TURLOCK — After giving residents one last chance to have their say on a proposal to pay $2.8 million for a high school football field, the City Council went for the project on a split vote.
Sitting as the city's redevelopment agency Tuesday night, council members Ted Howze, Amy Bublak and Kurt Spycher voted in favor of spending the money. Councilwoman Mary Jackson voted against the proposal; Mayor John Lazar sat out the vote because he owns property near the project area.
"We have a long list of worthy projects, and, in my opinion, the Joe Debely Stadium does not meet the requirements of redevelopment money," Jackson said, echoing the sentiments of most of the residents who spoke about the project.
A few residents spoke in favor of giving the money to Turlock Unified School District for installing an all-weather track and field at Turlock High School, citing concerns about the safety of children who use it, and the opportunity to attract events that would bring money to the city.
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Among them were Holly Evans, who is part of the Turlock Turf Crew, a volunteer effort to raise money for new fields at the city's high schools.
"I do want to say that as part of the Turlock Turf Crew, we have raised around $35,000 within the last year," she said. "$2.8 million averages out to about 90 more years of work."
But several residents exhorted the council to put the project aside because there are more pressing needs in Turlock, and a football field is not an appropriate use of redevelopment funds.
Dale Parkinson said redevelopment money was intended to refurbish areas where property taxes were lower because of blight.
"I imagine a neighborhood street, with an abandoned house, with the windows broken out and weeds. And another house with fire damage," he said. "This is blight."
Fixing the properties would increase property taxes, which then would pay for the work, Parkinson said. "That's how it's supposed to work," he said. "What we have is a dirt track and a grass field. I ran laps on that dirt track and played football on that field. It's not blight. It wasn't blight 50 years ago, and it's not blight now."
Turlock has a wish list of projects worth $20 million that it wants to fund with redevelopment money. The city is advancing those projects to some degree, including a new public safety center and a new arts center.
But the choice to spend money on the track is an urgent one because the city faces the threat of state raids on redevelopment accounts and potential declining property values that could trim redevelopment revenue. Some fear earmarking cash for the football field could reduce the likelihood that another project on the wish list will get funded.
City Manager Roy Wasden said the redevelopment agency has enough cash to fund all of those projects, as long as the state doesn't execute a proposal to tap local redevelopment funds to balance its budget.
"There's been some suggestion the funding of one project may impair the funding of another project. There is no factual information to back that up," Wasden said.
Jack Williams, who has lived near Turlock High for 40 years, said a new field — and the increased use it would bring — would be enough to make him consider moving.
"I don't think my neighborhood is blighted," he said. He called the noise and traffic congestion associated with events at the field "an ongoing, constant annoyance. You are imposing on me and my neighbors something that you who live in other parts of town want."
The agreement goes to the school district, which has acceptance of the money on its Dec. 8 meeting agenda.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.