Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Skate Park Goes Back To School

OUSD superintendent, board concerned about permanent park at present location

By Sondra Murphy
While Skate Ojai won over the city, the Ojai Unified School District looks like a tougher sell.
With the Ojai City Council voting last week in favor of pursuing the construction of a permanent, in-ground skate park at its current location at the downtown Park & Ride, questions grind on about the intentions of OUSD regarding the project.
The School District and the city renewed the lease five years ago that extends through 2023, but recent efforts initiated by OUSD to develop the district property site may impact the future of the skate park location, since it is on district property.
As reported in last Friday’s OVN, Skate Ojai has raised $361,000 for the construction of the skate park, exceeding the estimated cost of construction by $11,000. “City Council made a motion affirming their preference for a 10,000-square-foot concrete in-ground skate park to be built at the Park & Ride location,” OVN reported on the outcome of the crowded special city meeting scheduled on the same night as a regular OUSD board meeting.
“The recent action taken by the Ojai City Council to place a permanent skate park in the same location at the temporary skate park severely hampers our ability to move forward on developing our district office property,” said OUSD superintendent Tim Baird yesterday.
“Our consultants and potential developers have told us that placing a permanent skate park, especially in its prominent frontage location, lessens the property worth considerably. “
 Baird is not alone in his thinking. Both incumbent board members running unopposed for re-election this November have expressed disfavor for the current skate park site. “I have never believed that the skate park should be in that location,” said OUSD Board Vice President Linda Taylor in an Aug. 13 OVN report. “I do not think that an attractive distraction such as the skate park should be on any school grounds.”
“I think it would be great for the community to have a permanent skate park that is safe and supervised,” said OUSD Board President Steve Fields in the same report. “I have significant questions about the rationale for locating this facility on leased land that is not connected with other recreational facilities.”
If these comments are any indication, a permanent skate park location may get detoured during negotiations. Baird and others have brought up the possibility of building it at Sarzotti Park near other recreational facilities.
“OUSD has received no proposals or notifications from city staff of any actions related to the skate park development at this time,” said Baird.“When the city does discuss with us what their plans might be, the district will evaluate at that time what our future actions might be.This is a complicated issue and we will need to take some time to evaluate future options before moving forward.”
“(Ojai city manager) Jere Kersnar and I are going to be meeting later on this week with the superintendent just to give him an update of the project,” said city director of recreation Dale Sumersille on Monday. “I’m also hoping to meet soon with Site Design Group, Inc., the design firm chosen for the project.” Sumersille said that the city will continue to work with Skate Ojai and proceed with the skate park construction.
“We do need to go to the school board for them to approve the plans of the expanded facility,” said Sumersille. “That will happen, maybe, by mid-October.”
The budget concerns of the OUSD board are well founded as funds continue to dwindle each year. This crisis is forcing the district to consider development of a valuable real estate asset. No one should have to sublet the farm to remain a farmer, but few in this community seem concerned that the district is facing a similar choice when it comes to providing quality public education.
“We paid $17,892 last year for 71 parking spaces. This includes the skate park area and that amount will be going up next year,” said city finance director Susie Mears, adding, “This is a very complicated issue for the community.” In light of the district slashing its budget by about $1 million this year, the city lease payments contribute very little to OUSD solvency efforts if the education budget nightmare continues. Add to that the fact that California is still without a state budget, and the pressure intensifies for the School District to generate sustainable income.
Former OUSD board member, Ojai Police Chief and Sheriff’s Department Commander Vince France was surprised to hear about the state of the skate park and possible district office site development. “I was on the school board when the skate park concept was approved and, to tell you the truth, I was opposed to it,” said France. “But, after a few years, I was proved wrong because of the supervision. With supervision, it worked out very well.” He added that there were few problems or cases of criminal activity around the skate park because of that supervision.
“The issue of putting a skate park in Ojai has been ongoing for many years,” Baird said in a July 23 OVN guest editorial. “I was not a resident of Ojai when the subject first came up over a decade ago. I do know that no one wanted the skate park near their house or business, so the skate park concept was in danger for lack of a home. At that time, the district stepped in and offered to allow a temporary skate park to be placed on district property to give the issue time to be resolved. The skate park was supervised and the school board was happy to keep the issue on the table because our children need recreational venues. Since that time, the supervision at the skate park has been withdrawn due to budget constraints and discussions about other possible sites seem to have stalled.”
Sumersille remains open to any location for the skate park as negotiations continue between the city and OUSD. “The police do come past the recreation department, so I see that working over here, as well.” As part of the process of getting the skate park built, Sumersille and the city will be holding community workshops so that stakeholders may give input on the design and logistics of monitoring its use. “It’s been great, the positive feedback we’ve received. The community’s been wonderful to work with. I really appreciate the efforts of Skate Ojai,” said Sumersille.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

At which public meeting did the OUSD Board decide to have this change of heart? At which public meeting did they decide to announce this change of heart? Elected officials cannot have unannounced closed-door meetings on issues like this. Elected officials cannot decide to change policy without making their deliberations public and listening to public input on the issue. Only two elected officials (on the same board) can meet privately with each other, and they cannot relate the substance of their meeting to another elected official on their board, nor can they relate the substance of their meeting to a non-elected official who then relates the information to other elected officials.

If the OUSD Board wants to admit to having had a private change of heart on the issue of honoring the lease they signed, they're also going to have to admit to having committed a very serious Brown Act violation. They are not allowed to do any end-runs around the people who elected them, and it sounds as if perhaps that is exactly what they've done. Maybe I misunderstand, though. Would anyone from the OUSD care to clarify?

Anonymous said...

I think that the OUSD Board aren't putting into consideration how long these kids have been waiting for this to happen. The skate park they have now is pitiful!I know almost all the kids that go to the skate park on a daily basis and they are good kids. I also know that they have been wishing for a new skate park for years....i do not think that crushing their spirits will do any good!I know that alot of the public donated their money for the kids to have their new skate park and I also believe the public should know what is going on and have a say in what will happen.....besides it is their children that are using and wanting this skate park.

valley watcher said...

"I do not think that an attractive distraction such as the skate park should be on any school grounds.”
Well you might be right as the school grounds is a slum of the valley. I say the whole school need to be raised. And then the skate park should be put in. It seems the school board who most of time are busy figuring out how to dumb down our kids than cry as they need more money to do it. Are now crying that the skate park will devalue the property. It seems they are more woried about money than allow a place for the kids to go that can be seen in and watched by the police to keep it safe for all using it, is not important to them.

Pat McPherson said...

It is a sad state of affairs that after a very good special City Council meeting on Aug 19 ending with the Mayor reminding everyone that we are a community, and that we should not alienate the OUSD, we get such statements from the Superintendant of schools. As the Aug 26 at 6:10 PM Anonymous said, “At which public meeting did the OUSD Board decide to have this change of heart?”

Anonymous said...

It is sad to see that the school board - of all the organizations that should have our kids' best interest at heart - is more interested in money and development than something that would actually and truly benefit the youth of Ojai. It is a heartbreaking statement to our children that the school board is the one standing in the way of their dream.

John said...

Build it there then in 2023 you will have wasted your money because the OUSD will be able to tear it down without any input. IT IS THERE LAND and it was donated for a TEMPORARY skate park not a permanent inground skate park. Putting it there is the dumbest idea around.

Anonymous said...

No, actually it's not their land at all: the taxpayers own that land. The OUSD may be the body that manages that land, but they were elected by the same public that pays for the upkeep of that property.

Anonymous said...

OUSD did not donate the land. The City has a lease and it pays rent to the OUSD for the Park 'n Ride and skate park land uses. Also OUSD signed an extension of the lease for the intended purpose of a permanent skate park.

John said...

Ok donate might have been the wrong word but the facts are the same. Ousd owns the land and can do what they want to with in in 2023 and what happens then to the $300,000 being spent on the skate park.

Anonymous said...

"Ousd owns the land and can do what they want"

You still don't get it, do you?

OK. One more time, then. The OUSD does not own that land any more than the Ojai City Council owns Libbey Park. The board members, regardless of who's on that board at any given moment, are simply the current trustees of a particular piece of public property. The public owns that land. In fact, the public not only owns the parking lot with the Skate Park in it, it owns the entire OUSD property. It's all public land, and it's currently zone for public use. Get it? You own that land. I own that land. Anyone who can vote for or against a school board member in November owns that land. (The State of California has a say, too, in this case.) Believe what you want, but this is how it is.

Anonymous said...

There is a thumbs down in the current issue of the OVN that says Thumbs Down to the City for approving the Skate Park. And then says there is a budget cut for the schools, but not the skate park. Two different budgets!

Anonymous said...

What the majority of people in Ojai actually know about civics wouldn't fill a small sticky note, but their misinformation and disinformation makes for good rumors and sound bites, and that's all some of them care about.