Alhambra, did you know there is a lawn bowling green in your very own Almansor Park that offers free lessons and trial memberships to all interested bodies? Did you also know that the City is considering removing lawn bowling from Alhambra as part of a larger project to accommodate a multi-level parking structure in Almansor Park? If not, I am here to tell you about it and let you know why this threatened public asset is important to the community.
First, what is lawn bowling, or “bowls” as it is formally called?
Many people liken it to bocce ball, but perhaps a more appropriate comparison is the Winter Olympic sport of curling where spherical stones are pushed down a rink of ice to a center point at the end of the rink. The concept of all three sports, bowls, bocce ball, and curling is the same. A person, or a team, must get their bowls (not balls), stones, or bocce balls closest to a center point on a rink. In curling, the center point is called the button and it is stationary at the end of the rink. But in bocce ball and bowls, the center point is a smaller ball, called a jack that is rarely in the same place and is moveable during play. The primary difference between bocce ball and bowls is that you cannot toss your bowls at the jack, you must roll them, and the bowls do not go straight down the rink, they have a bias that makes them curl inwards when they slow down. Thus, even though bowls is not a physically demanding sport, it requires a very high level of concentration and the game allows for a great deal of strategic depth. Below is a YouTube video that describes the game.
So why is lawn bowling important to Alhambra and communities at large?
First, Lawn Bowling Provides a Sport for All Ages, Abilities, and Skill Levels. One of the great benefits of lawn bowling is that it’s a sport that appeals to all demographics. People as young as ten and as old as 100 can actively participate in lawn bowling. Unlike basketball, tennis, baseball, soccer and football, lawn bowling does not require great strength, stamina and mobility. Indeed, 60% of Alhambra Bowls Club (ABC) members are senior citizens, and some have disabilities that prevent them from engaging in other sports.
Second, Lawn Bowling Promotes Healthy Living. Lawn bowling provides an activity that is healthy but not overly stressful on the body. Throughout the course of one 12-end game, participants walk over one mile. In addition, lawn bowling stretches the muscles and improves stability and balance; is mentally beneficial since it is a quiet sport that invokes deep concentration and strategic thinking; and provides a venue for social interaction, learning and fun. For these reasons, lawn bowling is endorsed by the American Heart Association as a heart healthy activity, and the California AARP has specifically endorsed the Alhambra Bowls Club.
Third, Lawn Bowling Promotes Social Cohesion and Camaraderie. According to the most recent national census, Asians account for 53% of Alhambra's citizens, and 58% of all Alhambra businesses are Asian owned and operated. So it is no coincidence that 66% of ABC's members are of Asian ethnicity. Not only are we a majority-minority club within southern California, but nearly all of our Asian members are also immigrants. Thus, ABC provides an environment of safety and refuge to many of its members who share the commonality of English as their second language.
Fourth, Lawn Bowling is a Unique Sport not Offered by Most Communities that is Good for Business. Since most cities do not offer lawn bowling to their citizens, people from all over the region come to Alhambra to lawn bowl. Some of ABC's members live as far away as Whittier and Azusa. And because of the centrality of Alhambra, tournament and league play brings people in from all over southern California. This is good for the City's bottom line, as ABC members as well as lawn bowlers from other clubs who come to ABC for league and tournament play are spending money in Alhambra to eat and shop when they are not on the lawn bowling green. Thus, lawn bowling is an incentive to come to Alhambra, and every lawn bowler is a potential customer to Alhambra's business community.
Fifth, The Alhambra Bowls Club Promotes the City of Alhambra. ABC has one of the strongest contingencies of tournament bowlers in southern California. There are tournaments nearly every weekend in SoCal and there is usually at least one ABC member at every one of them proudly wearing a club shirt and nametag. Not only do ABC members consistently participate in league play and attend most tournaments, they often win them. So good are Alhambra's lawn bowlers that two of them were recently selected to the U.S. National Team, which represents America in international play.
So Why Should You Care?
In short, Alhambra is lacking in park green space, affordable housing, and limited clientele activities. Yet the City is proposing to build a parking structure that will further diminish the City's green space while at the same time destroy public assets that benefit seniors and the disabled. Such a structure could also increase traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, illicit activities, obstruct views, and lower the housing values of the very people that this structure is supposed to benefit.
To this point, L.A. County completed a Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment Study in May 2016 that included a specific report on Alhambra. The study reported that the County average is 3.3 park acres per 1,000 persons. Policy 4.4.1 in the City of Alhambra's own General Plan states the following as one of its goals, "Promote the designation and/or acquisition of open space areas to meet existing and future open space and parks needs of City residents by providing open space in parkland in accordance with the standards of four acres of local park space for every 1,000 persons." Yet, the L.A. County Parks and Rec. Needs Assessment Study reported that Alhambra has 0.9 park acres per 1,000 city residents, and was designated by the study as a "High Park Need" city. Thus, the City is taking a step backward by removing existing park space and replacing it with a parking structure that will diminish the entire area. We should be doing the opposite.
Minutes from a May 2015 City Council Meeting reveal that three city council members were supportive of moving the tennis courts to the lawn bowling area in order to make way for a new parking structure. However, at a meeting on June 21 with Alhambra's new City Manager, Mark Yokoyama, the Alhambra Bowls Club was informed that the City was now considering options to preserve lawn bowling. These options include, but are not limited to, rebuilding the current lawn bowling greens, or building a new lawn bowling green in a different location, in addition to greater City support and promotion of the club in the future. In an email, Mr. Yokoyama clarified, "It is a very complex, dynamic and ever changing issue that is driven by many things like legal issues, budget issues and what funds to use or can be used, practical issues, city priorities, etc. Again, we do not know what any final plans will be nor can I promise anything at this point."
Alhambra should be increasing its park green space and limited clientele activities to improve City aesthetic and the lives of its residents, but instead, the City is proposing to decrease and destroy green space and park assets that benefit the public at large. Lawn bowling and parks are good for Alhambra, parking structures in residential areas are not. ABC hopes that the City will diligently work to preserve and improve the state of lawn bowling in Alhambra. Preserve Alhambra's parks, preserve the Alhambra Bowls Club, and preserve the integrity of the City of Alhambra.
If you would like to try lawn bowling, ABC offers free lessons and two-month trial memberships. Interested people can contact Sean McMorris via email at [email protected] for English, or Raymond Che at 626-284-8557 for Chinese.
City Update on ABC and the proposed parking structure: City Manager Mark Yokoyama tells the Alhambra Source via email that preserving ABC is part of an overall parks improvement plan that the city is considering over the next couple of months. He also notes that the city hasn’t yet made a decision on a proposed parking structure, and that it is also one of many options under consideration for this plan.