Several Cypress citizens suggested Monday that the Cypress City Council is working to fulfill its own grand ambitions rather than the will of citizens they were elected to serve.
Already embroiled in a controversy over their subjective “selection” process for a vacant Council seat, which has led to the intervention by an outside attorney, a swirling controversy over Lexington Park has prompted a growing lack of trust in their governance, some citizens suggested Monday.
The Cypress City Council on Monday heard from several residents who claim the city continues to lose trust of residents, suggesting specifically that the city ignored input from residents over its newest park under development and instead, built a sports park that will eventually see play by organized leagues.
More specifically, they claim the park, as being constructed, violates the “donation agreement” with Los Al Race Course, who donated nine acres to the city for a park, and subsequently, the “Measure A” approved by voters in 2018 to approve the construction of the park.
The city claims the land donation is worth $10 million and they have loaned the Cypress Recreation and Parks District approximately $12 million to build the park.
From Mayor Jon Peat’s perspective however, the new Lexington Park has “state of the art capability, and he said, “what’s being developed for Lexington Park” includes outdoor amenities “that the city doesn’t already have.”
“It’s going to be a tremendous addition the community,” said Peat at Monday’s meeting. The mayor’s comments came after he recently toured the park, which is still under construction, but is nearing completion.
Peat said he recently toured the park with a representative of Friday Night Lights, a flag football organization, “and they’re [FNL] just so excited to have an amenity like this that will allow them to enjoy sports in our community.”
He says the city already provides softball fields, baseball fields, “and now we’ll be able to offer the fields for our football, soccer and Lacrosse players.”
Peat again thanked Los Alamitos Racetrack for the donation of land on which the park is being built. “I look forward to the grand opening,” said Peat, suggesting Lexington Park would be a great asset to the city “for years to come.”
Mayor Pro-tem Paulo Morales, who toured the park with Peat, partly echoed the mayor’s comments, but also added they met with a group of residents during or after the tour who had serious questions about the park, and its development process.
“If I may add, Mayor, also, you know, there were fellow residents that also came by as well and expressed their concerns” while they toured the park, said Morales.
Morales said he and Council member Anne Hertz met with the concerned citizens. “We made it very clear to them,” said Morales, “that we [Cypress] have a tremendous staff … that always takes the time to respond to concerns and address them.”
Any of their concerns, now, or in the future, would be taken seriously by city staff, he assured them.
Many of those citizens spoke to the Council during oral communications and suggested it was the specific lack of listening that drove them to comment.
Saying they spoke on behalf of citizens who are “losing trust” in their local government, they claim the city ignored the will of the people expressed during public planning meetings over the past few months and instead, built what a select few wanted.
“It’s a $10 million gift to organized soccer paid for by Cypress residents,” said frustrated resident Edwin Kraemer, who lives near the new park.
He suggested Lexington Park is a commercial sports park, not useful for the seniors who populate the area, or average citizens.
“I think [the plan] was the brainchild and vision of a couple of council members, maybe the city management, and a few people from organized soccer that have pushed it through,” he said.
“This is not what the community asked for,” he told the Council.
Cypress resident Anthony Uy had similar comments. “I just want you guys to understand how we got here and why … we felt like we needed to do something so drastic.”
Uy, and others, are conducting a gofundme campaign to raise a legal fund to file a lawsuit against the city for issues related to the park. They too claim the city has gone rogue in constructing Lexington Park, which will pave the way for future organized sports rather than be a relaxed area for residents.
Uy said he “never saw” a council member at those public hearings and “I assumed City Manager Peter Grant was communicating to the City Council.”
“We lost the city,” as a resource, said Uy.
Uy, and others, expressed disgust that the city had uprooted some “legacy trees” where the park now stands.
At the hearings, said Uy, people universally expressed concern about saving some older trees on the site. “But when the park started construction, the 50-year-old trees were the first thing to go” he said.
“People were asking for things that benefitted the entire community,” said Uy, implying that most of these demands were not met. “And so that’s how we lost trust,” he said.
“The only concession that came out of those meetings was to take one of the synthetic fields and make it a natural turf,” he noted.
Uy said citizens have donated more than $4,000 “from their own pockets,” to fund a legal defense fund for the park. He said that is a statement that citizens are losing confidence in their own influence with city officials.
“I think you guys really need to understand what that is [donations to a park legal defense fund], it is a declaration of people who are losing influence,” said Uy.
Malina Nagpal, who has a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, was blunter. She was among the candidates not selected by the Council in the “selection process” that the Council used to fill the Council seat vacated by former council member Stacy Berry.
“I’m hoping that you all are listening, and really listening to the residents that have lost their confidence in our city council,” she said. “To say that they have lost trust in their governance structure is huge.”
She referred to outside attorney Kevin Shenkman’s letter that claims the city is so out of touch that they need to demand single member districts. “Those are the kinds of things that are the last resort for the city residents,” she said, “is to go to outside counsel to get help because our internal governance structure failed us over and over again.”
“I have lived in the city for the past 30 almost 31 years. And I have never seen this type of distrust in our government. Please trust our residents who have a stake here with our children, our grandchildren, and our grandparents, who live here; your grandchildren, grandparents who live here,” said Nagpal.
“Rather than the city staff, you need to reach out to the residents. I know I’m hearing people saying thank you, thank you for your service, and all of that, I apologize…and I don’t apologize, but right now, I am not thankful because you are not listening. That’s all I have.”