Activist says city officials stretched the truth to win grant money for soccer field at Hahamongna
By André Coleman 09/05/2012
Who would be best served by a soccer field in Hahamongna Watershed Park?
The answer depends on who you ask.
According to city officials — who have qualified for a $1 million state grant to construct a soccer field at Hahamongna — a soccer facility there would best serve Pasadena youth living in densely populated areas of the city with high rates of crime and unemployment.
But a report prepared by a community activist finds that a soccer field at that park would actually best serve affluent youth living in nearby La Cañada Flintridge, even though Pasadena taxpayers would be responsible for paying for maintenance, upkeep and everything else related to the field.
“The money from the grant has to be in an area of high crime and unemployment,” explained activist Hugh Bowles. “The field needs to be available for casual use as well.” The wording of the grant, Bowles said, “Implies that the intended beneficiaries could go there and play when it is not in formal use.” But that is not likely to happen. Instead, he said, the park “will serve La Cañada.”
Bowles’ efforts were apparently noticed at City Hall.
“We’re looking for a suitable replacement site,” said Loren Pluth, city project manager for parks and landscape. “The city manager has said if the city can find a site and shift the funds, we won’t pursue Hahamongna. We don’t have a site identified and the funds are tied to the Hahamongna site. These are state funds, and if we decide to move the grant to a new site, we have to show the state that site is eligible for the grant.”
According to “Hahamongna Watch Report: Sycamore Grove Field Grant Analysis” — a 12-page report researched and prepared by Bowles — the proposed field would be nearly two miles away from the nearest Pasadena home or school. Even worse, the park is not only located near an affluent Pasadena neighborhood, but it is nearly seven miles away from Villa Parke — a hard-scrabble area of the city where the Pasadena youth soccer league plays. These players, the city insists, would be the top beneficiaries of a new soccer field at Hahamongna.
But raising even more red flags was the fact that residents of neighboring La Cañada Flintridge live less than one mile from the area in question.
The city recently took public comments on the initial park study, and most of the residents attending that meeting clearly opposed the soccer field.
According to Bowles, the money does not have to be used on a soccer field at Hahamongna. It could be put toward area improvements or a land purchase. So far, the city has not explored any other options regarding the grant.
But — according to Bowles’ analysis — the bigger issue is that Pasadena doesn’t qualify for the grant in the first place.
According to the grant requirements, the project that the grant is meant to fund must be located in a densely populated low-income area with high youth crime and high unemployment rates.
In the final analysis, Bowles found that:
• The field will not be in a neighborhood with high youth crime and unemployment
• The field will not be in a densely populated area
• The field will be located next to one of the wealthiest communities in California
• Casual use of the field by the target beneficiaries will be impossible
Bowles’ analysis also concluded that:
• The dimensions of the proposed field would extend across the current stream zone and into riparian habitats
• There is no community support for the field, but there is immense opposition to it
• The city has ignored options under the grant to renovate existing fields or to acquire land through the grant to build new fields
Indeed, In July 2010, former Human Services and Recreation Department Director Patsy Lane prepared a list of six possible alternative sites for a soccer field in Pasadena, none of which were ever considered for grant funding.
Hahamongna Watershed Park is bordered by unincorporated Altadena, La Cañada Flintridge and neighborhoods of West Pasadena near the Rose Bowl, which have some of the area’s most expensive homes and lowest crime rates. Although this area of West Pasadena has been plagued in recent months by home burglaries, neither they nor La Cañada Flintridge could be described as “urban.”
The grant also cites the need for “well-lit” recreation facilities for urban youth, which should be open from 3 to 7 p.m. during the school year. According to the Hahamongna Park Plan, permanent or temporary lights are not allowed on the field.
At a meeting in July, designed to inform interested residents about plans for Hahamongna, only one out of roughly 20 people expressed support for the soccer field.
“One need only look at the grant application to find the exploitation of a population in Northwest Pasadena that does not have the economic resources nor the easy access to support the assertion that these sports fields are built to serve them,” open space activist Dianne Patrizzi wrote to the city regarding the meeting. “They are built to serve those in close proximity to them. The youth of La Cañada — not generally disadvantaged and heavily enriched by this — and the youth of Altadena, which if polled may tell you they find what you are doing here a crime.”
California State Parks Director of Internal Affairs Cedric Mitchell said that a number of considerations were involved in the decision to award the grant to the city of Pasadena.
“Several factors played into the grant,” said Mitchell. “Priority was given to low-income areas, but in the scoring process, we have to give priority and weight to project viability and proximity to the service area. In this case, the city made an argument that the targeted residents would be served.”
Mitchell noted that even though the target demographic does not live in West Pasadena, the project was still viable because “soccer fields are different because they are destination locations, and it is not uncommon for people to travel 20 miles to get to one.”
Many of the urban youth targeted in this grant play soccer in the Villa Parke Soccer League in Villa Parke, almost seven miles away from Hahamongna. Buses would run from that area every 30 minutes, and the nearest bus stop would be a 30-minute walk from the proposed field at Hahamongna.
“They are definitely not meeting the spirit and requirement of the grant,” Bowles told the Weekly. “They have ignored the Arroyo Seco Design Guidelines, which specifically states no lighting. They sought support only from soccer supporters and politicians and are calling it community support.”
Sycamore Grove Field was approved in 2003, along with the Hahamongna Watershed Park Plan, both facilities outlined in the Arroyo Seco Master Environmental Impact Report. The proposed soccer field at Hahamongna is opposed by environmentalists like Bowles, who want the undeveloped area left alone and preserved in its natural state.
For many, the 1,300-acre watershed park between Altadena and Pasadena in the Upper Arroyo Seco, which allows access to trails in La Cañada Flintridge and US Forest Service property, is considered sacred ground.
The area got its name from the Native American Tongva people who lived in the Arroyo Seco hundreds of years ago. According to a Tongva myth, a coyote challenged a river to a race. After running as fast as he could, the coyote managed to beat the rushing water, then collapsed from fatigue. The river then roared by with laughter, taking the name “Hahamongna,” a word which in Tongva means flowing water, fruitful valley. Even now, at the falls above what used to be called Devil’s Gate Dam, one can supposedly hear the river laughing.
The property was sold to the Metropolitan Water District in 1970 for $490,000 with a stipulation that its usage must support open space and recreation. Then, in 2005, MWD sold the land back to the city for $1.2 million after the agency admitted that it had no plans to use it.
Almost immediately after that, rumors started circulating that roads would be built to serve nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Rumors also circulated that the land was purchased in order to build a parking garage for employees of JPL, located adjacent to the park property.
The Pasadena City Council recently voted to amend a lease with JPL which since 1984 has allowed the space agency to use 11.2 acres for employee parking.
“The city staff has pledged that they would aggressively pursue the Hahamonga park plan and they are only interested in big grants,” said Bowles. “In order to fulfill that pledge, they have to stretch the criteria from their standpoint. They will make statements that are not true.”