ENCINITAS — The City Council voted unanimously to finance the construction of the Encinitas Community Park and Moonlight Beach improvement projects through a mixture of bonds and reallocation of existing money earmarked for other capital projects.
Approximately 200 people showed up for the special City Council meeting Wednesday at the Senior and Community Center.
In anticipation of a larger than normal crowd, the decision was made to move the meeting’s location. “We thought this issue would bring in a lot of people and we wanted to accommodate all of them,” said the interim City Clerk Kathy Hollywood.
City Manager Gus Vina presented the council with one option to fund both long awaited projects. He said the staff spent eight to nine months on developing the funding strategy that took “many factors into account.”
He said the recommendation met several objectives including maintaining the city’s good fiscal standing and that it “gets the job done.” The construction cost for the park came in at $19.3 million, after recent bids were higher than expected. $7.8 million in existing funds would be coupled with $7 million in total reallocation funds, leaving $4.5 million in financing, Vina told the council.
The 44-acre site purchased by the city in 2001 has been controversial throughout the various stages of its planning. The property is partially surrounded by residential neighborhoods with the eastern edge adjacent to the freeway and its northern border along Santa Fe Drive.
Environmental contamination of the soil, increased traffic, maintenance costs and inclusion of elements that meet the needs of the entire community were some of the issues the council and public has grappled with for over a decade.
Bernard Minster, an Encinitas resident reminded the council of the toxic soil remediation dangers. “Many of the residents in the city don’t quite understand what they’re facing,” he said. In fact, 46,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil will be buried on the site. He said containment of the soil was crucial in safeguarding the city’s water table and beaches, but would come at an additional cost.
“A good question to ask is ‘Why should we finance the gap for the projects,’” he said. Because of the city’s AA+ rating and low interest rates, borrowing the money would be prudent. Vina told the council it would lose flexibility if the city uses reserves in the general fund to build the projects instead of borrowing.
“You cannot borrow for operational needs so if there is a downturn in the economy and you need to pay for the city’s operational expenses…but you can use moves set aside in the reserves if you need to for those purposes.”
The projects that would lose funding through reallocation to the park construction and beach improvements would not be eliminated altogether. “These projects don’t go away,” Vina said, referring to a few of the capital improvement projects.
Instead, the council would look at alternate ways to fund them or allow the budgets to grow slowly over time with annual funding.
Parks and Recreation director Lisa Rudloff told the council “there is nothing more important that you can give to the community than these two projects.”
The park will include 418 parking spaces distributed among 5 lots within the park area, one dedicated soccer field, three multi-use fields, a two-acre dog park, playground with play structures separated by age, a 13,000-square-foot skate park and landscape buffer.
USS Cal Builders was awarded the contract and can begin construction within 45 days. The park project is expected to take 15 months to complete.
The Moonlight state beach improvements come at a cost of $4.8 million. $1.9 million in state funding will bring the cost to the city down to $2.9 million. Vina said the total costs could be financed.
“I’m not a big one for borrowing money but there’s never been a better time than now folks,” Councilman Jim Bond said. He suggested that the city borrow to fully fund the capital improvement projects that were reallocated or cut by the staff’s funding strategy. “If anything let’s borrow more,” Bond said.
The 17 public speakers were split in their support for the funding strategy. Vicki Armstrong, a Cardiff resident wanted the park built immediately, as a dog owner she encouraged the completion of the dog park.
The Patrons for Encinitas Parks (PEP) pledged their support. “You can count on PEP as your bridge to the private sector to help you fund some of those maintenance costs,” Joey Randall, president of the nonprofit told the council.
PADZ (People and Dog Zones) a nonprofit also pledged to fundraise to support the maintenance of the dog park.
Rick Lochner of the Encinitas Express Soccer club said the park is a long time coming and he supported creating additional field space. The club currently pays approximately $60,000 annually in field fees and would not be opposed to paying fees to use the soccer field at the new park.
The largest applause came late in the five-hour meeting for Thomas Barker who represented the skateboarding community. He called the city “skateboard heaven.” “We need a little more breathing room,” he said referring to the limited local venues and lack of free public skate parks in the city. “The design of this park is truly amazing,” he said. “I can’t wait to skate it,”
Sammy Lee and Keene Brubaker, local skaters agreed that the park should be built with the skate element intact. “Kids need somewhere to go,” Lee said. “Every other city around us has a free public skate park,” he said. “This will help foster the next generation of skaters.”
“It’s time to stop slinging mud and start digging dirt for the benefit of the residents of Encinitas,” Mayor Jerome Stocks said after four hours of public comment and council discussion.
He motioned that the city issue $8 million in lease revenue bonds, bringing the total to more than $600,000 more than the staff proposal. “If there is extra money left over then we as a council can think about considering reallocating funds to the underfunded projects,” he said.