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Resident Frustration Rules at Roxbury Park Town Hall Meeting

Updated Friday January 27, 2012– 2:15pm
“Despite the promise of a Roxbury Park Community Center Town Hall meeting, the City Council meeting held last night lacked dialogue between Councilmembers and the community regarding the issue of the proposed project. The vast majority of residents who spoke opposed the council’s grandiose plans to pave over green space.

More than 45 residents shared their opinions regarding amenities needed at Roxbury Park Community Center and yet it wasn’t entirely clear the council was listening.

Mayor Barry Brucker and Councilman John Mirisch discussed the concept of a town meeting after resident Rick Wolfen expressed his support of the project.

“The existing facilities are outdated, obsolete and in need of replacement,” Wolfen said. “We deserve to have first class facilities. Roxbury should be a first class park we can all be proud of.”

After Wolfen was finished speaking, Mirisch wanted to ask him a question and was shot down by Brucker.

“I am going to ask you to write down your questions, otherwise we will be here until all hours of the day,” Brucker said.

Mirisch said having a dialogue is part of actively listening to the residents and attempting to understand their points of view. Brucker denied him the opportunity. Mirisch, while commenting during the public hearing section as a resident, said he wanted to ask Wolfen, and many other speakers, if they would support the project if it carried the same footprint, height, scope and character as the existing building. By the time Mirisch was allowed to ask questions, Wolfen and many others had left.

Assistant Director of Community Services Nancy Hunt-Coffey gave an update to the City Council regarding the project via PowerPoint. While this PowerPoint was not made available on the City’s website prior to the meeting, there was a staff report attached to the agenda that gave some, but not all, of the information.

Facts include:

• The proposed project, which was rejected by the council in December due to bids that came back over budget, actually lessens green space at Roxbury Park by 1.8 percent.• Initially the $14.7 million needed for the project was going to be paid for completely from the recreation and parks fund. Now for the projects funding, about $6.7 million will come from the recreation and parks fund, $1.5 million from the infrastructure fund and about $6.5 million from the capital assets fund.

• The height of the current community center is about 18 feet tall at its highest point. The proposed project was 42 feet tall at its highest point.

• Residents have not been able to get a price for phase 2 of the project, including the irrigation and drainage of the park, because it has not been fully vetted and researched and City staff does not know what it would cost.

As of the date and time of this article, the City has failed to provide The Courier with a copy of the PowerPoint. The PowerPoint presentation lasted for approximately 35 minutes and Mirisch said he felt he was going to be “offered a timeshare at any moment.”

Hunt-Coffey said there have been 83 public meetings on the subject of the Roxbury Park Community Center over the years. Southwest Homeowners Association President Ken Goldman said it wasn’t the number of meetings the City has held that frustrates the residents, it was the fact that they feel like the council isn’t listening.

“The problem isn’t that the community hasn’t been able to speak, the problem is the community hasn’t been heard,” he said. “We deserve straight and accurate information and (the council and City staff) availed us wildly in that regard.”

Municipal League Chairman Thomas White said he agreed with Goldman.

“The City has employed the technique of exhausting residents with meaningless meetings analogous to those conducted by the MTA concerning the proposed subway route under the Beverly Hills High School,” White said. “This technique and the apparent obviousness of consultants, staff and councilmember’s has engendered great mistrust and frustration.”

Goldman said he felt the City should bring the existing building up to code, refurbish the interiors and update where needed throughout the park.

“We don’t want any tweaking of (proposed) plans and we don’t want a big expansion of the community center,” Goldman said. “We need one overall budget with one overall plan. Build it in as many phases as you want but present the community one project.”

Board of Education President Brian David Goldberg told the council many of the updates they are considering will be incorporated into the districts Measure E plans. This includes a multi purpose room site at Horace Mann School with two ancillary rooms and four to six additional basketball courts at the high school. Goldberg said the district was hoping to incorporate the new facilities into the Joint Powers Agreement the BHUSD has with the City.

Resident Nancy Barth said she felt the debate over Roxbury Park could have been avoided.

“It’s my opinion the controversy over plans for Roxbury Park could have been avoided from the beginning if the residents felt they were being taken seriously,” Barth said. “The council spent over $1 million in plans and never responded to the community’s expressed desire for a simple project.”

Councilwoman Lili Bosse said from what she heard, the council has to address the project as a whole not in the proposed dual phases and work to combine the community’s vision for the park.

“I want everyone to know I have heard you loud and clear before and I heard you loud and clear tonight,” Bosse said. “This is clearly a very emotional issue for this community. I do think we are unanimous more than we’re divided. I think we all agree Roxbury needs upgrading and I think the issue is to what degree?”

Even though Brucker refused to listen to the residents wishes and appoint Bosse or Mirisch to the recreation and parks liaison committee, he did say all of the notes from the community meeting will be given to the liaisons, Vice Mayor Willie Brien and Councilman Julian Gold, “to digest all of what was said” and bring it back to the City Council and a public meeting to be announced.

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