COUNCIL OKAYS BOYS AND GIRLS REQUEST ON 3-2 VOTE
The City Council decided Tuesday night to ask the East Bay Regional Park District to allow the city to spend $2 million of its regional park bond money to help build the club, even as park district management expressed doubts that the request would be approved.
Rick Sherratt, who sits on the club’s board of directors, said they’ll start construction on the new facility this month.
“As of tonight, we do plan on moving forward and starting the project,” Sherratt said after an emotional hearing that saw more than two dozen residents make their pitch both for the club and for city-owned parks and open space projects.
Mayor Beverly Johnson, who cast the pivotal vote, said she had gone back and forth about whether to vote to amend the city’s Measure WW funding project list to add the club. But she said she thought the new club could serve all of Alameda.
“If we could run programs like the Boys and Girls Club runs, I think we would. But we can’t,” Johnson, who sits on the club’s advisory board, said. (Gilmore’s husband, Rodney, is also on the advisory board.) “Together we can serve all the kids of our community.”
Johnson and Councilwoman Marie Gilmore, who voted with Councilwoman Lena Tam to okay the request, said the park district should bear the burden of deciding whether the project is eligible for the money.
Councilman Frank Matarrese and Vice Mayor Doug deHaan voted against the request, saying that while they find the project worthy, they didn’t feel it reflected the will of the voters or that it would ultimately pass muster with the park district.
“It’s not about the worthiness of the Boys Club. It’s about the funding, and is the funding really available,” deHaan said before casting his no vote.
Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant had recommended the council include the Boys & Girls Club’s request on its project list contingent on receipt of a letter from the parks district’s bond counsel saying the money could be used for the project.
But a district manager said the letter wouldn’t be coming until after the request is submitted. And he said that while partnerships like the budding one between the club and the city are worthy and could be the way of the future, the district’s attorneys could shy away from giving a green light to the request.
Dave Collins, the park district’s assistant general manager for finance, said the funding request could pose two issues. Since the club, and not the city, would own the facility, it could be considered a private use. If the district allows more than five percent of the bond money to be used for such private uses, it could lose the tax-exempt status it enjoys on the bonds.
The Oakland Zoo – which is on land owned by the City of Oakland but is run by a non-profit – is specifically named in the language of Measure WW, Collins said. But he said it’s not yet clear whether it falls under the five percent cap or if it would be separate, he said.
“There is serious doubt that this project will be (eligible),” Collins said. “I would urge any party involved not to make binding financial commitments or assumptions based on this matter.”
Collins said the district’s attorneys would look at the application if it is submitted after the end of the application deadline, which is March 30, 2010. He said the district could have a determination on whether the club’s facility would be eligible for the money within 60 days of the deadline.
Collins said that either way, the city will still get its $3.4 million local project allotment of WW funds. Meanwhile, Sherratt said the club will continue to raise money in the event the request is not approved.
“We’re still out fundraising. We’re not just sitting on our thumbs,” Sherratt said.
The city would request $2 million to help build the $8 million facility, and the club would be required to pay $1 million back over the next five years. If the request is approved, the club would have to front the money and would be reimbursed by the park district.
A draft use agreement between the club and the city has been written and will be submitted with the club’s funding request, Sherratt said.
A who’s who of local residents, including much of the club’s leadership, implored the council to approve the request, saying it will provide desperately needed services for at-risk youths and many other residents that the city can’t provide on its own.
“These children need you to vote on this,” said Nick Cabral, who attended the club’s programs in his youth.
Others had argued that the city needs the money to meet its own park needs.
“This is a wildly inappropriate use of our recreation funds,” former Councilwoman Barbara Kerr said.