Loss Of Ballfield For Parking Part Of Park Makeover Plan

While hailing the City of Upland’s now unfolding plan to provide Memorial Park with a comprehensive makeover, several of that city’s residents expressed lingering suspicions that the improvement plan contains within it a provision that will nonetheless reduce the grand recreational centerpiece’s footprint once more, this time by more than four-and-a-half acres.
Indeed, a differently composed city council than the one now overseeing civic affairs in the City of Gracious Living just last year angered a wide cross section of the city’s populace by committing to sell 4.631 acres of the southwestern portion of the park, one that contains a baseball field that is actively used by the city’s youth leagues, to San Antonio Regional Hospital. The main campus of the hospital immediately adjoins the park, and the hospital wants to convert the baseball diamond and some of the greenland around it to a multistory parking structure to accommodate the hospital’s burgeoning clientele. More parking is needed because of the hospital’s expansion and its recent partnering with the City of Hope to establish an oncology clinic.
On March 26, 2018, with 72 hours notice, the Upland City Council, advised by then-City Manager Bill Manis, then-Development Services Director Jeff Zwack and City Attorney James Markman, voted 3-to-1 to approve a purchase and sale agreement between the hospital and the city, with San Antonio Hospital paying $906,931.55 per acre, or a total of $4.2 million to acquire the 4.631 acres. Mayor Debbie Stone and then-council members Gino Filippi and Carol Timm went along with making the sale. Councilwoman Janice Elliott opposed it. Then-Councilman Sid Robinson was not present at the meeting.
With the 2018 election cycle, Filippi, Timm and Robinson, who was allied with them and Stone, were turned out of office, at least in some measure as a consequence of the unpopular move to reduce the park’s size.
In approving the sale, the city council also authorized City Attorney James Markman to undertake a so-called validation proceeding intended to foreclose any procedural or future legal challenge to the sale. In its validation action filed with the court, the city invited anyone opposed to the sale to lodge a protest. The challenge to the validation had to be filed within 60 days. Once the court validated the sale, any future lawsuits contesting the sale would be barred. The calculation by those favoring the sale was that no one would go to the expense of hiring an attorney to make an answer to the validation petition.
The validation procedure was directed to the courtroom of Superior Court Judge David Cohn in San Bernardino. To the chagrin of city and hospital officials, Marjorie Mikels, an attorney living in the city, as well as Cory Briggs, an attorney based in both Upland and San Diego, filed answers to the validation action. Those responses took issue with the sale on multiple grounds, among which was that the city selling off a slice of the park – in particular the one sold by the council on March 26, 2018, which included the long extant and actively used baseball field – is tantamount to abandoning public property. Such abandonments, under state law, cannot be effectuated without a vote of the citizens residing in the jurisdiction that owns that property.
Faced with not one but two challenges to the sale he had not anticipated, Markman sought to convince Judge Cohn that the city council, acting on its own authority, was within its rights to sell off city land. In response to the argument that a municipality’s abandonment of property it owned and was putting to beneficial public use had to be subjected to a vote, Markman asserted that selling the property did not constitute an abandonment.
Ultimately, some 14 months after the sale of the park property was approved by the city council, on May 29, 2019, Judge Cohn, after hearing the responses to the city’s filing, dismissed its petition for validation. Judge Cohn’s ruling cleared the way for anyone with standing – meaning essentially any city resident – to file a lawsuit challenging the sale.
Penultimately, hospital officials have resigned themselves to the necessity of subjecting the sale of the property to a citywide vote. It appears that balloting will take place in conjunction with the March 2020 California Primary election.
In what is perhaps a coincidence or perhaps another calculated move on the part of city staff committed to assisting the hospital in obtaining the parking structure to augment its operational growth, Doug Story, the city’s recreational services manager, has put together a conceptual plan for upgrading Memorial Park. Contained within that plan is a provision for a reduction of the park’s overall area that is in keeping with the hospital’s intention of proceeding with the construction of the parking structure on the aforementioned 4.631-acre parcel.
Story this week, at the city council’s August 12 meeting on Monday night, previewed the sugar-coated park enhancement plan – replete with refurbishing or replacing playground equipment, adding an amphitheater and an artificial turf multi-sports competition field, walking and exercise trails, a basketball court and an intensified outdoor nature conservancy with trees and plants hospitable toward bees, hummingbirds and the like – in which was buried the fishhook for the parking structure.
Envisioned in the grandiose plan are fulfilling some of the never-realized elements of the original blueprint for the park as it was drawn up by landscape architect Ralph Dalton Cornell when the park was designed in the 1930s, including oak trees, a greenbelt and the amphitheater. Were all of the elements Story has outlined to be brought to fruition, they would cost more than $18 million. Story proposes getting started with an infusion of $8.5 million, which is the maximum amount an applicant can receive in response to a grant request under the auspices of Proposition 68, a $4.1-billion bond measure to fund park improvement and enhancement projects approved by voters last year. Story has made just such a grant application on the city’s behalf.
What was hinted at is that other donors could put up money to augment the $8.5 million, should the city receive the grant. If the grant comes in, Story said $2.7 million of it will be earmarked for an amphitheater encircled by a greenbelt; $1.4 million will go to create a soccer/rugby/football field featuring not grass by artificial turf; $718,000 will be spent on playground equipment; $209,000 will cover the completion of a basketball court; $380,000 will be utilized to provide one tree-lined walking trail and one exercise station-outfitted walking trail; $310,000 is to be used for establishing a pollinator garden; and $600,000 would be utilized for lighting.
It was reported that San Antonio Regional Hospital has committed, conditional upon the city selling it the 4.631 acres, to springing for the exercise stations along one of the trails.
Contained on page 32 of the staff report Story authored to accompany his presentation of the park master plan was the following statement, “San Antonio Regional Hospital is interested in acquiring the existing southwest quadrant of Memorial Park for a potential joint-use parking lot sponsored by San Antonio Regional Hospital per an agreement with the City of Upland. This acquisition and agreement is subject to voter approval of a ballot initiative scheduled for the March 2020 election.”
Lois Sicking-Dieter, an Upland resident, on Monday night addressed the city council, telling its members and the city’s residents that they should take stock of what San Antonio Hospital is doing.
“San Antonio Hospital is interested in contributing funds to help build exercise fitness stations in a walking path to help improve public health,” Sicking-Dieter said. “Kudos to you, San Antonio Hospital! Now, they might be trying to buy good will because they are going out for an election. Knock yourself out. You can do it. It’s legal. You can buy good will in this town. We really need those exercise stations. Another thing is, there have been medical studies done on the benefit, the health benefit, to the public on parklands, open space. The 4.6 acres is a part of a wonderful paradise that we have here in Upland. And so, I would also ask San Antonio Hospital to take a look at the health benefits that the public can derive from their keeping their hands off our park. Let the people have the park.”
This is not the first or even second raid San Antonio Hospital has made on Memorial Park, Sicking-Dieter said.
“San Antonio Hospital has been buying parkland, or getting parkland from us since the 1970s, and then the 80s, and then the 90s,” she said. “Here we are, folks. It’s 2019 and we are their primary plan for parking here in Upland. They’re like a 55-year-old kid who returns home to mom and dad and says, ‘You know, rent is really high out there. They make me work so hard. Can I crash with you for a while? For the tenth time?’ Come on, San Antonio Hospital! We need to do toughlove. Let’s do toughlove with San Antonio Hospital, and say, ‘Find your own parking. Find your own parking capacity. You have it. We’ve given you enough land already.’ It’s time to say, ‘No.’”
Sicking-Dieter said there should be full disclosure of all aspects of the proposed sale, with requirements that the hospital inform the citizenry of the sale, and the city facilitating awareness of the matter, as well.
“I appreciate this time we are going to an election,” Dicking-Dieter said. “Some are saying, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve been giving them land since the 1970s?’ Yes. Giving them. It should have gone to a vote. This is the first time we’re going to do it right. Let’s do it right. Let’s make San Antonio Hospital put signs up on every entrance going into Memorial Park, saying, ‘We’re trying to buy this land.’ I think we should have a flier, and those should go out in our water bills.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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