At the outset, it should be noted this is a column about the City Council meeting of Jan. 21, 2020, and it contains no references to the Coronado Community Grant Program. The two-hour and 32-minute meeting did include a few concepts that are of importance to residents, notably the city’s Storm Drain Enterprise Fund, which has been running at a deficit for at least 10 years. Or as City Manager Blair King explained when the agenda item was presented for discussion, “The city is in excellent financial shape except for the Storm Drain Fund.”

The first place to look for the problem is the shortfall of revenue, because the rate paid by homeowners into the enterprise fund is set at $3.40 per month, a rate that was adopted and not increased since 1991. King added, “If we had a residential rate of $14 per month, we wouldn’t have a deficit.” The operating deficit of $685,000 for Fiscal Year 2019-20, plus $314,900 toward the Capital Improvement Program, resulted in an allocation of $1 million to cover those costs, paid from the City’s General Fund. The Storm Drain Fund deficit over the past 10 years totals $10,869,400.

The second financial concern emanates from the city’s aging infrastructure. City Director of Public Services & Engineering Cliff Maurer provided the City Council with an estimate of $17,815,500 in capital expenditures to, “Put the Storm Drain Fund where it needs to be.” Current Storm Drain projects and their projected costs include: Pine and North Beach Outfall $600,000; Parker Pump Station Rehabilitation $1,115,000; and Third and Fourth Streets at I Avenue drainage improvements $2.6 million. Future projects include: First Street Pump Station $750,000; Country Club Infiltration Reduction $750,000; and Parker Pump Station Rehab Construction $12 million. An unfunded mandate from the State of California for Trash Amendments Infrastructure appears to be on the horizon, with that price tag to be determined and not included in the $17,815,500 total.

The additional concern expressed by the City Staff and the Council, was that the ongoing and escalating Storm Water Drain Fund deficit will eventually adversely impact the level of service the city can afford to provide its citizens. In their discussion of the subject, the City Council quickly turned to the concept of raising the monthly Storm Drain Fees, which are paid through homeowners’ property tax bill. Councilmember Marvin Heinze said, “We should direct staff to create a plan to get us back to solvency.”

City Councilmember Mike Donovan began by his remarks by saying, “Where has the Council been for the past 25 years?” He continued, “The cost for this isn’t going to go down, it will continue to go up. We should increase the fee gradually. I’m a believer the Storm Water Enterprise Fund has to stand on its own, I truly believe that. Our best approach is a property-related approach. We should have public hearings and allow property owners to weigh in. We do need to develop a simple policy to calculate fees by parcel, and I don’t want to make it too complicated. I would support a gradual increase in fees. Off the top of my head, we should have a total increase of $11 per month, which would be an increase of $3 per month over the next four to five years. That would help people plan for a minor increase.”

The rest of the City Council agreed with the general concept outlined by Donovan, which led to a motion to direct staff to, “Carry out Option Two in the staff report for a property-related fee; develop a policy to calculate costs by parcel; and to minimize the fees for property owners.” According to the staff report, a property-related fee, “Requires a two-tiered approach: Protest vote approval by 50 percent, plus one, of property owners who respond to the ballots mailed to them. The structure of a property-related fee would be based upon the requirements of Proposition 218.” The motion passed 5-0.

Agenda item 10d, which generated considerable public input at the meeting, said “Consider sports field use policies and provide direction with regard to interim limitations for the use of Sunset Park as an active sports field.” On the surface that doesn’t sound like an extraordinary problem, but with the growth of youth sports has come increasing use of the city’s parks. Sunset Park is the in-season practice site for 100 Pop Warner Football players; 300 Coronado Youth Soccer Players in the fall and another 200 in the spring; 100 Youth Rugby players; and 100 Youth Lacrosse players.

Coronado High School Athletic Director Robin Nixon sent an E-mail to the City Council which read in part, “I write to you today to ask that you keep Sunset Park open for our youth sports teams. As you are well aware, we have little green space in this community and to limit or eliminate even one open space for our youth teams would be a real shame. I see every day firsthand what sports does for a young person, from gaining confidence, learning sportsmanship, accountability, and just the chance to get outside and get exercise. These activities are vital to our community. Again, I hope that you will not cut off access to Sunset Park for our youth activities, as they are truly an asset to our community.”

Expenses related to maintaining both Cays Park and Sunset Park together are $131,000, with an additional $10,000 in estimated management costs for field reservations and permitting.

Nine interested parties addressed the issue during the Oral Communications portion of the meeting, with eight in favor of keeping Sunset Park available to youth sports. In addition, five residents spoke in favor of the concept when the agenda item was considered. Islander Head Football Coach Kurt Hines, Assistant Football Coach Dr. Terry Leary, and Coronado Youth Rugby President Santos Trujillo were all on hand to request that Sunset Park stay available the sports programs.

City Director of Recreation and Golf Services Roger Miller presented the agenda item. He requested that in addition to the Council weighing in on Sunset Park availability issue, that they provide direction for the City to formally request the Port of San Diego to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding for the scheduling, use and maintenance of Tidelands Park. The third issue was whether or not a field use and replacement fee should be incorporated into an overall policy for the use of the parks by sports leagues.

Since Youth Rugby was granted a temporary extension for the use of Sunset Park through the end of their season in March 2020, the issue of access was a fait accompli, at least in the immediate future. When asked how long it would take to create an overall policy related to field scheduling, Miller replied, “We’re working on that and we want to move as quickly as possible. The sports organizations are looking at us to solve the problem. It will probably be four months, but we should have something solid in a couple of months.”

During the Council discussions on this topic, Mayor Richard Bailey said, “We have a resolution that was passed in the 1980’s that was never enforced. Teams are dependent on the fields, which have a limited capacity for growing youth activities. We never had a policy and we’re playing catch-up a little bit. Sunset Park does get quite a bit of use now. It’s well-utilized. We need to create a policy for equitable use, longevity for future use and recovery times for the fields, with reduced impact on the residents who live around the parks. We should allow youth sports access to the park for a temporary period of time.”

Councilmember Whitney Benzian said, “We should allow youth sports to have access to the park until there is more policy review.” Councilmember Bill Sandke said, “The park is a community asset and allowing access is the right thing to do.”

Heinze said, “We can’t stop in mid-season. We need to agree to add new seasons until the policy is ready.”

After some final discussion, the Council voted 5-0 to support future youth sports activity in Sunset Park; to support pursuing an MOU with the Port of San Diego for the use and maintenance of Tidelands Park; and to create a fee for field use and replacement, on a sliding scale.

A third topic of note was an item on the Consent Agenda relating to awarding a contract for $64,635 for environmental consulting services for the Golf Course Modernization Project, which includes construction of a sewage treatment plant. Two residents who live on Glorietta Boulevard, in close proximity to the proposed project, expressed their interest in having a full Environmental Impact Report prepared, instead of a Mitigated Negative Declaration. Reasons cited include the presence of earthquake faults in the area, the loss of big water views from the residences and a potential loss of their home’s value.

Bailey noted the full EIR was previously considered by the Council and the Mitigated Negative Declaration concept was approved instead. King said, “The level of the view doesn’t rise to a level of significance. I am hopeful during the process the residents’ concerns won’t be realized.” After pulling the item from Consent, and listening to public input, the Council voted 5-0 to approve the expenditure.

In other City Council actions:

The Council denied the appeal for a variance for a second-story expansion of a home in the Village Residence Zone of the Coronado Cays. Since there was an inconsistent application of the variances in the area prior to this time; the Cays HOA working on a revised ordinance for the area; and as a favor to the applicant, a final vote on the appeal was postponed and the item was continued to a ‘date uncertain for now.’ The vote was 4-0 for that course of action, with Heinze recused due to his ownership of real property within 1,000 feet of the home’s location on Trinidad Bend.

The council appointed Sue Welch and incumbent Judith Mansfield to three-year terms, to expire January 31, 2023, to the Park and Recreation Commission.

And as the last agenda item of the meeting, the Council agreed to Donovan’s request to agendize a discussion of the City’s Public Facilities Fee and Inclusionary (Affordable) Housing In-Lieu Fee program. This idea is to update an ordinance passed in 1994.

The next meeting of the Coronado City Council will be held Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, at 4 p.m. City Council meetings are held at City Hall, located at 1825 Strand Way in Coronado.

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