Supporters of the Imperial Beach Sports Park and Recreation Center came to a City Council meeting Wednesday evening to voice their support for the Sports Park which may be turned over to the YMCA of San Diego County next year.
Some pleaded, and some cried as they explained what the community center means to them.
City leadership met with the city employees' union and YMCA representatives in closed door sessions Wednesday evening, but no reportable action was announced.
Efforts to find an outside group to manage the Sports Park began this spring while cuts to Sports Park staff and hours took place. Earlier this week, City Manager Gary Brown told IB Patch the city is in talks with the YMCA, but no deal has been reached.
Speakers also urged the city consider the formation of a Citizen Recreation Services Advisory Committee at their next meeting to join the process of deciding the Sports Park's needs and whether it should be put in the hands of the YMCA.
Sports Park supporters spoke during public comment, not to discuss any specific item on the meeting agenda.
Brown said more services may be offered at the YMCA at a lower cost to the city, but many speakers Wednesday argued that costs for teens and their families would be too high.
Sports Park and Recreation Center annual membership costs $25.
At nearby Border View YMCA, annual membership for teenagers costs about $200 a year or $18 a month. Financial assistance is available on a case-by-case basis.
According to 2010 Census Data, near one in five IB residents lives below the poverty line, compared to 12.3 and 13.7 San Diego County and California averages.
One in four IB residents are below the age of 18.
Vera Bryant said she won't be able to afford YMCA membership fees and that she didn't appreciate the value of the Sports Park until her son Isaiah, a Mar Vista High School student, started going everyday.
"As long as I know where my son is and the other people he associates himself with, they're safe, they're not out there just thrown to the wolves, they've got a place to go, a second home if you will, that makes myself and a lot of other parents very happy," she said. "I trust them with my child, and I wouldn't trust them with anyone else other than the Sports Park."
Isaiah said the Sports Park staff is in his heart and if he could't afford the YMCA, he doesn't know where he would go.
"Everyday after school people say 'You want to go steal this? You want to go smoke this? You want to go drink this?' I say no, I'm going to Sports Park," he said.
"If you guys take that away from me, I'm not going to have anywhere to go. I'm going to have to go home, or I might be able to be led under peer pressure and all that. I don't want to be led. I like going to the Sports Park," Isaiah said.
Other teenagers who spoke Wednesday echoed Bryant's remarks that they cannot afford more costs.
All five of the community center's employees also spoke Wednesday.
Sean Kelly has worked at the Sports Park for the last 12 years and grew up there.
"I have watched many kids grow into adults in this community," he said. "It is nowhere near time to throw in the towel yet. Remember, the youth are our future. The youth in Imperial Beach need a place in the community."
Joshua Rice also grew up going to the Sports Park to skate or play basketball before he started working there two years ago. An affordable, accessible place for IB's teenagers is a need. It can save lives, he said. Wednesday evening he talked about someone who comes to the rec center everyday who tried to commit suicide.
"He got spooked and went to the only place he could think of in search of safety," he said. "This kid is not the only one who needs more than a gym to work out in or basketball courts to play on."
Andrew McKee teaches music lessons and operates the recording studio. McKee took over the Sports Park's music program from Fuzz Huzzi lead singer Allen Camp, who is back in IB for another show in a months long west coast tour.
"I get plenty of bands coming in from across the street at Mar Vista High School wanting to record. We're helping them work toward their goals and what they want to do and we provide them with demos and what not," he said. "With cuts to arts in California and the United States, we feel we offer a really valuable resource."
Fe Fernandez said she and other Sports Park employees try to maintain a warm and welcoming atmosphere so kids and teens feel they have a place to go.
"Many of the kids at the rec center know me as mama," she said through tears. "I'm the one who greets them when they walk across the street after school and ask how their day went and how much homework they have."
Handing control of the facility to an outside entity, uprooting staff and limiting the city's ability to provide affordable programming "would be irresponsible," she said.
"Put decisions about our kids back in our hands," Fernandez said.
Imperial Beach City Council will hold its next meeting Oct. 3.
Brown Act rules stipulate agendas be released within 72 hours of a regular meeting.
What do you think about the idea of turning the Sports Park over to the YMCA or the formation of a citizen committee? Share in comments.