16 Months After Fraud Rejection Upland Again Seeks Park Grant

Some 16 months after the California Department of Parks and Recreation spurned the City of Upland’s application for an $8.5 million park upon learning elements of that application had been falsified, city officials have gamely applied once more for an identical amount of money from the state.
In the current go-round, the city is relying upon a grant-writing consultant, Megan LeNoue of the firm Avant Garde, to guide the city’s approach to obtain the State of California’s Proposition 68 park improvement grants, according to Assistant City Manager Stephen Parker.
According to Parker, the city is not starting from scratch but rather making a resubmittal of the application.
“Avant Garde, in coordination with city staff has prepared the application for the resubmission. The only known change in what will be submitted to the state is that the conceptual site plan and legend will be replaced once they are updated by our consultant,” Parker told the city council on Monday, February 22.
Basing the city’s grant request on its 2019 submission might prove problematic, particularly if the same California Department of Parks and Recreation personnel that considered the 2019 request evaluate this year’s request.
The 2019 request was hastily drawn up by the city’s then recreational services manager, Doug Story, as a ploy by city staff and the city council to placate resident outrage at the city’s secretive 2018 move to sell 4.631 acres of Memorial Park to San Antonio Regional Hospital for use as a parking lot. The city had attempted to effectuate that sale without submitting the matter to a vote of the city’s residents as required by law. That sale was challenged by residents in court when the city tried to validate the sale. On May 29, 2019, some 14 months after the sale of the park property was approved by the city council, Judge David Cohn, dismissed the city’s sale validation action. Penultimately, hospital officials resigned themselves to the necessity of subjecting the sale of the property to a citywide vote, which took place in the November 2020 General Election. The city voters rejected making the sale.
The 2019 Proposition 68 grant application submitted by Story was done in the hope that the city’s residents would be so mesmerized by the park improvements the grant would provide that they would look beyond that accompanying the park enhancements would be the reduction of the 38.5 acre park by 12 percent to 33.869 acres. Story’s application said the $8.5 million would be used to refurbish or replace Memorial Park’s playground equipment, add a water feature splash pad, an amphitheater and an artificial turf multi-sports competition field, augment the park with walking and exercise trails, a basketball court and an intensified outdoor nature conservancy with trees and plants hospitable toward bees, hummingbirds and the like.
Proposition 68 was passed by the state’s voters in 2018. It reallocated a portion of California’s $7.545 billion in general obligation bonds for expanding and enhancing parks around the state.
Story in September and October 2019 guarantedd that the full $8.5 million applied for in his request was forthcoming, and he dismissed questions noting that the city yet needed to compete against other grant requests as aspersions on the integrity of Upland officials that bordered on slander.
This prompted direct inquiries by Upland residents with the California Department of Parks and Recreation that uncovered the grant application and city demographic data showed the city had fudged numbers relating to the “service area” pertaining to the park by claiming that the average per-household annual income was less than $51,000. Upon recognizing that some of the data forwarded to them by the city as part of the application process had been falsified, by the end of November 2019, state officials made a determination that the grant application should be rejected, and informed Story of such. Story checked out of Upland the first week of December to go to work in the recreation department in the City of Beaumont, effective in January 2020.
In the meantime, Upland municipal officials withheld from the public that the state had denied the city’s grant request. Then-Councilman Bill Velto, who is now mayor, in December 2019 insisted the city was yet waiting for all $8.5 million of the grant. Councilwoman Janice Elliott in January 2020 said it remained the city’s official position that the Proposition 68 grant might come through. She said it was irresponsible to suggest otherwise.
In March 2020, the city acknowledged that the grant would not be forthcoming.
This week, after the council voted to have the city submit the reapplication, Parker was unavailable to say whether the city had included the falsified data relating to the average per-household annual income in the park’s service area.
-Mark Gutglueck

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