At a recent council meeting, swim center advocates Marsha McCray, Sandi Taylor and Michel Bazinet asked the council to spend money it has set aside and design the swim park.
McCray slammed former mayoral candidate and community activist Celeste Garamendi of the Tracy Region Alliance for a Quality Community and her husband, Mark Connolly, who sued the city in January over its approval of the swim center.
McCray read a prepared statement that seemed aimed at pressuring the council to design the swim center now, even though it will likely be several years before it gets built.
“Everything is in slow-mo because of the lawsuit, unfortunately,” McCray said Tuesday. “It’s hard to move forward when you’re battling a lawsuit.”
The swim center is earmarked for about 16 acres of land in a proposed subdivision at the northwest corner of Linne and Corral Hollow roads.
Developer Les Serpa worked out a deal with the city that saw him last year win the rights to build 2,250 homes on the property starting in 2012 in exchange for $10 million and about 16 acres of land that Tracy will use to build the aquatics center.
But that’s less than what Serpa originally proposed, which was to give the city 20 acres of land and $20 million. A last-minute proviso also allows the city to build the swim center anywhere it wants, rather than requiring it be built within Serpa’s subdivision.
And that, in part, was the basis for the lawsuit, which said the city failed to study the environmental impacts of putting the swimming pool at a spot other than the subdivision. The lawsuit also argues that those changes are big enough to negate the city’s environmental impact report.
Connolly sees no way the lawsuit will be settled before next year. At the moment, the group and the city are haggling about what will be used as evidence to decide the case, which relies completely on public documents.
But even without the lawsuit, there’s a long way to go before Serpa will be required to hand the city a $10 million check.
Tracy needs ear bureaucratic obstacles first.
For one thing, the city must have a regional board OK changes it wants to make to its general plan. The Local Agency Formation Commission will vote on changes to Tracy’s blueprint for future growth, which shrinks the land that could be developed and sets a 10-year rather than 30-year horizon for growth.
Those general plan changes are being challenged, though, by the Center for Biological Diversity, which says the city fails to adequately plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
Potentially, that could lead to a further delay to agency approval of the general plan, which the city hoped to have OK’d by fall. Andrew Malik, the head of the city’s engineering and planning departments, says the city hopes to have the agency’s blessing by the end of the year.
But the agency also has to OK a plan the city must present to show that it has enough water and sewage treatment capacity to serve all the homes that could be built under the revised general plan.
LAFCo also has to allow Serpa’s subdivision, which is slated for now-unincorporated land outside the city that would have to be annexed into Tracy’s city limits.
Once annexation happens, Serpa’s outfit, The Surland Cos., has two years before it must hand over the $10 million.
The lawsuit is a wild card in the timeline.
“Every year that goes by is a wasted opportunity,” McCray said. “It sure would be nice this time of the year to have our aquatics center.”
McCray said she’s heard from no officials to see if her prodding helped convince decision-makers.
At least one councilman said he’s not ready to spend money to design the center, though.
Councilman Steve Abercrombie said he first needs to know if the swim center will be built at Serpa’s subdivision before he votes to spend money to design it. And he wants to know how the city, which is in a financial hole, is going to run the center without a government subsidy.
“For me, anyway, there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered before we design anything,” Abercrombie said.