Fate of Veteran Park Still Up In The Air

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

COMMERCE – For the last few months, Cynthia Venegas has been forced to travel to Montebello for her daughter’s volleyball practice because the park in Commerce where she ordinarily practices is closed to the public.

Lead was discovered in 2010 at the Veterans Park Community Center, which at one time housed the James W. Bristow Marksmanship Range — but the city council did not approve clean up of the site until last year, prompting closure of the facility in January and programs being moved to other locations.

“It’s taking a toll on my family,” Venegas complained last week to city officials during a meeting to discuss the status of the city’s abatement effort.

Commerce officials assured residents they are exploring solutions to the lead problem and for reopening the center as soon as possible.

One option could be to temporarily erect a “sprung” type building, made of a less durable fabricated material.

The entire park was briefly closed to the public earlier this year amid concerns that a series of heavy rainstorms had spread lead and asbestos to other areas.

Susana Larios lives directly behind Veterans Park and says she did not learn there is a risk of lead exposure during the abatement process until she saw signs of the activity during a visit to the park.

“You put my safety” at risk, she told city staff.

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Commerce residents urge city officials to reopen a community center at Veterans Park. EGP photo by Nancy Martinez.

The remediation process has been underway since January. Some sports programs and other activities were relocated to Bristow Park. Basketball and baseball have since returned to Veterans Park, and the city has rented bungalows to temporarily house some recreational activities. But with no gymnasium available, the Commerce Crush Volleyball Club Venegas’ daughter plays for is still practicing at Schurr High School in Montebello.

“What are we going to do with these young women,” asked Venegas, adding that her daughter loses hours of sleep and studying having to commute to practice.

“I know this is temporary, but we need to take a look at what’s happening now,” echoed Venegas.

It’s been a difficult season for the team, said Commerce Crush Coach Jorge Ortiz. He said he hopes the city comes up with a solution before the new season kicks off in a couple of months.

“We don’t have anywhere to go,” he emphasized.

Parks and Recreational Director Robert Lipton explained a sprung building could be built in six months if the current building cannot be salvaged, whereas a permanent structure could take years to construct. City officials said it will be a few more weeks before they know whether the existing gym can be saved.

Interim City Administrator Matthew Rodriguez said remediating the situation at Veterans Park is his number one priority. He took responsibility for the city’s failure to communicate what was going on to the public.

“I assure you, it is not going to happen again,” Rodriguez said.

The sprung building option did not appeal to some parents, who said it would be inferior to what the have now and would require a portion of the building to be replaced after a number of years. They accused the city of focusing their attention on the more affluent Rosewood portion of the city.

“If you’re going to give us something on this side, make sure it’s of quality,” Larios said. “We feel neglected.”

Calling it the “next best thing,” Rodriguez assured residents the structure would not be subpar. He suggested they take a look at a similar building located behind the Commerce Casino. He went on to say the city is already looking at property adjacent to the park where a new facility could be built if the current one cannot be saved and the grounds decontaminated.

The council plans to act quickly and not “kick the can down the road,” Councilwoman Lilia Leon said.

Longtime resident Richard Robles, however, can’t shake the feeling that the council’s newfound sense of urgency is tied to the upcoming City Council election.

“Why wasn’t anything done before,” he told EGP. “Now that it’s campaign season they care about this community?”

Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio and Leon, two of three incumbents up for reelection, told EGP they simply did not know the severity of the lead contamination.

“We didn’t know how far it went, we never anticipated it would be at this level,” said Baca Del Rio. “This building was state of the art at one point.”

Leon told EGP she surely would have done something sooner had she’d known the building posed a public health risk, noting her family lives on the other side of the park.

For now, Baca Del Rio has directed staff to arrange a trip for interested residents to tour a sprung building to help them better understand what they are like. She hopes from there they can reach a consensus on what to do next to get a recreational facility open in the Veterans Park community.

One thing’s for sure, said the longtime councilwoman, “we need to deal with this now.”

Update: June 5 12:30p.m. correcting the spelling of Cynthia Venegas and attributing a quote to her that was mistakenly attributed to Susana Larios.

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June 1, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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