We just approved spending $700k to move the community gardens 120 feet, and yes, it is moronic.
In 2020, Beachwood built the biggest and nicest Community Garden in the region that our residents rave about. Now the City wants to spend $700k to move it 120 feet, and the only thing they can cite that will be better at the new garden, which our service department can't upgrade at the current location, is that it will be closer to parking and be a 20-second walk rather than a 40-second walk from your car.
The following is the inside story of how a $500k plan to build six pickleball courts increased to $1.2m to include moving a community garden 120 feet told through drawings, timelines and video clips from meetings that they hope no one watched or remembered.
On August 8, 2022, a committee meeting was held where our City Engineer presented a design to build six pickleball courts next to the tennis courts with a total estimated project cost of $464,800 ($425k in construction and $39,800 to the City Engineer's firm GPD for engineering/design fees). Council was told they needed to make decisions quickly to stick to the tight schedule that would have the courts opening by Memorial Day 2023.
Everyone liked the design/plan and wanted the courts open by the spring. The only small changes/additions suggested were to widen a 6-foot walkway to 12 feet, which only added $11,280 to the cost; so after construction was completed, it would be wide enough to put a bunch of 12x12 shade structures in that area, which only added $15k to the cost (6 @ $2,500 each for $15,000 total).
These suggested changes were embraced as they only added $26,280 to the estimated total project cost, bringing it to just under $500k, and widening a walkway by six feet was a small design change that shouldn't disrupt the schedule/timeline of opening by Memorial Day 2023.
So why are we talking about adding $700k to this $500k pickleball court project, just to relocate the Community Gardens 120 feet from its current location?
At this same August 8th meeting, where the original $500k plan was presented, Council was told that some of the 40 garden boxes in the community gardens would be displaced by the new pickleball courts. However, they were also told there was plenty of available space within the current fencing to move the displaced garden boxes so that a new location for the community gardens wasn't needed. See Google Earth picture below...
Even if there wasn't enough space within the current fenced area of the community gardens to relocate all the garden boxes displaced by the new pickleball courts (which there is), as you can see in the picture above, more space could easily be created by simply extending the fencing to the red shaded area. This would require 300 linear feet of new fencing which costs around $30 per linear foot, installed for a total of less than $10k if we contracted it out. However, our service department is more than capable of installing fencing and would likely cut the cost down to $5k.
Needless to say, spending $5k to $10k to create more available space at the current location of the community gardens by extending the fencing makes a lot more sense than spending $700k to build a new community garden, just 120 feet from the current location, which would also delay the opening of the pickleball courts by months. However, this is exactly what GPD will propose at the September 28th, 2022 committee meeting.
At the September 28th, 2022 committee meeting, GPD told Council that the goal of opening the pickleball courts by Memorial Day was no longer attainable and would likely be delayed for months because the original $500k plan from seven weeks ago had increased to just under $1.2m, to include building a new community garden 120 feet east of its current location.
I wasn't able to attend this committee meeting since it was the only time an in-person meeting was scheduled at 9:30am on a Wednesday but watched it that night. The short 1:08 video clip below is from parts of this meeting where Council President Alec Isaacson asks the same questions I would ask just four days later at the October 3, 2022 Council meeting, specifically; What was wrong with the previous $500k plan and can we go back to that? Why would we delay the opening of the courts by months and perhaps close to a full season, and almost triple the cost to just under $1.2m to include building a new community garden 120 feet from the current location, instead of sticking to the original $500k plan which would have the pickleball courts open by Memorial Day 2023?
At the Council meeting on Oct. 3, 2022, after asking the same questions Alec was asking at the committee meeting just four days earlier, I also asked if anyone could explain the specific things that would be better/nicer about the proposed community gardens, which were improvements our service department couldn't make at the current location, to justify the $700k moving it 120 feet would add to the cost of the original $500k project and delay the opening of the pickleball courts?
The only thing anyone could cite was it will be closer to parking and be a 20-second walk rather than a 40-second walk from your car. As you can see in the short video below, when I asked Alec if he could list anything else to justify the added $700k and delay the opening of the courts, which were the exact same concerns he was expressing and "struggling with" in the committee meeting just 4 days earlier, he suddenly believed they were no longer legitimate concerns.
In the next short video, Councilwoman June Taylor attempts to justify spending $700k to move the gardens by saying that we need to do it in "a first class, best-in-class way, like our City always does".
June got very frustrated when I asked her to A) list the city or cities with a better and nicer community gardens so I can understand what she believes about our current one is lacking, and B) list what specifically will be better/nicer at the new community garden, which are improvements our service department couldn't make at the current location. When she couldn't provide any good answers to these questions, she abruptly made a motion calling for the discussion and debate end, stating that Council meetings were not the appropriate time for debate and discussion as that should occur in committee meetings, which Alec quickly seconded.
Before you watch the video below, I have to point out how crazy it is that an elected official would try to assert that a council meeting was not the proper time to discuss and debate an issue being voted on in that meeting. This claim would be odd and bizarre in any context but especially in this meeting where June didn't have any objections when 45 minutes were spent discussing, debating and answering her questions about the deer culling issue, before it was voted on.
The GPD/City Engineer conflict of interest issue.
Someone wrote to me "It would be interesting to know how much the City Engineer’s firm's fees increase by suggesting this project increase from $500,000 to $1.2 million".
The answer is that just on the design contract alone, GPD’ fees went from $39,800 to $69,800 when the $500k project increased to $1.2m. On top of that, our city engineer knows his firm will also be "awarded" the inspection/construction administration contract on the project, which is usually around 4%-5% of construction costs, so their fees on that contract will increase significantly as well.
If anyone is wondering why I have a problem that we allow our city engineer, who we pay to be our unbiased expert on all things engineering related, to personally benefit on the “unbiased” and “non conflicted” advice he provides us, this is a good example. His firm GPD doesn’t make an extra $50k to $70k in fees if he suggests, “you don’t need to spend an extra $700k to move the community gardens 120 feet as you can just spend $5k to $10k to create more space in the current location by extending the fencing”.
This is not a done deal.
All we voted on at the last Council meeting was to increase GPD's original design fees of $39,800 to $69,800 to amend their original design to include building a new community garden 120 feet from the current location. When GPD completes this updated design, which we were told would likely be in December, it has to come in front of Council again to vote to put the construction contract out to bid.
At that time, Council can vote against doing this which would leave the Mayor the following two options. He can basically say, "It is my $1.2m way or no way at all" or he can ask Council to approve putting the construction contract out to bid for GPD's original $500k design/plan they presented at the August 8, 2022, with the small addition of widening the walkway separating the courts from 6 to 12 feet, which would allow the courts to open months earlier while costing $700k less.
If you are a resident, and want this type of dysfunction to stop, and would rather see this $700k spent working with the schools to improve our community's embarrassingly substandard sports fields and playgrounds on school property, here is what you can do to help.
The next time you run into an elected official, politely ask them the question all of them don't want to be asked, which is to explain the specific things they believe would be better/nicer at the proposed new community gardens, which are improvements our service department couldn't make at the current location, that justify the additional $700k cost? Let them go on for the 30 seconds it will take them to repeat the predictable talking points like;
Residents only want us doing things in a 'Best in Class' way because we are a 'Best in Class' suburb.
Resident's want us to lead, not follow from the back.
We are the number 1 ranked suburb by Cleveland Magazine because we do things this way.
Residents don't want us doing things on the cheap.
Residents expect us to do things the 'Beachwood way'.
The Community Gardens has lived an itinerate life until now, and now we need to give it a permanent home.
When they are finished, don't let them off the hook and politely respond,
You didn't answer my question. I'm not trying to be rude or unreasonable, but $700k is a significant amount of money that most residents would rather see used to work with the schools to improve our community fields and playgrounds.
If you can't cite to the things you think will be nicer about the new community garden location, that our service department can't improve and upgrade at the current location, that justifies adding $700k to the original $500k pickleball project, when Council is asked to vote to put the construction contract out for bid, please let me know if you will vote yes or no and provide the reasons that explain and defend your vote.
When an elected official doesn't think they will have to publicly explain and defend their vote, it is easier and safer for them to go along with whatever the group is doing. However, when they know that residents are going to demand that they publicly defend and explain their vote; and won't let them off the hook when they provide predictable responses like "Residents expect us to do it the 'Beachwood way'" and/or "Residents want us to lead, not follow from the back.", they will quickly realize it is no longer be easier and safer for them to go along with the group.
What I am suggesting is not an out of the box or unique concept. Elected officials are supposed to have enough respect for residents that they go out of their way to explain and defend their positions and votes, like I am doing here. If for no other reason, it gives residents something of substance to judge us on the next time we are on a ballot so they have more information which can be used towards their voting decisions than who was nice guy or gal when they met them when they were campaigning or at a block party.
That is all and feel free to call (216-832-6771) or email (Mike@burkonsforbeachwood.com) with any thoughts, concerns or questions.
Have a good night and Go Guardians!!!
P.S. Just a quick note I didn't want to distract from my main message about the sand volleyball courts that may or may not be included in the project. According to GPD, the sand volleyball courts only added $42,881.50 to the plan, which I backed out since there didn't seem to be support to keep them in the plan. As you can see in the short video below, if the City keeps them in the plan, and attempts to claim these sand volleyball courts add significant value, in an effort to justify the $700k increase from the original $500k pickleball project, it is clearly a disingenuous argument as the Mayor himself said, "I’ve heard from a couple of Council people about the sand volleyball courts. Let me say in the grand scheme of things here, I don’t care if we have sand volleyball courts or not".
For those of you reading this that would like there to be public volleyball courts in Beachwood, so do I and if the City uses this $700k to work with the schools to put together a Master Facilities and Recreation Plan to improve our community's sports fields, courts and playgrounds on school property, I am confident there are multiple locations where the relatively small expense and space needed to put in volleyball courts makes sense.