By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Court rules Debely renovations legal use of RDA funds; TUSD says usage impacts will be minimal
Placeholder Image
Debely Renovations: Project Beginnings to Now

• July 23, 2009 — The Turlock City Council, acting as the Turlock Redevelopment Agency, adopted their 2009-2010 budget including $2.8 million of tax increment funding earmarked for a synthetic turf field and all-weather track at Turlock High School’s Joe Debely Stadium.
• Nov. 13, 2009 — The RDA approved their five-year budget plan, still including $2.8 million in RDA funds for Joe Debely Stadium.
• Nov. 17, 2009 — The Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees approved the Joint and Reciprocal Agreement for Use of Facilities between the City of Turlock and TUSD, agreeing to receive the RDA funding should the city make it available.
• Nov. 24, 2009 — The Turlock RDA made the necessary findings to allow funding the stadium renovation, and entered into a funding agreement with the TUSD.
• Dec. 8, 2009 — The TUSD Board of Trustees adopted a Categorical Exemption pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, clearing the way for construction.
• Dec. 29, 2009 — The Turlock Citizens Commission filed a lawsuit seeking an administrative stay to prevent the TUSD from expending any funds on the project, claiming the renovation does not meet RDA law and skirts CEQA restrictions.
• February — The City of Turlock filed a motion to strike the Turlock Citizens Commission lawsuit alleging impropriety in the city’s $2.8 million Joe Debely Stadium renovation project.
• March 1 — The Stanislaus County Superior Court ruled the actions taken by the RDA to approve and fund the Debely renovation were legal and appropriate.
• March 2 — The TUSD Board of Trustees were asked to review the Categorical Exemption to CEQA, and unanimously approved the updated document.

Two rulings fell on the side of the controversial project to renovate Turlock High School’s Joe Debely Stadium this week, striking blows against the Turlock Citizens Coalition who oppose the development.
On Monday, the Stanislaus County Superior Court ruled that the city acted properly in allocating $2.8 million of Redevelopment Agency funds to install a new synthetic turf track and all-weather field at the 60-year-old stadium. A Dec. 8, 2009 Turlock Citizens Coalition lawsuit had alleged the use of funds was not consistent with RDA guidelines, as the project is outside of the city’s RDA boundaries and RDA funds are intended to eliminate blight.
“It’s clear from the judge’s ruling that everything the city did was appropriate,” Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden said.
Turlock Citizens Coalition attorney Richard Harriman stated that the case had not been thrown out completely, and that he intends to amend his case and file the amended petition by the end of the week.
“It's not (dead), it's still very much alive,” Harriman said. “And the more I learn about this, the better the pleading's getting.”
Late Tuesday night, the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously decided to reaccept a modified Categorical Exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act — another bone of contention with the Turlock Citizens Coalition lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues that the new track and field will increase usage of the stadium, resulting in environmentally deleterious conditions to the surrounding neighborhoods. Harriman believes the district should conduct a full Environmental Impact Report, with 20 days of public review, which fully examines the effects of the stadium improvement.
Members of the public, wearing ribbons reading “Don’t use RDA money for plastic grass,” raised issues such as noise and light pollution, traffic, and vehicle air pollution as potential impacts.
The TUSD Trustees found that the new field would not cause a great change in usage, other than higher use by existing THS physical education classes. As the capacity of the facility will not change — save for the addition of 68 wheelchair accessible seats — and the usage will not increase, the district concluded there would be no new environmental issues to contend with. Given issues such as noise and light are existing conditions, should the usage remain constant as the district contends, then the TUSD is by law exempt from completing a full Environmental Impact Report.
“We can do nothing and we still have these concerns,” said TUSD Trustee and Clerk Loren Holt. “And we can just continue on and we’ll still have neighbors that have these concerns.”
Those in the audience, including Harriman, took issue with the claims that the stadium would not see significant additional use with a new track and field. He cited a letter to the editor penned by Turlock City Councilman Ted Howze that suggested expanding the hours of field availability from 800 to 3,000 hours and allowing scheduling of a wide array of new events.
“In effect what we have is an unregulated, unlimited total availability of using this facility 24/7, 365 days a year,” Harriman said. “… Your project description is fatally flawed and inadequate because you have to analyze all of the uses.”
The TUSD maintains the only forecasted additional use will be by THS gym classes. The district will retain exclusive control over scheduling usage in the new agreement, despite building the facility with Turlock RDA funds, and the City Council has no control over the stadium. While the Civic Center Act does require the district to make the field available to the public, it also sets some restrictions — restrictions the existing field currently operates with.
“They would be asking and clamoring to use our facility now if there was a tremendous demand under the Civic Center Act,” said TUSD facilities planner Roger Smith. “And we’re not seeing that.”
The trustees did raise the topic of a draft facility use agreement, which would set hours of operation and noise restrictions on the stadium, banning air horns and limiting public address system use, so as to appease the concerns of neighbors. TUSD Board of Trustees President Frank Lima said the district would “open up every avenue for communication” with concerned residents to ensure the facility is operated in an agreeable manner, but noted that some efforts may be hampered by the ongoing litigation.
“We’re going to do what we can do, and we’re going to do what we believe to be in the best interest of our students, because that’s what we’re here for,” Lima said.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.