CARLSBAD — Hundreds of people packed City Council chambers during the regular meeting April 21 to voice their opinion on the future of the long-awaited Alga Norte Park.
After more than two hours of public testimony, City Council voted 3-2 to allow grading of the property for the park, but to hold off on the building of the facilities on the 32 acres located off Poinsettia Lane and Alicante Road. The council then voted unanimously to look into various options to cover the cost of operating the park facilities.
Those who spoke in favor of moving forward with the park ranged from members of the Parks and Recreation Commission and longtime local public safety personnel to members of the Carlsbad High School water polo team who currently drive to La Jolla to train. Many of the young water polo players said they have been waiting most of their lives for the proposed swim complex to be built on the property.
Retired Battalion Fire Chief Jim Torretto urged the council to move forward and build the pool complex so the youth of the city would be able to take lessons in the city they live in. Torretto said he knows first-hand the importance of learning to swim, and that the residents shouldn’t have to take their kids to nearby cities for the lessons.
The city only has one municipal pool, located on Monroe Street.
Former City Council candidate Thomas K. Arnold also urged council to move forward with the plans and said it is both “popular and right.”
Although a scaled-down version of the original plans, the park still contained an Olympic-sized swimming pool, an instructional pool for lessons, as well as a skate park and sports fields.
Phil Urbina, president of the La Costa Youth Organization, said they are having to turn away kids because they don’t have enough fields. “These ball fields are needed,” he said.
After more than a decade of planning, the park was finally moving forward until July of last year when City Council voted 4-1 to delay the project due to the economic downturn.
Councilwoman Ann Kulchin was the lone supporter of moving forward with the park plans as soon as possible, until newly elected Keith Blackburn, a former sergeant with the Carlsbad Police Department, came aboard in January.
Making good on his promise to do what he could to push for the park to be built, Blackburn set up automated calls to residents notifying them that the item would be on the agenda April 21 and urging them to show up and voice their support for the project.
At the recent meeting, both Kulchin and Blackburn voted to move forward with the entire plan, stating that the funds have already been set aside to do so.
Although the nearly $50 million had been set aside to build the park and swim complex, city staff told council it was the operating costs that were the issue. It is estimated to cost roughly $1.2 million per year to operate the facility.
And although nearly $10 million would be left over after the most recent construction estimates of $39 million, staff told council the money could also be used elsewhere.
Another project coming up for the city is the police and fire training facility, proposed to be built just after the park.
A skate park was closed down to make way for the training facility, located near the Safety Center, and the baseball fields will close soon to make way for the training facility as well. The skate park and baseball fields are proposed to be relocated in Alga Norte Park.
Although the two projects are both funded separately, Mayor Bud Lewis told the supporters, the reason the city is so well-off is because the majority of the council is very careful about what projects to build.