Cypress residents living near John F. Kennedy High School will soon see their local park undergo $33.5 million in major overhauls.
The rising price tag is drawing concerns from some city council members that the cost is too high and could impact community services.
City council members on the other side argue waiting longer just means the project cost will keep spiking due to inflation.
Arnold Cypress Park – originally built in the 1940s – will soon see four new softball fields, along with brand new pickleball courts, picnic areas and other amenities like basketball and volleyball courts.
But some elected officials publicly raised concerns this week over the project’s $33.5 million price tag and floated the idea of simply doing needed renovations in an effort to lower the cost – which city staff said increased due to inflation.
Councilman David Burke said when he was first elected last year, the project was $21 million.
“Six months ago it was $27.5 million and last week it was $33.5 million. That is a staggering increase in a relatively short period of time especially when we’re talking about our residents’ tax dollars at stake,” Burke said during the Monday meeting.
“People will talk about inflation, inflation is about 7% a year. The cost of this project increased about 70% in the past year,” he said.
Burke, along with Councilwoman Francis Marquez, proposed renovating what’s currently at the park instead of completely tearing everything down – trees included – and rebuilding it.
“We’re not talking about just improving softball fields and restrooms and pickle ball courts,” Burke said. “We all know it’s far less than the $33.5 million price tag.”
Marquez suggested reexamining the details of the project.
“We need to go back and look at the scope of the work,” she said.
Other council members see things differently.
Mayor Anne Mallari said the age of the park forces officials to completely overhaul it.
“If I had a 70-year old roof on my house, I wouldn’t just put new roofing parts on it. This is a 70-year old park, we have to tear it down and start over,” Mallari said.
She said the city’s in a solid financial position to take on the project and officials needed to act fast.
“If the price went up 300% since 2018, can you imagine if we delay it another six years? The cost is not going to go down – it’s going to go up,” Mallari said.
The city council voted 3-2 to move forward with the project at Monday’s meeting.
Marquez and Burke were the dissenting votes after failing to get a standalone, special meeting on the issue for more input from residents and consider other approaches.
Councilman Scott Minikus said completely overhauling the park will better the quality of life for all surrounding residents.
“In today’s world, where many children just sit at home playing video games and are hypnotized by social media, parks are essential for a healthy and happy – not just a child – but the community as well,” Minikus said before the vote.
Cypress isn’t the only Orange County city wrestling with increasing construction costs for community projects.
Mission Viejo’s redevelopment project near its City Hall has increased to an estimated $68 million – up $20 million from 2021 estimates.
City staff at Cypress cited the Mission Viejo project as an example of ballooning construction costs.
Burke raised concerns over the price tag’s potential impact to community services at other parks and recreation centers across the city because of the heavy spending for one park.
The Arnold Cypress Park project is going to be funded by a 20-year loan from the city to the Recreation and Parks District, which runs all the city’s parks and community centers.
City staff said the interest on the loan is roughly $7 million.
Burke said the loan could hamper the district, which brings in about $8 million a year. He failed to get enough council support for the city to take on some of the $33.5 and lessen the overall debt burden to the Recreation and Parks District.
“A district that only receives $8 million a year should not take out a $40 million loan by itself,” he said. “The city is in a much stronger position financially to absorb the cost of this project than the Recreation and Parks District is.”
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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