By LISET MÁRQUEZ | | Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

PUBLISHED: October 9, 2019 at 5:35 p.m. | UPDATED: October 10, 2019 at 9:48 a.m.

Pomona leaders have agreed to sell Veterans Park to a developer for $11.6 million, committing to reinvest some of the proceeds in several other parks in the city.

The city is selling the 11-acre Veterans Park to Long Beach-based Seven Street Development Inc., the builder of business parks to the south and east of the open space. Seven Street plans to develop four new industrial buildings to replace the park’s decade-old synthetic turf fields.

Pomona plans to use the proceeds of the sale to pay off about $3.2 million in debt still owed for the park. The remaining $8.4 million would be placed in a special fund earmarked for park improvement projects and to replace the four soccer fields that will be lost in the sale, Michael Osoff, the city’s community services manager, told the City Council at a meeting Monday, Oct. 7.

“The location of the fields is in my view very problematic because of the proximity to trains and trucks. To me it makes a ton of sense for it to be sold and take that money to repurpose it and support our parks,” he said Monday. Veterans Park is located northwest of the intersection of Mission Avenue and the 71 Freeway. To the north are train tracks.

The council voted 5-1 on the deal Monday, with Councilman Robert Torres opposed and Councilwoman Elizabeth Ontiveros-Cole absent.

But the sale hinges on another key approval outside City Hall, according to Deputy City Manager Kirk Pelser.

The city’s purchase of the park site, the former General Dynamics Plant, came with a federal deed restriction mandating that it be used in perpetuity as recreational space. If the land were to be sold, the change in use must have the Secretary of the Interior’s approval.

“This whole transaction to sell the property, if we don’t get approval from the Secretary of Interior, it’s a moot point,” Councilman Steve Lustro said.

Pelser said city staff has been working with Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, who has indicated her support to help lift the deed restrictions and to proceed with the sale of the park.

Since opening in 2008, Pomona has seen the use of Veterans Park diminish and revenues decline, Osoff told city leaders Monday.

The park has about 100,000 duplicated visitors annually, but 65% of those are not Pomona residents, he added.

“I’m seeing that we are losing money every year on a facility that is not chiefly benefiting Pomona and Pomona’s youth,” Osoff said.

For example, in the 2018-19 year, the park brought in $335,380 in revenues from usage fees but expenditures outpaced it at $404,822, leaving a $69,332 deficit. Osoff said the 2018-19 revenues were a bit of an anomaly; that year, $48,000 was collected from Mt. San Antonio College for using the field for drone classes.

Meanwhile, because of previous theft at the park, the site requires security when staff is not present which costs the city about $118,000 annually.

Still, there are some who are opposed to the sale.

“I know there’s good reasons to sell the park but the monies received should buy more parkland rather than improvements because Pomona does not have enough parkland,” said Don Martens, Pomona resident and a member of Clean and Green.

Osoff said it would be challenging for the city to find the same amount of flat land that would be within its price range.

With $3.2 million earmarked to settle debt, how the city decided to spend the remaining $8.4 million from the sale was not a haphazard process, Osoff said. City staff spent a lot of time going park by park and identifying the needs at each, he said.

“We want to maintain or increase recreational park acreage and maximize existing park and city space that’s underutilized,” he added.

Washington Park, a highly popular park, is set to benefit the most from the sale. According to Osoff, the following could be done at the park:

  • Expand the park to the north to the 9th Street Yard
  • Add outdoor restrooms
  • Build a concession stand
  • Improve parking
  • Improve existing fields
  • Add one or two modified field(s)
  • Expand/add playground