Support for Mif swap tied up in broader field deal

Support for Mif swap tied up in broader field deal

Michele Ellson

Less than a year ago, local youth sports leader Pat Bail was anything but complimentary about developer Ron Cowan’s proposal to build homes on the Mif Albright golf course in exchange for cash and land he owns on North Loop Road that would be used for new sports fields.

“If Ron Cowan wants to buy off the sporting community, in my mind he’s going to have to pay a lot more than $3 million (for fields), because that’s not going to do it,” said Bail, who said the Alameda Youth Sports Coalition she founded backed efforts to lease the course to a nonprofit. “The Alameda sporting community wants fields, but not at the cost of what’s right.”

But over the past several months, Bail – who serves as president of Babe Ruth baseball and is active with the Alameda Wolverines football team – has emerged as one of the proposal’s staunchest defenders.

“Sometimes (things have to be done) for the greater good. And this is one of those times,” Bail said Monday of the swap proposal. She said the leaders of the new foundation want the council to put the swap decision they’re expected to make Tuesday on hold so that her group can further investigate the viability of the field plan.

Bail’s apparent change of heart comes as youth sports leaders work to negotiate a deal with the city to take over some of its sports fields and to build and maintain a hoped-for sports complex on Alameda Point, which City Manager John Russo said could be seeded with $1.5 million of the $5 million Cowan and the city are offering for the proposed North Loop Road fields – if they can show they can at least agree on how they should proceed on that plan.

But her stance has frustrated golfers seeking to preserve the course and put her at odds with some longtime allies, including City Councilman Doug deHaan, who she ran for City Council on a slate with in 2006.

“I don’t think she understands what it means to junior golf,” said Joe VanWinkle, a coalition member who is active with youth golf.

Some members of the youth sports coalition have also questioned the feasibility of the field development plan, saying the North Loop Road property may not be able to accommodate the full-size fields or lighting proposed, and that it may be too far away for West End families to use.

“When we discussed the North Loop parcel there was not a member organization that offered a specific use proposal for the site. Nor did a majority of our members support developing the parcel,” Alameda Youth Sports Coalition President Griff Neal wrote City Manager John Russo on January 18. He said at that time he’d be meeting with Cowan to see if the issues could be addressed.

Neal did not return a phone call seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Bail said the reason she supports Cowan’s proposal is simple: His plans include fields that could accommodate a variety of sports – fields that city leaders have said are needed but that they don’t have the money to build.

A February 23 letter to Russo signed by Bail, Alameda Little League and Wolverines president Ron Matthews, Wolverines general manager Junior Tautalatasi, Alameda Youth Basketball president Randy Marmor and a pair of coaches said the group envisions a full-size, lighted, all-weather football field with bleachers to seat up to 1,600 people; two regulation-sized, all-weather soccer fields; and a Little League diamond on the North Loop Road property.

But in his letter to the city, Neal questioned whether those fields would fit on the North Loop property.

“In some cases public safety issues would be created by converting this property,” he wrote.

Bail said the increasing number of youth sports teams in Alameda is struggling to find the field space they need for practices and games. In their February 23 letter, she and her group said the Wolverines no longer have a place to practice or play because the College of Alameda increased its field use fees to $50 per hour.

“That equates to $10,000 per season - an impossible expense for the organization to subsidize,” the group wrote.

She said nonprofit youth sports leagues already pay a lot of the costs of maintaining city and other fields in addition to running the sports leagues.

The youth sports coalition, which said in November they wanted to form a nonprofit foundation to operate new fields on North Loop Road, was in talks with the city about taking over existing city-owned fields and building and operating a 40- to 55-acre sports complex on Alameda Point, according to VanWinkle and the letter from Neal.

“We envision a structure along the lines you described in our last meeting. Namely the city would provide financing capped at today’s expenditures and we would assume responsibility for some city personnel, equipment, and ongoing cost containment,” Neal wrote in his January 18 letter to Russo, which said his group’s members liked the idea of entering into a partnership with the city like the one they formed with a nonprofit group to run the Alameda Animal Shelter.

In his January 17 letter to Bail and Neal to discuss the partnership idea, though, Russo – who said $1.5 million of the money being offered as part of the North Loop plan could be used to seed a Point complex – said Alameda’s youth sports groups would have to be able to cooperate to make it happen.

“I am saddened to have to say that the past several weeks have not been auspicious in this regard,” he wrote. “If the various clubs in Alameda can’t agree on how, or indeed whether, to take on a 12 acre project that is fully funded, then it is difficult to see how the City can move forward expecting to have a partner in the development of a fields project that is about 400% larger and has no identified funds at this time.”

Bail said it’ll take years for sports fields to be developed at Alameda Point, and she thinks new fields could be developed on the North Loop property much more quickly. Her group, which acted as individuals and not as representatives of the sports organizations they lead or of the youth sports coalition, moved ahead with the foundation independently so it would be in place ahead of the council’s vote Tuesday.

“Their goal is for, the youth sporting organizations to take over maintenance, and scheduling of youth sports fields in Alameda. So how are we going to do this if we don’t have a foundation, we don’t have the ability to raise money, and we don’t have a long range plan?” Bail said.

She said she doesn’t think building homes on the Mif and building a new none-hole course into the golf complex’s existing South Course harms golfers, though VanWinkle said the change makes no sense for junior golfers.

“The bottom line is, we can’t throw the junior golf kids under the bus,” VanWinkle said. “That’s not right. We’ve got lots of land in this town and we can solve this differently.”