CERRITOS — A search by the City Council for a site to build a sports complex has been dealt a blow.
The ABC Unified School District this week rejected the city's offer of $2.5 million for 17.6 acres of school property on the southeast corner of 166th Street and Shoemaker Avenue. The city had said the school district could use the money to build a gymnasium at Whitney High School next to the vacant parcel, while the city would develop the rest of the site as a major sports complex.
Instead, school trustees decided to hire a consultant to explore ways the district can build the gymnasium--sought by Whitney parents and students--without city help.
Among the options, trustees said, may be the sale of other surplus district property, including Cabrillo Lane School, which was closed in 1984 and is now leased to Cerritos College for night classes.
Selling a portion of the Whitney site to developers has also been discussed in the past, but school officials acknowledge it is not as attractive to buyers as other district properties because it is zoned for open space. Before any building could occur there, the city would have to rezone the site, a move that the council opposes.
Taking a Chance
By rejecting the council's offer, board President Peggy Lee said the trustees are taking a chance that the city may not come around again if the district is unable to build the gym on its own. She said it could take up to six months for a consultant to review the district's options and report to the board.
Council members Barry A. Rabbitt and Daniel K. Wong, who have been negotiating for the council, told school board representatives late last week that $2.5 million is the city's best--and last--offer. If the school district does not accept it, they said the city was prepared to look elsewhere for land to develop a sports complex, which would include lighted outdoor soccer, baseball and football fields.
Whether the council will now withdraw its offer and search for an alternative site probably will not be decided until the council's next meeting on May 7. But Wong said the city is committed to the sports complex and if the school board "continues to drag its feet, we won't have much choice but to leave them behind."
One option discussed by the council is to approach the county about leasing a portion of the Cerritos Regional County Park on the city's southeast side along Bloomfield Avenue. But Trustee Barbara Goul said the city may run into opposition from residents bordering the park, particularly homeowners in the gated Shadow Park housing tract.
"Those are expensive homes," she said, "and I'm not sure those people would appreciate having those lighted fields just beyond their fences."
While concerned that the city may go elsewhere, Trustee Richard Arthur, one of board's negotiators, said he is confident an agreement will eventually be worked out. "It is my belief the council wants to deal with us. . . . The Whitney site is the best site in the city. It will happen, you watch."
School Supt. Eugene Tucker recommended hiring a consultant to study the issue when the board was unable to reach a unanimous agreement on the city's offer. According to the California Education Code, any real estate transaction involving a school district must be unanimously approved by its trustees.
A group of Whitney parents had complained that the district would be selling the land too cheaply. Besides a gym with lockers and showers, parents at the magnet high school--which attracts some of the district's top students in academics and fine arts--wanted a stage for theatrical productions and a soundproof band room. They argued that $2.5 million was not enough to finance it. Because of pressure from the group, the board agreed two weeks ago to hire an appraiser to determine the price of the land.
Wong said the city's offer is fair. Because the land is zoned for open space, the two-term council member contends that the district would be hard-pressed to find a better offer from a developer.
"With what we offered, they can build a facility comparable to a Buick or Chevrolet," Wong said. "But what those parents are seeking is a Mercedes or Cadillac, and that's out of the question. Our offer stands, and if they don't accept it, they are missing the boat."
During the final weeks of the recent city election, it appeared that the city and school district had all but worked out a deal for the land next to Whitney, which opened in 1976 without a gymnasium. It became a campaign issue, and was supported by most candidates, including incumbents Rabbit and Diana S. Needham and challenger Ann Joynt, all three of whom won election April 8.
A coalition of organized sports leagues first proposed a sports complex on the Whitney site last fall. They sports leagues and the city then approached the school district about the site. The city has estimated the cost of developing a sports complex on the site at $2.6 million.
"Before we knew it, the whole process had accelerated a bit beyond our control. . . . It really got a little out of hand," said Tucker. By waiting several months and reviewing various options, the district can make a more "informed" decision about the city's offer, he said.
Board president Lee agreed that trustees must look at all options.