Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 1, 2013

City changes how sports groups get time on athletic fields

Parks commission approves field-use policy with new residency requirements

by Eric Van Susteren

The Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved a plan on Tuesday, Feb. 26, to overhaul its athletic field-use policy, including contentious eligibility requirements for organizations using the fields.

A round-robin system based on the total number of Palo Alto residents in each organization will be used to determine which group gets to use a field during a given time slot.

Nonprofit youth groups composed of 51 percent or more Palo Alto residents will be invited to participate in a round of priority brokering for field slots. The total number of Palo Alto residents will determine the number of teams each organization has in that round, and each team will be allotted two practice slots per week and 0.55 game slots per week. A second round will allow organizations to broker for slots based on the total number of teams they have.

Brokering for adults will follow a similar pattern, except the residency threshold for the priority brokering round would be 35 percent because adult sports leagues tend to have more nonresidents than youth leagues.

The time slots for youth and adult leagues will be separate from the beginning, so adult and youth organizations will not be competing for the same slots.

Commissioner Deirdre Crommie, a member of the subcommittee that drafted the policy, admitted the new policy was imperfect but said the new system allows more residents access to more valuable time slots.

"When we're thinking about fields it's important to keep the residents in mind," Crommie said. "You've got to keep your eye on the prize, and that's taking care of the residents."

Crommie said residents of Stanford and East Palo Alto who attend Palo Alto schools are included as Palo Alto residents.

Gordon Short, regional commissioner of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), spoke against the plan, saying that it was starkly different from the field-use policies of other cities. It could negatively affect the competitive nature of the sport and reduce the number of Palo Altans on the field, he said.

Previously, Short's organization was given brokering priority above all other organizations because it is composed nearly entirely of Palo Altans, he said. The new plan puts it on equal ground with other organizations who need only to meet a threshold of 51 percent residents.

"It used to be that AYSO brokered first, then every other club," he said. "We're still the top dog in terms of getting fields because we're almost 100 percent Palo Altan, but we'll have to join the pool with the other clubs, and the result will be losing somewhere between 30 to 40 percent of premium time slots we used to get."

Since American Youth Soccer Organization has a such a high number of Palo Altans, including parent coaches and referees, Short said every slot that goes from his organization to another club reduces the number of Palo Altans who take to the field.

Other cities, such as Mountain View or Sunnyvale, broker fields based on residency level and expect organizations to seek field space from other cities based on where the team members live. Short said Palo Alto should follow this practice.

He said offering incentives — in the form of priority brokering — to clubs to take on more Palo Alto players will mean an organization might lower its standards to accept a player from Palo Alto so that the organization has a better chance for good slots in brokering.

"It has all these rolling ramifications," he said. "The city is interfering in a way that has a negative impact, and we would like to see a lot of Palo Alto players getting there meritoriously rather than for boosting brokering by the club."

Finally, Short said that the high demand for fields in Palo Alto means that by the time the second round of brokering is complete, very few desirable slots will be left. The result will be that Palo Altans who aren't members of a brokering organization don't get access to fields.

Charlie Williams, president of the Stanford Soccer Club, disagreed, saying that in terms of the priority structure the commission "nailed it," even though there may be some tweaks to make down the road.

"You've taken a 100 percent problem and turned it into an 80 percent solution," he said. "What you have left is essentially a question of numbers, and you can work with numbers in terms of how much you favor residents and how much opportunity you give to nonresidents."

To address the issue of fields that are reserved and not used, the new policy also makes stricter rules on cancellations and sets aside a number of fields for flexibility in case of rain or schedule changes. The policy also defines the differences in practice and game slots, takes into account Daylight Saving Time's effect on field allocations and allows for each organization to broker one tournament per calendar year.

Editorial Assistant Eric Van Susteren can be reached at evansusteren@paweekly.com.

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