventional channels with their request. And there are certainly lessons to be learned there about respecting the procedures and institutions and individuals of the community. But what I kept thinking about as I researched this issue is what an asset this new facility could be to all of Alameda, how well-conceptualized it is, and how maybe it is worth the city investing in. But as I also hope I made clear in my piece, the devil really is in the details – and how much the facility really will be available for use by all Alamedans.

    Eve

  • David Howard says:

    As a comparison, Eve Pearlman might want to research, and formulate a report on just how much the Alameda Theater has been used by the public, as promised in the development agreements.

    By all accounts that I've heard, in return for taxpayer funding the Alameda Theater was to be made available for public use on request, subsequent to meeting certain criterion – non-profit status, etc.

    Ms. Pearlman might want to research just how many requests have been made to use the theater under those terms, and how many times permission has been granted and how many times it has been used. I'm told the figure is a big fat "zero."

  • Jill Staten says:

    I feel very strongly that the city cannot afford to give away any money to anyone at this time. If we had money to burn, we could afford to subsidize the B&G Club. But we don't. We need every penny of the WW funds to pay for deferred maintenance for our existing parks – and if there's any left over, making the Beltway property into usable greenspace should be the priority. Simply put, we cannot afford to make donations right now.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    “For every dollar the city puts in, we get four dollars. We leverage the funding,” Lena Tam said. “We can’t do that with any other opportunity"

    So what good is leveraging the money if the benefit provided serves only a limited few? It misses the entire point. Does the benefit come down to $10,000 per child served versus the $1 per person served at the parks? The parks serve a known 35,000 persons (probably 10 or 100 times that when you add in the Run For the Parks, and all the events that Parks and Rec. put on for the entire East Bay). How many children will the new clubhouse serve? I don't pretend to know the figures.

    What lesson does this teach the children? Follow the rules that a society has set for those who chose to live within it. Get in line, wait your turn. Work hard, campaign for funds. Vote. Do your EIR work ahead of time. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

    No, it teaches: It is who you know, and how you can jump to the head of the line, pull the strings, bend the rules and get special treatment by exerting public pressure. It stinks. It is devisive and ill thought out. It is cheating those who have worked hard for what they thought they had earned. Anyone who supports it deserves the negative karma this will generate for them and all their future endeavors, and everyone it teaches that this is the way civiliized people conduct themselves.

  • Rahn Twitchell says:

    Thanks for your well thought out blog Eve…and here’s a few things to add. As far as the Oakland Zoo, the Zoo and Knowland park is owned by the City of Oakland (hence the allocation of funds). Knowland Park was given to the City from the State. The East Bay Zoological Society is the Non-Profit that act as the Stewards of the Zoo. If they up and walked out on the Zoo…the City would be running a Zoo – it’s theirs). The issue we have in front of Alameda is not the same…the city doesn’t own the B&G Club facility and the AUSD leases the land to the non-profit for virtually nothing. What is the city gaining….at least if they had ownership there would be accountability. Instead our city will spend time and money to manage a contract that gives the residents of Alameda little to none public use.

    With respect to the Measure AA funds going to projects on the East End of town, let’s keep the facts straight. Since Measure AA was voted in, the City re-did Franklin park (opened in 1989), McKinley, Longfellow and let’s not be so quick to forget – they just cut the Ribbon on Washington Park a few years ago at the Earth Day celebration. Halfway between Measure AA & WW they inherited facilities from the former naval base which they have significantly improved and even re-did the multipurpose field that many private organizations use. They did this on an evershrinking budget with general fund money that comes from grants, measures, bonds and tax-payer dollars. So while much of Measure AA funds went to the east end projects…these projects would not have been done as all the general fund money was being spent West of Park Street. The ARPD implemented a balanced approach to spending all the funds they were able to receive.

    The Measure WW funds were voted in by taxpayers and over 35,000 people use our Parks annually..this number is just those that the city knows about by having people registered at the parks or in programs. The city offers safe & well maintained facilities at affordable rates..why would our city council suggest that any money go away from a system that works to keep our property values stable – the staple of our community. With out healthy property values city services all suffer and then business owners suffer, and most importantly the HEALTH of our community suffers. Recreation should be driving the health of our community not dividing us. Let the system that works improve with these funds. The community deserves it.

    This should be a non-issue, for anyone who reads the measure (http://www.ebparks.org/ww) would realize this is not the intended use for the funds. Let’s support the private non-profits by attending their fundraisers and donating our personal money, not by giving tax-payer public funds for a project that the city will have no ownership stake in. Why would we even consider it? Special interest – NOT ON MY TAX DOLLAR.

  • jon Spangler says:

    This is probably the best single piece on the EPRD funding/B & G Club issue yet. Thanks, Eve!

    If the B & G Club were to receive and repay all of the $2 million (not just half) from a community redevelopment bank fund, even over a loner term like 5 years, I would be very happy with it. But we do not have such a local loan fund set up to support local needs like this.

    As has been said, this is NOT about whether or not the B & G is a worthy outfit, or whether their new facility should be built. It is a matter of the appropriate use of public bond funding that was not approved with this private/nonprofit use in mind. Not a comfortable choice….

  • David Howard says:

    This "loan" sleight of hand is the "rock soup" approach. (Click my name.) A couple of years after the hoopla dies down, the B&G club will back before city council, cap in hand, asking for the loan to be forgiven for some reason or another.

    Not to mention I don't see how we can afford the added cost to administer not only the loan, but policy and enforcement to make sure that the broader community of Alameda gets their fair share use of the facility their taxes helped fund.

    The local B&G club should tap the $700 million annually (figure from their website…) that their organization raises nationwide. Not local tax dollars.

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