Anaheim City Manager Marcie Edwards at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting said that last week she pulled from the budget a controversial $6.4-million tennis center and historic house renovation, saving it instead for an upcoming council workshop.
The disclosure that improvements to the Anaheim Tennis Center and Wagner House were removed from budget after outrage from some Latinos and from Mayor Tom Tait, who argued that the funds for the project would be better spent on improving parks or purchasing more open space in the park-poor central core of the city.
Although the line item was pulled from the budget, a majority of council members expressed support for the project, which includes construction of a tournament level center court with permanent seating, a special events area, restrooms and lockers, among other amenities, according to Community Services Director Terry Lowe.
Lowe said at one point during questioning by Tait that the city didn’t actually plan on spending the tennis center renovation money on construction this year. He said the $6.4 million has been in the budget on a year-to-year basis only because of the city’s obligation to set aside revenue from development impact fees for park projects within five years, Lowe said.
A review of last fiscal year’s budget showed only $500,000 budgeted for the tennis center. The previous fiscal year, 2011-12, showed no budgeted allocation for the tennis center.
Lowe’s comments contrast with remarks made last week by the tennis center’s operator, Mike Nelson, who said in an interview that the project likely had made it back into the budget after several years of delays because city staff favored the renovation. He said he recently submitted a project analysis to the city.
“There’s a lot of officials that I think want to see this project done,” Nelson had said.
Under a contract with the tennis center operator approved by a previous City Council in 2007, the city is obliged to fund $3.5 million in improvements to the Wagner House, which is used for banquets and other events, Lowe said. But the contract doesn’t stipulate a deadline, according to Lowe.
Notwithstanding questions over whether the city actually plans to spend the money, council members who supported the project pointed out that the project funds, which come from impact fees levied on Platinum Triangle developments 1.5 miles south of the tennis center, may be spent only in the Platinum Triangle “sphere of influence,” which includes Boysen Park, its tennis center and two other parks.
“I asked 15 ways to Sunday if we could put that money in other places,” said Councilwoman Kris Murray.
And Murray also pointed out that the money invested in the tennis center would generate more revenue for the city. That revenue, which city officials say is currently close to $80,000, would go into the general fund.
Tait said he opposed the tennis center renovation because, while the money is restricted, it can be used to buy desperately needed parkland. He said the developer fees are designed to offset additional population impacts to nearby parks, and that spending the money on a tennis center and banquet event house doesn’t mitigate those impacts.
“Wouldn’t we want to hold this money and wait until we have enough money to buy land for a brand new park?” Tait said.
Murray argued that children in Anaheim rely on affordable access to the tennis center and asked for a demographic breakdown of the tennis center patrons. And she suggested that viewing the budget as a set of priorities is false. The city provides services for all, she said.
“It’s not tennis or restrooms. It’s not swing sets or golf courses. We’re looking to provide all of it,” Murray said.
Those comments were directed at Latinos who complained that city leaders have for years prioritized city services for wealthier neighborhoods over working-class and Latino areas. A Monday Voice of OC article on the tennis center issue aired complaints from Latinos that Little People’s Park in the city’s heavily Latino urban core needs, among other things, restrooms for children.
Some Latino activists say that spending plans like the tennis center renovation is the result of their lack of representation on the all-white, five-member council.
The council voted 3-2 vote last week to reject a ballot measure that could have changed the city’s at large election system to district elections, which Latinos believe will yield not only Latino representatives but also council members who will cater to their underserved neighborhoods.
City leaders have said next fiscal year’s budget, which the council adopted Tuesday night, has an emphasis on reinvestment in public safety and neighborhoods. Among other things, the Police Department is slated to hire 13 additional police officers at a cost of $2.9 million, including four additional officers to the city’s community policing team.
There will also be spending on parks and community centers in Latino neighborhoods. Among other expenditures, a half-acre park at Guinida Lane is projected to cost $375,935, and $470,000 is allocated for the Miraloma Park and Family Resource Center.
Libraries and gyms are expected to restore hours that had been reduced. The Fire Department will be replacing a fire truck. Murray asked for an additional $300,000 for paramedic training.
But before it was pulled, the tennis center renovation was $1.1 million more expensive than all other parks projects combined in next fiscal year’s budget. Meanwhile, budget documents show that spending for a community center and gymnasium at Ponderosa Park, expected to cost $6.1 million, won’t begin until the 2015-16 fiscal year.
City officials insisted, however, that the budget does not prioritize the tennis center over the Ponderosa project, despite how the budget portrays the projects. “What this is, it’s really a timing issue, as to why we were farther ahead on one project than the other,” Lowe said.
Murray asked that spending for construction of the community center be expedited during next fiscal year. The city was already planning to spend $700,000 next year on planning documents for the Ponderosa project, according to city spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz.
Tait said that Murray was wrong about providing services for all.
“Council member Murray, you mentioned we’d do it all, and we can’t,” Tait said. “We’re up here to make choices.”