LocationAlhambra , CA United States
The City Council voted unanimously to end lawn bowling in Alhambra, rejecting a last round of bids to renovate the lawn bowling court at Almansor Park.
City Council members cited ongoing maintenance costs and the fact that majority of Alhambra Bowls Club members lived outside of the city as the main reasons for rejecting the bid. Instead, they voted to invite bids for a dog park in a 3-2 decision, with Councilmembers Stephen Sham and Luis Ayala voting against this proposal.
The Alhambra Bowls Club offered to foot $26,000 to make up the difference between the budget and the lowest bid. They also promised to maintain the green, as they had done in the past. Lawn bowling representative Sean McMorris accused the City of pitting the lawn bowlers against dog park supporters.
“We, like dog owners, and basketball, tennis, soccer and baseball players are good people who come from various communities,” he said. “That is why it is so troubling that the City would pit us against these other people in order to sweep under the rug the City’s negligence and underhandedness toward the lawn bowlers throughout this whole process.”
Monday night’s decision marked the end of more than a year of tense back-and-forth between the Alhambra Bowls Club and the City of Alhambra. The lawn bowlers were instrumental in opposing City plans to build an $8 million parking structure there, using federal Housing and Urban Development funds. After that project was scrapped, staff solicited two rounds of bids that came in higher than expected.
The City planned to resurface the lawn bowling court with funds set aside for the parking structure, until it became ineligible for federal funding. City staff said that this ineligibility was because only six out of 34 lawn bowlers lived in Alhambra, making the sport a regional activity, which they said violated HUD rules. They then budgeted $200,000 out of its general fund for the project.
Yet bids for the project came in at a higher cost than expected. The lowest bid was for $226,400 in this latest round, with an ongoing maintenance cost of $52,780 a year, according to an estimate done by the company who maintains Alhambra’s golf course.
Adding fuel to the fire was the reveal of emails between city staff debating whether to publicize a contest over what to do with the lawn bowling court. They decided against announcing it for fear of upsetting McMorris and the other lawn bowlers.
McMorris took particular issue with an email from Assistant City Manager Tara Schultz at the City Council meeting. In it, she said of publicizing the contest, “I also think the contest sets us up for the Sean McMorris memorial Lawn Bowling Green.”
“Does the City know something about my health and wellbeing that I don’t?” McMorris asked.
City Manager Mark Yokoyama was absent from the meeting, but a statement of his was read by Assistant Manager Jessica Binnquist. “Even though email correspondence has become very informal in the workplace, it is nonetheless important to communicate with each other and others in a manner that will not create a distraction from the merits of the issue being discussed,” she read. “To avoid such issues in the future, the City will work to maintain a professional demeanor in all email correspondence.”
In tonight’s City Council agenda, staff recommended that the latest bids be rejected and that a dog park be built where the lawn bowling court is. Various residents had asked for a dog park since 2007, as did the City Council five times out of the six years, said Chris Paulson, Director of Community Services.
Paulson estimated the cost of a dog park at $400,000, but that this project would be eligible for HUD funds, since mainly Alhambra residents would benefit from it.
Some people criticized the City Council for considering this project without input from their constituents. “Again, you come up with these projects of yours and you just put them out there, and just expect everyone to think they’re wonderful,” said Lola Armendariz, a resident of Alhambra.
City Council members accounted for the speed by saying they were under a time crunch. Councilmember Barbara Messina said that some input was taken from residents who attended the groundbreaking for the Almansor Park improvements project in September.
Paulson also gave alternatives that included a water play area, an urban forest and fitness area and a batting cage and soccer practice area, all of which would cost at least $500,000 but could also be HUD eligible. Some residents spoke in support of batting cages, and the City Council asked staff to do further research on other options.