With 72 hours notice, the Upland City Council Monday night voted 3-to-1 to reduce the grounds of historic Upland Memorial Park by more than four-and-one-half acres.
After months of private discussions with the management of the San Antonio Regional Hospital, the city council on March 26 adjourned into a closed door session with city manager Bill Manis, community development director Jeff Zwack and city attorney James Markman, during which the final terms of the sale of the park property were explicated. At the council’s open public session for its regularly scheduled meeting that took place later that night, the council approved selling 4.631 acres of park property to the hospital, the primary campus of which adjoins the 38.5 acre park.
In approving the purchase and sale agreement, the council authorized Manis to execute all necessary documents to approve the sale.
According to Zwack, the city used an independent third party appraiser to reach a conclusion that the park property has a value of $893.975.38 per acre, making the 4.631 acre parcel worth $4,140,000. Zwack further reported that San Antonio Hospital agreed to a purchase price slightly above that of $906,931.55 per acre, such that the hospital is paying $4.2 million to acquire the property.
Forty acres of property south of Route 66 intended for development as a park were acquired by the City of Upland in full in 1935, whereupon it retained the accomplished landscape architect Ralph Cornell to design what was an active park with playground and sports field amenities, a passive pleasure grounds, as well as a cultural component. Over the decades and at varying times, many but not all of the features Cornell envisaged for the park were incorporated into it, as well as some recreational elements not originally conceived.
In more recent years, significant numbers of homeless have flocked to the park grounds, taking up temporary overnight shelter there, sleeping in tents, bivouacs, out in the open and in vehicles parked in the parking lot. This led to a degree of friction with and between the traditional users of the park, those squatting there, the Upland Police Department and city officials. Ultimately, city officials used the continuing presence of homeless in the area to justify the just concluded sale of slightly more than 12 percent of the park grounds to the hospital.
Zwack referenced the homeless problem in making his presentation to the council on Monday evening.
A number of city residents weighed in with regard to the sale arrangement, most of whom were discontented with the city’s action.
Unmentioned in Zwack’s report was that this is not the first time that the city has reduced the footprint of the park grounds in favor of the hospital. During the 1974-75 expansion of San Antonio Hospital, the city likewise transferred roughly 1.5 acres of the park to the hospital, which used the property to expand its parking lot.
Cornell’s original plan for a recreational park included a baseball field, amphitheater, swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, bowling green, picnic areas and a botanic garden. The central axis of the park included a central open space with two parallel oak tree-lined trails. While over time most of those amenities came to fruition, the swimming pool, botanic garden and the amphitheater elements were deferred and have yet to be achieved. Nevertheless, the baseball field nestled into the northeast corner of the park and its central axis entailing the Oak Tree row remain as a manifestation of Cornell’s original design, along with a cannon confiscated from the German Army at the end of the First World War by the U.S Army and passed along to the local National Guard, a resplendent rose garden built around a sundial that had been cultivated by the Upland Women’s Club beginning in 1959 and the remnants of what was in the 1980s a world class tot lot/playground that featured a seesaw, merry-go-round, swingset, and a playhouse combination consisting of a slide, jungle gym, chin-up bars, sandbox, spring rider, trapeze rings, suspension bridge and maze that once attracted children and their parents from throughout the region.
Other amenities include the Scheu Family YMCA and the Aquatic Center in the northwest corner of the park, a second baseball field on the east side of the park, a third baseball field located at the southwest corner of the park, the Loren and Kay Sanchez Childcare facility, the city’s animal shelter, and the skate park in the southeastern portion of the park.
Zwack’s recommendation was for the city to cede the park’s third baseball field and its accompanying bleachers, scoreboard, lights, parking and restroom facility at the extreme southwestern portion of the park as it now exists to San Antonio Regional Hospital. The hospital, which last year completed a four-story patient tower and new emergency room and now has under construction a 60,000 square foot medical office building that will house among other facilities a cancer diagnostic and treatment center to be jointly run with the City of Hope, has need of land for additional parking. It is acquiring the property from the city for the purpose of building a multi-level parking structure. Accompanying the sale of the property, Zwack said, is the recording of a parking easement that will allow users of the park to park in the hospital parking lot or the yet-to-be-completed parking structure. While city officials touted the land sale as a way of bringing about improvements to the park, those protesting the sale expressed concerns that the city is moving toward selling off the park piecemeal, will sacrifice a number of mature oak trees and a well-designed and maintained baseball field, and is compromising and rendering unattainable Cornell’s original vision of the park, which has been worked toward for generations but was never fully achieved. Of issue for those against the sale, as well, was the abbreviated warning period the public was given about the contemplated action as well as the consideration that the public announcement, contained in the agenda for Monday night’s council meeting, did not delineate that the land to be sold consisted of park property. Rather, the agenda referenced “An agreement for purchase and sale and joint escrow instructions between the City of Upland and San Antonio Regional Hospital to sell approximately 4.631 acres of real property addressed as 1299 San Bernardino Road (a portion of property assigned the assessor’s parcel number 1046-183-01).”
Several individuals, including councilwoman Janice Elliott, expressed the view that if the action item on the agenda had directly or more clearly explained that the property in question was a portion of the park, far greater protest against the sale would have manifested.
John Ickes, a licensed arborist and former member of the city’s tree commission, called the effort by city officials to hide the action the city was taking and reduce the window in which those opposed to it had to marshal their forces and act “sleazy.”
Of issue was the possibility that some city resident or residents opposed to the sale of the park property might take legal action to force a citywide vote on the sale. City Attorney James Markman therefore arranged to foreclose that by having the city initiate a so-called “validation proceeding,” in which the city will invite anyone to lodge a protest, which would then be heard by a judge rather than being subjected to a vote. Councilwoman Elliott sought an assurance that San Antonio Hospital would defray the cost of the carrying out the validation procedure. Markman responded that such a change would be a substantive alteration of the agreement, requiring that further negotiations with the hospital take place. Elliott then made a motion to table, i.e., delay, the vote until April 23 “when the residents have more time to give us input and when we can iron out some of these details.” No one seconded that motion. Instead, Councilman Gino Filippi made a motion to approve the sale under the terms prepared by city staff, which was seconded by councilwoman Carol Timm. That was approved by a vote of 3-1, with the support of Mayor Debbie Stone, Filippi and Timm, councilman Sid Robinson absent and Elliott dissenting.