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Council approves Debely renovations, despite public outcry

POSTED November 24, 2009 11:19 p.m.
Despite an outpouring of public opposition to the proposed Joe Debely Stadium renovation project, the Turlock City Council, sitting as the Redevelopment Agency, made the findings necessary to move the project forward by a 3-1 vote.
The project, which would construct a new all-weather synthetic track and field at Turlock High School’s Joe Debely Stadium, will be funded with $2.8 million of Turlock Redevelopment Agency funding. Any additional ongoing or upfront costs for American with Disabilities Act compliance, currently estimated at $600,000, would be shouldered by the Turlock Unified School District through their own state allotment of redevelopment funds, which can only be used for capital construction projects.
Councilwoman Mary Jackson cast the lone dissenting vote, stating she could not make the four findings necessary to move the project forward.
“In my opinion, Joe Debely Stadium is not a RDA legal project,” Jackson said. “I believe RDA money should be used to bring jobs and industry to our community.”
Turlockers in the overflow audience sided with Jackson to oppose the project by more than a four to one margin. Four speakers voiced their support for the Joe Debely Stadium renovation, while 17 spoke against.
In order to move forward with the project, the council had to find that the renovation would be of benefit to the immediate neighborhood in which the project is located, and that the $2.8 million in RDA funding would assist in the elimination of one or more blighting conditions in the area. Nearby residents believed both findings could not be made.
Turlocker Lyn Sarraillé, who lives near Joe Debeley, went door-to-door collecting 30 signatures in opposition of the project just a day before the council meeting.
“If you increase the use of the stadium, these neighborhood people are not going to have any parking at all,” Soreil said. “… I’d like to make the statement that you’re actually blighting my neighborhood.”
Many other residents, including Stan Grant, voiced concerns that even more noise and traffic congestion would be generated by the renovation, which could triple the usage of the stadium. Supporters such as Ernie Peters with the Turlock Turf Crew, a group raising money for Turlock football fields, saw the fun atmosphere of a nearby stadium as a boon to a neighborhood.
“There’s noise, there’s happiness, there’s people cheering, that’s what you want to hear,” Peters said, drawing laughter from the audience.
City Attorney Phaedra Norton stated that external legal consultants as well as the California Redevelopment Association had reviewed the plan, and all had agreed that the Debeley renovation would eliminate blight as defined by RDA law.
The council also had to find that there existed no other reasonable means of financing the project.
Turlock Parks, Recreation, and Community Commissioner Gabby Kinsella, noted that past projects ranging from the skate park to the dog park to the Marty Yerby pool were all funded by community donations. Holly Evans, with the Turlock Turf Crew, stated that in one year her organization had raised $35,000 toward a new field. At that rate, it would take 90 years to raise enough money to renovate Joe Debeley Stadium.
Finally, the council had to rule that the project was consistent with the Implementation Plan. The Debely project was included in the 2010-2014 RDA Implementation Plan, adopted Nov. 10.
“I know that people are concerned about the neighborhood and things of that nature, but we are talking about the future and that’s our youth,” Councilmember Amy Bublak said.
Mayor John Lazar recused himself from the discussion, as he owns property near Joe Debely Stadium and, as such, had a financial conflict of interest.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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