CERRITOS — The City Council has approved a plan to develop a major sports complex at Cerritos Regional County Park, dashing hopes of local school officials who wanted the facility--and a sorely needed gymnasium with lockers and showers--built next to Whitney High School.
Under terms of a tentative agreement with the county, the city will lease 25 acres at the regional park on Bloomfield Avenue south of 195th Street where it will construct and maintain a series of lighted athletic fields for soccer, baseball and softball. The lease--$1 a year for the next 25 years--still needs approval from the Board of Supervisors. Cerritos Mayor Don Knabe, chief deputy to Supervisor Deane Dana, predicted that the board will ratify the lease by mid-September.
The agreement clears the way for the council to make good on its longstanding promise to deliver more athletic fields for city youth and adult sports leagues. Little League and soccer groups, among others, have clamored in recent years for more space to play. They have complained that they have been forced to go outside the city to find available ball fields.
Initially, the council wanted to build the sports complex on a vacant 18 acres owned by the ABC Unified School District between Whitney High School and Cerritos Park East.
City Offer Rejected
But in late April, the ABC Board of Education rejected a city offer of $2.5 million for the site on Shoemaker Avenue. The city then turned to the county and the regional park, eventually striking the deal that the council approved on a 3-0 vote Wednesday night. Council members Daniel K. Wong and Ann B. Joynt were absent.
School board President Peggy Lee was sharply critical of her colleagues for missing what she called a "very big golden opportunity." Lee and several other trustees had lobbied hard for the school board to accept the city's offer, saying it was the quickest and best way to secure the money to build a Whitney gymnasium.
But some in the district, including a vocal group of Whitney parents, wanted more than just a place to bounce balls or hold after-school dances. They wanted a stage for theatrical productions and a soundproof band room for the magnet school, which attracts some of the district's top academic and fine arts students. And the group argued that $2.5 million was not enough to finance it.
So the school board declined the city's offer, hired a consultant and is now exploring other ways to build the Whitney gym. The district has four high schools, but Whitney is the only one without a gym.
By going to the county, the council has apparently saved a bundle of money. City planners estimate that it would have cost about $4.5 million to purchase and develop the Whitney property.
But the site at the regional park will cost the city next to nothing, and the cost of the lighted athletic fields, snack bars and restrooms will run about $2 million.
"You can't ask for a better financial deal," Councilwoman Diana S. Needham said.
Although the exact layout of the complex will not be decided until late this year, Cerritos spokeswoman Michele Ogle said the city hopes to add at least four new ball fields. Three softball fields and one baseball field are now in the southwest corner of the 82-acre park, which is bounded by Bloomfield Avenue, 195th Street, Coyote Creek and Southern Pacific railroad tracks. Ogle said the city plans to incorporate the existing fields into its complex, although the configuration of those fields may change as planners squeeze the most out of the site.
Officials estimate that it will take 6 to 10 months to complete the sports complex, but no ground-breaking date has been set.
As part of the agreement, the city will take over maintenance and scheduling for the sports complex.
Lynette Sargent, director of activities at the park for the county, said most of those now using the park's ball fields are not Cerritos residents. During the summer, the three softball fields are booked every night, with daylong tournaments on the weekends.
Teams From the Valley
"We have teams that come from as far away as west Los Angeles and the (San Fernando) Valley to play here," Sargent said. "And some are worried that the city will simply cut them out."
Ogle said that won't happen. "This facility will be built for the community at large and that means surrounding cities too," she said. ". . . This is not a Cerritos-only facility."
During the first year, the agreement says, one-third of all adult teams at the park must be from outside the city. After that it is up to the city to develop an "equitable formula" for scheduling, which must be approved by the county Parks and Recreation Department.