City okays new park, field fees

City okays new park, field fees

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s City Council on Tuesday unanimously signed off on new park fees intended to foster more efficient use of Alameda’s sports fields and better recovery of the costs of users’ wear and tear on parks.

Starting this fall, youth sports leagues will pay between $2 and $3 an hour for use of the city’s fields, with credit for any maintenance they perform; they now pay $5 per player with a $500 minimum. The city will also introduce new hourly fees for adult sports leagues with separate, flat fees for kickball leagues and a fee for the use of inflatable jumpers in parks.

Fees for picnickers will be tiered based on the number of tables someone wants to use; the city now charges the same fee regardless of the size of the picnic area they wish to rent. And the city will open its facilities for holiday rentals.

Off-Island teams and residents will pay higher rates than Alameda teams and residents.

An audit conducted by parks staff this past summer and fall found fields that had been reserved by youth sports leagues were vacant 15 to 20 percent of the time, Recreation and Park Department Director Amy Wooldridge said. She’s hopeful the new fees will open up field space for rainouts and other users.

“Switching to this system will provide better use of our fields,” Wooldridge said.

Already, she said the new system has opened up space on some fields a few days per week – something Wooldridge said hasn’t happened in several years. The additional field time could mean the city needs fewer new fields than earlier estimated. A parks assessment released over the summer showed the city needs another three ball fields and five all-purpose fields.

“Now that they’re being used more efficiently, we may find the needs for the kinds of fields we already have will contract a bit,” City Manager John Russo said.

Wooldridge said the new fees could “level the playing field” for smaller youth sports leagues, which she said end up paying more to use Alameda’s fields than bigger leagues – and reduce costs for some park users. She said the city’s current fee structure ends up charging smaller leagues – which ask for about 90 hours per season – more than $5.50 an hour, while larger youth sports leagues – which may seek 4,000 hours of field time per season – pay 50 cents an hour.

Larger leagues also have the volunteer base to help maintain the fields they use, Wooldridge said, work that will allow them to pay less to use Alameda’s fields and free up parks staffers to do other work.

Wooldridge said the changes are intended to encourage better use of the fields, not to boost fees, though some council members asked if the city shouldn’t be charging more after she said Alameda’s fees are at the “lower end” of what nearby cities charge. Wooldridge said her goal was to change the fee system first, then look at the amounts being charged.

“It just would be too much sticker shock to do everything at once. It would be unfair to the leagues,” she said.

Fees will actually drop for some park facilities users, including those who reserve smaller picnic areas. Until the changes are implemented, the city will charge a flat rate regardless of the number of tables sought. The deposit for the Alameda Point Gym will be half the $1,000 now charged.

Councilwoman Lena Tam noted that the fee changes wouldn’t raise enough money to help the city build new fields; even with more efficient use of its existing fields, Wooldridge said the city could use all-weather, lit fields – like the one called for in the city’s failed Measure C sales tax proposal – and also additional football, lacrosse and hardball fields.

“I’m not sure you’re going to be generating the revenue you need to construct new fields just on these efficiencies,” Tam said.

Russo said any new money generated by the fee changes would be used to reduce the amount subsidized by other city programs. Wooldridge said the city spends $175,000 maintaining its fields.

“These are not going to create a capital base for expansion. What they will do is help stop the bleeding,” Russo said.

Wooldridge said she discussed the proposed changes with local youth sports leagues; none appeared at Tuesday’s council meeting. But the Alameda Soccer Club’s co-presidents told The Alamedan that they’ll continue to work with the city.

“We have been very fortunate to have a City Manager and Park and Rec department who understand the importance of youth sports for our community and who have supported ASC, even in the face of unprecedented fiscal challenges,” Alameda Soccer Club co-presidents John Krainer and Bill Shiber wrote in response to a reporter’s request for comment on the changes. “Without fields our kids can't play soccer so we will continue to partner with the City and be creative in finding solutions to the challenges of field maintenance and availability.”

Ron Matthews, who heads Alameda Little League and the Alameda Wolverines football league, said the leagues he oversees are willing to pay their fair share for fields.

"There is no question that the City must find ways to pay for the Parks. We are willing to pay our fair share as long as we can be recognized for, and offset the expenses that we incur for improvements at Rittler Park," Matthews said. "We have a great relationship with the City and will continue to help where we can I just wish the voters of Alameda knew how much our youth sports programs do for them, and would assist us in future efforts to build badly needed football, soccer, and baseball fields."

The city staff report, including a list of new fees, is posted below.