Local soccer club takes control of fields

Local soccer club takes control of fields

Michele Ellson

The Alameda Soccer Club will be taking over a no-cost lease to manage soccer fields at Alameda Point that were once handled by an out-of-town club. The soccer clubs using the fields will pay to maintain them in lieu of rent.

The City Council’s unanimous decision Tuesday to approve the three-year lease for four soccer fields at Lexington and Redline avenues marks more cooperative relations among nearby soccer clubs and a step toward giving local sports groups more control over the city’s athletic fields and facilities.

“It’s an evolutionary step. And yes, it definitely continues in the direction of having the people who care most about a particular service and asset actually manage it,” City Manager John Russo said during an earlier interview on the lease.

The Alameda Soccer Club already manages a separate group of fields at Alameda Point, the Hornet Soccer Fields at 250 West Hornet Avenue. Alameda Recreation and Park Department Director Amy Wooldridge said Tuesday that the club had put $30,000 worth of work into those fields.

City leaders decided not to renew the Piedmont club’s lease, which it has held since 2005, when it expires at the end of this year. Russo said it “made the most sense” to have a local club manage the fields.

The council’s decision to renew the Piedmont club’s lease in 2009 was challenged by some of the council members who ultimately approved it; they questioned whether local players were having difficult getting field time. Some of the Alameda’s club leaders said at the time that field time wasn’t an issue and that the local club had been offered the lease in the past but couldn’t afford to maintain the fields as it required.

Council members staked out similar positions on the local club’s use of the fields on Tuesday.

“I’m not too sure I’ll ever be happy with an outside identity displacing our own youth,” said Councilman Doug deHaan, though he said he thought the lease agreement was a step in the right direction.

Councilwoman Beverly Johnson said the cost of maintaining the fields had been an obstacle to the local club’s taking on the lease in the past, and she praised the clubs and city staffers for finding a way to overcome it. And she noted that many Alameda youths play in the other clubs that share the fields.

“Soccer is a regional game. We have to really kind of look at this regionally,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we should look at this as us versus them.”

Alameda Soccer Club president Peter Holmes said that under the new lease, the local club will manage the fields for use by a number of clubs and that the Piedmont and East Bay United soccer clubs will continue to cover their maintenance. Holmes said East Bay United has put nearly $60,000 into the fields over the past 12 months.

The Alameda club would gain 10 percent of the use of the fields, which will be available to the club between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week, and will not pay any of the cost of maintaining the fields. Holmes told the council it could gain additional access to the fields if it begins pitching in for maintenance costs.

“Essentially what Alameda Soccer Club nets out of this new lease is expanded facilities for our growing program and supporting our brother and sister soccer clubs in the local East Bay area that contain Alameda athletes,” he said during an interview Tuesday.

Holmes said the Alameda club had the option to use the fields in the past but rarely exercised it, adding that the process of petitioning the city to use them was “a challenge to negotiate.” He said the club will now manage a schedule for all the teams slated to use the fields.

Alameda Soccer Club is part of the 7,000-member Jack London Youth Soccer Sports League, which includes the Piedmont and East Bay United clubs. The Alameda club’s teams had 1,267 players ages 4 to 19 this fall, Holmes said, and many local players are on the Bay Oaks and East Bay United competitive teams.

Holmes acknowledged that there was some bad blood between soccer clubs in the past. In earlier interviews, some parents in the Alameda club said they felt the Jack London league was shortchanging local players and in particular that younger, recreational players were subsidizing the play of more elite athletes. But he said those issues have subsided.

“Our orientation is that we are a community-based soccer club, and our goal is to get as many kids playing soccer as possible,” Holmes said.

Russo has talked with local youth sports leaders about managing the city’s sports fields and also, a hoped-for sports complex at Alameda Point. Holmes also said he saw the lease deal as a step toward that type of partnership.

“We’re going to prove soccer entities are unified and can cooperate,” Holmes said.

Separately, Wooldridge said her department is taking a look at the way all of the city’s fields are used with an eye toward changing the fee structure for their use. She said the plan to move toward an hourly fee structure, as opposed to the current per-player fee, is aimed at making sure sports teams only reserve the time they need on the fields, leaving space for others to use fields that are now being reserved but left empty.

Mayor Marie Gilmore said the city needs to look at how it can better serve lacrosse, football and other youth sports that have become more popular in recent years.

“As everyone knows, we have a childhood obesity problem, so we want to get these kids away from the TV sets and get them outside doing something,” Gilmore said.