Cypress Council: $330K for Race Track “Vision?”

(Cypress, CA, 2/25/2017)   [Editor’s Note:  There are at least two causes for concern about Cypress’ City Manager’s proposal:  1) Is it a good use of taxpayer money, which George Pardon addresses first.  2)  Under what conditions might it be a good use of taxpayer money?  & 3) What should be the City’s goals for such a study, both of which I will address at the end of George’s article.]

1.  Is this a good use of taxpayer money?

By George Pardon:  At this Monday’s Cypress City Council Meeting (2/27/2017)  Agenda Item 9 under New Business proposes spending $330,000 of the City’s money to develop a vision for the future development of the race track property.

When the school district sought a zone change to rezone MacKay School and the District Office, the city didn’t pay for it.  Most recently, the city has asked two developers to propose plans for the city’s 13 acre site but the city isn’t paying for it.

While there might be some value in the city taking the lead on how the race track property should be developed in the future, the implication is that the city and the residents didn’t provide any input into the last process.  Just like the city takes the lead on Environmental Impact Reports, the property owner reimburses the city.  After all, who is the primary financial beneficiary of the rezoning of the property if not the property owner?

If the city has an extra $330,000 to spend, maybe they need to hear from the residents as to how they think it should be spent.

One statement in the agenda item may indicate the catalyst behind this push by the city to have this property rezoned:

“In 2017, faced with relentless cost increases (especially employee compensation and pensions), Cypress needs new sources of income to continue to provide high quality municipal services.”

While a lot of folks had problems with many aspects of the proposal that was circulated to the residents related to Measure GG, the most significant concern was that the initiative that the voters were asked to vote on did not assure the residents that they were going to get that proposal.  The initiative allowed for many, many project options.  How will this be any different?

The city entered into a 3 year consulting contract with Retail Strategies in July 2015 to develop retail and commercial opportunities for the city.  The contract pays them a not-to-exceed amount of $33,500 each year, not including any possible extra services.  What plans have been developed and/or implemented?

The Lincoln Specific Plan was designed to bring a balance of new residential and new business to the Lincoln corridor.  How is that working out?  We’ve certainly seen lots of high density residential.

At 5:30 on Monday, the city will have a workshop to talk about Reserves and Unfunded Pension Liabilities.  Maybe we should hear how they are going to fund Unfunded Pension Liabilities before spending $330,000 on behalf of someone that could easily fund a vision themselves.

Link to Monday’s Cypress City Council Meeting Agenda:

2.  Under what conditions might the study be a good use of taxpayer money?

By Dave Emerson:    As a local resident who’s passionate about improving local traffic flow and who’s been deeply involved in Los Alamitos’ multi-year, multi-million dollar General Plan Revision, as well as a School Traffic Study, I can see both the value and the dangers of bringing in an outside consultant to provide outside expertise in such a massive development as the Race Course property.

Whether the city should pay for the Vision Proposal or not depends on the city’s purpose, goals, and intent. . . & what the Council & City Staff plan to do with the study, if anything.

  • If they’re mainly doing a market survey so the track owners know how to spin/market their next initiative, that seems to be making a gift of public funds, which is clearly both wrong and illegal. 
  • If they’re sincerely bringing in competent experts to determine what’s in the City’s best interest in all respects including further traffic degradation, development of parks & community resources, & preservation of  open space & historic facilities, the Study could be well worth the City’s money. 
  • From my perspective as  a traffic guy I’d especially want to make sure a very competent traffic team does a very thorough analysis that’s totally unbiased.  Since most Cypress and Los Al residents rate traffic as the area’s biggest challenges, I’d have to assume the majority of local residents would agree with me on that.

If approved, what should be the Study’s Goals & Priorities?

What the Council does Monday with the  following section of the Agenda report for the $330,000 Vision Development Proposal may determine if the study is worthwhile or not:

As a guide to help the community create a vision that can be translated into a ballot measure, it is recommended the City Council adopt goals for the visioning process.Goals for consideration include that the vision:

I.  Represent the whole of the community, balancing different interests and points of view

II.  Be consistent with Cypress’ reputation as an outstanding family-oriented community with a thriving business environment

III.  Provide new community and recreational amenities

IV.  Generate revenue to provide municipal services and help ensure the city’s long-term financial sustainability

V.  Generate a fair economic return to the race course owner

It is recommended the City Council adjust these proposed goals as it sees fit and adopt a manageable number to guide the visioning process.

So, the question is, which of the above 5 goals is the Council most focused on. . . or should that be determined as part of the Community Input of the Study?

Unfortunately, it appears that the City Staff may think they already know what’s most important for the City.  The agenda report states “In 2017, faced with relentless cost increases (especially employee compensation and pensions), Cypress needs new sources of income to continue to provide high quality municipal services.”  

Does that mean, “forget the traffic implications, forget about more parkland, forget about preserving open space, let’s just milk this thing for as much money to deal with our pension problem as possible.”

“Employee compensation & pensions:”

Don’t get me wrong:  City Staff is wise to address the impending pension crisis, but should that be the main focus of this study by default?  With most Cities, as with most bureaucracies, feeding and growing the bureaucracy tends to be the top priority, even above the needs of the residents. City staffers’ priorities are not necessarily the same as the residents’ priorities.  Solving the pension crisis is part of a whole different discussion, which must include the City Council making tough decisions about future pensions, employees’ contributions, and options like leasing employees.

City employees need to bear their fair share of resolving this problem. To expect the citizens to cover 100% when the unions won’t make concessions may indicate the unions are better represented on the City Council than the taxpayers.

Regional Solutions for Regional Problems?

Of course, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, La Palma,  the County and our schools, and the Military (including the two local bases) are also struggling with rising pension costs, increasing gridlock, and disappearing open space.  Decisions made at Los Alamitos City Hall, like the coming 605 Village development on Katella affect Cypress and Rossmoor residents on their way to work and home.  Cypress’ decisions regarding the Race Course likewise affect Los Al, Rossmoor, and La Palma residents and businesses.

In a way we all suffer from what some might call the “Balkanization” of West Orange County.  It may be time for all West OC Communities to hire unbiased professionals to evaluate what’s best long term financially, traffic wise, open space wise for our West OC Community.  Do we really need six different police forces and five different City Halls for an area smaller than the City of Irvine?  Shouldn’t we work together to coordinate and optimize the coming development of over five square miles of West OC open space (2 Bases, the Race Track, Boeing Facilities)?

But I digress. . . . back to those 5 Goals suggested for the Race Track Visioning:

One possible change:

What does “Generate a fair economic return for the race course owner” mean, and should that even be on the list?  The Race Course had the current public/open space zoning when they bought the property, and much of it has been sold at a profit to two mega-churches under the current zoning.  In addition 33 acres has been upzoned for the Barton Place Seniors Development, which has yet to actually begin construction.  The Race Course owner has been operating a profitable business on the land for decades, while the property has increased dramatically in value.  Perhaps simply maintaining the property’s current value would make more sense.

The workshop on Finances and pension problems begins at 5:30 Monday night in the Executive Board Room at Cypress City Hall.

The Council Meeting begins at 7 in the Council Chambers.

Click here for the full City Council Agenda, with links to Agenda Reports.

Feel free to use the “Share” buttons below to let others know about Monday’s Council Meeting.  And please share your perspective, diplomatically, in a comment below.

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