By Steven Tavares
"No" was the response Thursday from San Leandro School Superintendent Cindy Cathey when asked if the school district had financial resources to operate revamped sports facilities across the city, including a new Burrell Fied, if the $50 million bond measure recently added to the November ballot is approved by voters.
San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos asked the pivotal question at a joint meeting of the city council/school board liaison committee. It is ironic Santos posed the query since the opening of the city's new senior center on East 14th Street was pushed back due to a lack of funding. Nevertheless, Cathey was noticeably distressed by the question. She paused, stared at papers in front of her for moment and simply said with a reddened face, "No." Once she gathered herself she said the district hopes to discuss entering into an equitable joint-use arrangement with the city.
If Burrell Field is eventually transformed into a state-of-the-art facility similar to the park constructed at Castro Valley High School, rental dollars and user fees will greatly increase, said School Trustee and city council candidate Pauline Cutter. The language of the bond measure contains far more than reconstructing Burrell Field. It also includes rehabbing sports fields at nearly every school in the district. Paying for the bond in the middle of the deepest recession in generations may be a tough sell, in addition to a quarter-cent sales tax measure already on the ballot. Property owners would be asked to pay roughly $25 per $100,000 assessed value of their property. Santos indicated receiving numerous calls from seniors about an exemption to the bond, but the school district says the demographic is only exempt from a parcel tax.
Santos, though, says the district could have received a new sports facility for practically nothing if it sold the lucrative land under Burrell Field. Retail developers have longed desired the patch of land situated next to Interstate 880, he said. "Is this the best use of this land?" asked Santos who said the city and both the San Leandro and San Lorenzo School Districts could work on using land at San Lorenzo High School for a facility and possibly forming a regional district similar to the Hayward Area Recreational District to operate it. "This is something that should have been discussed, but wasn't," said Santos. Both Cutter and Cathey both said the plan was looked at, but found it not feasible and a hard sell to fund a project in another municipality.