Basketball courts take center stage for Signal Hill park master plan discussion; new police chief sworn in

<strong>Michael Langston (far left) is sworn in by Signal Hill City Clerk Kathee Pacheco (far right) as Mayor Larry Forester observes.</strong>

Michael Langston (far left) is sworn in by Signal Hill City Clerk Kathee Pacheco (far right) as Mayor Larry Forester observes.

By CJ Dablo
Staff Writer

As Signal Hill edges forward in its plans to renovate the Signal Hill Park area, the subject of the park’s basketball courts drew a passionate response from one councilmember and a handful of residents.
The conceptual plan, which is estimated to cost about $18 million if all design and construction and phases are completed, includes building a new library and parking lot in Phase I and then building a new community center in Phase II. Future phases would possibly involve renovating the amphitheater, expanding the baseball field, and upgrading the park amenities.
However, before the Signal Hill City Council voted on the new master plan to give the Signal Hill Park area a new look, Councilmember Ed Wilson interrupted a few people during the June 7 meeting to emphasize a point. According to the plans as drawn for Phase II of the park’s master plan, the basketball courts can’t be found. Sketches for Phase II show that the new community center sits in the place where the basketball courts currently reside. And even though the Council was not voting on any specifics surrounding Phase II, the basketball courts’ absence led to an icy exchange between Wilson and a few speakers who discussed the plan.
“I don’t see how I can be any clearer,” said Wilson. “I’m not, I don’t want to be ambiguous about it. If it’s not in the plan, it’s not in the plan. If it’s in the plan, show me where it’s in the plan.”
“It’s not in the plan,” conceded Jim Pickel, a consultant for MIG, a company that assisted in writing the needs-assessment report after conducting community workshops and issuing surveys to the community. MIG also helped to develop the master plan.
“Thank you. That’s what I wanted to be clear on,” Wilson said. “Okay? And again we are not at Phase II, but anytime you leave something out, the fact that it’s out and it’s currently existing means that that’s the direction that you’re going. Okay?”
“And that’s your interpretation, thank you,” replied Mayor Larry Forester.
“I would assume that most people would have that same interpretation,””Wilson said.
According to a staff report from Pilar Alcivar-McCoy, director of community services for Signal Hill, Phase I of the park’s plan will complete its construction in 2013-14. The timeline and details behind Phase II are more open-ended. Once the City is ready to discuss Phase II, the City could consider building the basketball courts at another location as well as make other decisions surrounding the other facilities at the park area, Alcivar-McCoy confirmed. And according to the community services director, there was no set estimate to determine when plans for Phase II would move forward since the City would have to wait until funds become available to do further construction.
A few residents voiced concern about the future of the basketball courts. Bob Mendoza, a Signal Hill resident, said he gathered more than 300 signatures from people in support of saving the basketball courts.
“And if you want to do a pick-up game, Signal Hill is the place to do it because you’re playing with nine other people that know exactly what they’re doing. They know exactly how to handle the ball,” Mendoza said, indicating that large numbers of people come from far away to play basketball in Signal Hill. “And Signal Hill is very, very well known and you have a reputation, whether you know it or not, as having the best courts in the area.”
The City Council voted to approve the master plan but amended it to include a notation that would relocate the basketball courts and protect Spud Field, a popular park area that’s used for baseball games. The City Council also authorized Vice Mayor Tina Hansen to work with city staff to determine who should be represented on the Library Redesign Committee. Hansen will submit those names to the Council for approval at a later date.

Other City Council highlights:

Michael Langston was officially sworn in at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to serve as the city’s new police chief. Prior to his arrival to Signal Hill, Langston most recently worked with the City of Turlock as the police captain of the field operations division and served as second-in-command to Turlock’s police chief. The City celebrated his arrival with a reception at the community center.

City Manager Ken Farfsing and City Attorney David Aleshire presented a status update on the litigation against the Water Replenishment District (WRD). Signal Hill and the cities of Cerritos and Downey filed legal action against the WRD and other entities, including one lawsuit to challenge the assessments imposed by the WRD. The WRD had increased 77 percent since 2006, according to a report from Aleshire’s office. Aleshire said that the courts ruled in favor of Signal Hill and the other cities, and an estimate from Aleshire’s report indicates that Signal Hill intends to prove damages of $1.2 million. The cities collectively could be entitled to over $20 million, according to Aleshire’s report. The WRD asked the court to reconsider the ruling, and while a final judgment is waiting to be entered, it is unknown whether the WRD will appeal if the court does not change its initial ruling, according to Aleshire’s office.

Mayor Forester presented the Second Quarter Sustainability Award to the Conservation Corps of Long Beach. The Conservation Corps of Long Beach built an environmentally friendly education center that serves disenfranchised young adults primarily between the ages 18 and 24. Participants are employed in jobs involving recycling and landscaping and can receive help with earning a high-school degree.

On behalf of the Signal Hill Honorary Police Officers Association, Frank Virga presented a $10,000 check from the association to support the police department’s new bike patrol program.

City Council voted to approve a resolution that authorized an agreement to join a regional alliance with a number of nearby cities. The alliance with about 14 other cities will seek to address a goal set by the 2009 Water Conservation Act that seeks to reduce per-capita water use by 20 percent.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe advised the City that Signal Hill will be receiving a grant of $150,000. The money will be designated for capital projects for the Parks and Recreation facilities. According to Alcivar-McCoy, the Parks and Recreation Commission will be determining how to use the money at its next meeting.

The next City Council meeting will be Tuesday, June 21 at 7pm in Council Chambers.

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