Two Factions Fight Over Wardman Park Building
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – While months wear on with a city building sitting empty, a debate rages between two opposing factions inside the city over how to best use the building. The debate finds one councilman struggling to bring vocational job training to the city and another that thinks youth boxing is the best focus of city efforts.
Boxing is seen by Councilman Scott Matas as providing self-discipline and a way to get kids off the street. Councilman Adam Sanchez would like the city focus it efforts on jobs and put the building to use for vocational job training in disciplines like HVAC (air conditioning and heating) repair and service and computer training for office jobs.
Others stepping into the debate have taken a critical view of boxing, citing the American Pediatric Association that has recommended parents not allow their children to participate in a sport that focuses on blows to the head and face. The worry is over long-term effects of repeated concussions common in every form of boxing.
The debate that has carried on through several council meetings over many months and again surfaced at Tuesday’s council meeting when the chair persons of three city commissions delivered a report to the city council on the best use of the building. The council had earlier given the commissioners the mission to study the problem and report back.
Their report cited the American Pediatrics Association position against youth boxing and the commissioners took the extra step to include in the report a position paper of the APA that detailed the health impacts of repeated concussions to the brain caused by youth boxing.
The building at the center of the debate is a former Boys and Girls club facility at Wardman Park vacated since the beginning of the year when the club moved into a new facility.
While the commissioner’s report seemed to take an unfavorable view of boxing, the report did not answer the question of whether the facility should be used for sports or for job training. It actually recommended to the city council that both be considered. And it said the issue needed to be studied further.
The Bigger Issue
The city’s lacks of sufficient recreational facilities violates the state’s Quimby Act which mandates a minimum amount of recreational parks for the population. No grants for additional recreational parks can be secured so long as the city has no Master Park Plan. The city has never approved a Master Park Plan for which every city council has dragged their feet. Pleas from citizens to build new recreational parks have been ignored by city councils continuing to approve spending city money elsewhere instead of dirt and grass.
This particular building at Wardman Park adds to the contentious situation by arguing over what little recreational facilities there are.
Bang My Head
For the last several months Councilman Matas has been fighting for the boxing club concept opposing the consideration from The Center for Employment Training to set up a federally funded learning facility in the Wardman Park building. Outspoken support for CET and educational programs by council member Adam Sanchez was insufficient as city staff cold shouldered the CET representative, leaving her to abandon interest.
The city council stepped forward to referee the situation that threatened to come unglued. It was an unprecedented move with three commissions meeting at one time with the Planning Commission, the Public Safety Commission and the Cultural Affairs Commission, leaving them flummoxed and unable to make a unified recommendation.
It was a low blow when city staff reported this intransigence as support for the boxing club.
When that was exposed as inaccurate the matter was sent back to the commissions for another look-see, hopefully to find a resolution. Instead the three commissions simply handed the matter back to the city council.
Education advocates such as council members Adam Sanchez and Russell Betts are now expressing hope for a group named Smooth Transitions to be welcomed to the city and to bring much needed job training as well as advocacy for youth education and increasing literacy to the city.
“Education, you just can’t put that aside,” Sanchez said. “If we had more kids in this community that graduated from high school and were productive we would possibly have a lower crime rate in this town.”
“The building is located in a park and that is why it should be used for recreation,” Scott Matas said after just minutes previously endorsing a different educational program at a different city park. After his voting to approve use of the building at Todesco Park for an educational program the councilman rationalized that any educational program’s use of the building located at Wardman Park was inappropriate.
Mayor Pro Tem Scott Matas, who boasts of his highest educational accomplishment being the title of valedictorian for a high school graduating class of five students, dismissed the urgent need for education and job training, instead expressing optimism that pugilism is more needed by wayward youth and a solution for crime.
“I’ve been an advocate for a boxing facility,” said Matas. “We’ve stated the positive; we’ve talked about education, which is important, but this building use needs to be for recreational purposes. I believe boxing is a tool to get kids off the streets.”
Mayor Yvonne Parks added nothing to the discussion, while council member Jan Pye spoke of buildings that might possibly become available in a year or two. The city council turned the matter over to city employees to look at the recommendations and report back to the city council in 30 days.