First published in the Dec. 22 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
After more than a month of back-and-forth between the two sides, the city of La Cañada Flintridge and the local school district have settled on an agreement that would allow the pickleball facility project on Cornishon Avenue to move forward.
The Governing Board of the La Cañada Unified School District recently voted 5-0 to approve a supplemental agreement — with minor tweaks to the language — that allows the city to begin working on repurposing a seldom-used skate park and basketball court into a joint-use facility.
With the popularity of pickleball continually growing in LCF, city staff members searched for a site that could be dedicated to pickleball players and determined that the facilities on Cornishon were best suited for the sport. The City Council wanted to move the project forward as soon as possible to help it gain eligibility for state grant money, but the district had to sign off on the plan due to the joint-use agreement between the two local entities.
Board members had some concerns about committing to the project, and the city apparently addressed them during negotiations. The biggest ask from LCUSD was to officially change the time when non-school groups can use La Cañada High School facilities to 5:30 p.m. instead of 5. The city and LCUSD have had a gentleman’s agreement regarding the schedule change, and community youth sports teams that use the fields have honored the district’s request, but the new contract passed by the school board would now codify the hours.
Dan Jeffries, who was board president through most of the Dec. 13 meeting when the issue was discussed before Joe Radabaugh was elected as the new president, said that having the time change in writing is of great value to the district.
The board ultimately seemed to be pleased with how discussions with city officials progressed since the issue was brought to them on Oct. 25.
“For me, it’s important that we work together,” Kaitzer Puglia said in what was her final meeting as a board member. “There’s no need for a ‘giver and taker’ kind of relationship. We have some property, the district wants to use the property, the city is providing services and we are providing space for the city. So, I don’t think one is more important than the other.
“This is a relationship, and we want to work with the City Council to make sure that we maintain a positive relationship for the benefit of the community members.”
One of the concerns the board had was the request from LCF’s staff for a 30-year lease, which is required for the city to be eligible for a state grant that would help offset the cost of the facility.
“It’s a 30-year lease; there are a lot of complicated factors,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said. “With two different agencies, there are different perspectives and different risks.”
There is a financial risk should the two parties terminate the agreement within the 30-year lease because California would then seek reimbursement of the grant funds, so they sought to minimize any long-term financial impacts. With the agreement, the district is responsible for 50% of any charge or demand imposed by the state if the contract is abolished within 10 years. The city will be solely liable for any charges if the lease ceases after 10 years.
The LCF staff has been working diligently to begin the project because the grant money would be secured only if the work can be completed by 2023, and the City Council wasn’t shy in expressing frustration over the lengthy process. The district said it wanted to ensure that the agreement was a win for everyone involved.
“I think the district has an ongoing interest and ongoing commitment to be supportive” of a pickleball facility, Sinnette said. “I think it’s just based upon any unforeseen district need is the only reason why there would be any potential change or modification of the 30 years. I think that things change over time. Thirty years is a long time, but for the unforeseeable future, we have that mutual commitment to serve the community with the best use and highest use value of that property.”
Longtime resident Dan Luke opposed the agreement and project, saying that traffic congestion and parking would become an issue in the area. Jeffries replied that the city would likely address his concern by studying the area and determining if any measures are required to mitigate any problems that would arise.
Another resident, David Haxton, felt that the district was giving up too much in the deal, but the board felt it was a fair agreement considering all the services the city provides to LCUSD.
Jeffries noted that the city pays for services such as maintenance of the fields, funding the high school library and supplying crossing guards and school resource officers.
“If your point is we should be asking for more, I think that’s a debatable point,” Jeffries told Haxton. “But I think the point right now is that we are getting something from the city, so I don’t think it’s the gift of public funds. I think that the city does provide a number of services in exchange for use of our facilities.”