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Commission approves new Palo Alto field-use plan

Original post made on Feb 27, 2013

The Parks and Recreation Commission last night unanimously approved a plan to overhaul its athletic field-use policy, including contentious eligibility requirements for organizations using the fields.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 12:44 AM

Comments (22)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2013 at 8:22 am

I think it is high time these issues were addressed and commend them.

I think it is also a good time to discuss whether or not some of these fields should have lights to extend their usefulness.

I think it is also a good time to discuss some of the parking problems attached to our parks. The majority of park users appears to drive to these sporting activities and cause parking problems on neighborhood streets - particularly at weekends.

The overall problem is that our town is growing in the number of residents and we are not increasing the amount of recreational park space to keep pace. A small area in a development that is green with a picnic bench and a grill is useful, but it does not alleviate the need for space to allow residents to exercise and enjoy sport. Park space comes under the heading of health and wellbeing.


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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2013 at 10:00 am

> Finally, Short said that the scarcity of fields in Palo Alto

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Maybe it's time for the people who use the fields to be charged something closer to the true cost of owning, and maintaining these fields--rather than their more than cavalier attitude that they are some how "victims" of some hostility to the customers of publically-supported field sports.

By the way, Mr. Short--how many fields are there in Palo Alto? Got any idea how this number compares with other towns, on a comparable basis?


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Posted by Carl King
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 27, 2013 at 11:23 am

Mr Short is an incredibly hard-working long time volunteer, whose efforts over many years have been instrumental in getting our youth off the couch and away from the television. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff due to reference to deleted comment above.] I worked on this issue as a past Park and Rec commissioner and it is very challenging to come up with a fair policy that insures Palo Alto taxpayers have the best shot at using their fields. There are significant subsidies involved with field operations, as the costs of maintenance alone are probably not supported by user fees, just as we subsidize casual park or library (and even the Lawn Bowling Club) uses. Particularly for youth leagues, and even more so for "no-cut" rec leagues such as AYSO which serve all youth, I think it is a good investment of tax dollars.


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Posted by Melissa
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 27, 2013 at 11:37 am

As a Palo Alto resident and soccer mom, I'd like to offer my complements to the Parks & Rec Commission for a very reasonable and fair new policy.


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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2013 at 11:52 am

> Comments that he "thinks Palo Alto owes him, and his ilk"
> are rude and completely devoid of any deep thought.

Think what you will, but the comment from Mr. Short, and his ilk, suggest a sense of privildge that is not restrained to just the folks who expect more subsidies for their field sports. Just last week, while working on a plan to reconfigure the golf course for the purpose of better flood control, someone from the "recreation community" popped up (somewhere in the process) and suggested that the City build a gymnasium too. Why? Any need? And what about the funding? Not a peep--because sooner or later--it's OPM (Other People's Money).

If you want "deep thought"-why not get a list of all of the playing fields that the City/School District make available, on-line. Why not get this list managed on-line, so people can see who is using these fields, how much they have paid, and whether these people are Palo Alto residents, or non-residents.

And why not actually produce a total cost estimate as to how much the taxpayers are paying to provide these "amenities"--like land costs, city work maintenance, and city staff support (administrative). And why not also document the full revenues associated with this activity.

You want "deep thought"-let's see you folks actually do some "deep thought" yourself.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 27, 2013 at 11:55 am

Mr. Short makes many, many good points, and understands these issues better than most. I am very disappointed that we are not devoting our precious field resources more to Palo Alto residents.

He says:

The new policy will transfer as much as 40% of the slots typically used by AYSO to club, despite that each of those transferred slots will now be used by fewer Palo Alto residents, effectively reducing the access to prime slots by Palo Alto residents. And, reduce the flexibility of AYSO to provide first pick of the practice slots to accommodate the schedules and locations of our volunteer, resident coaches, in favor of providing that flexibility and quality of choice to the professional coaches of club.

The goals of the Commission were to

(1) provide equal access to Palo Alto residents for prime time and prime fields
(2) encourage clubs to recruit more Palo Alto residents
(3) provide additional fields to club for non-residents so that the clubs don't get crowded on the field

Well, the devil is in the details and the new policies will actually reduce the access and participation of Palo Alto residents in prime time, prime fields. AYSO places approximately twice as many residents on each practice slot and as many as 4 times the number of residents on its game slots, with an average of around 2.5 to 3 times as many residents on its game slots. Each high quality slot taken from AYSO and given to club REDUCES the access by residents to quality slots.

Additionally, the Commission chose to continue the policy of providing priority access by non-residents in clubs to Palo Alto fields, again, effectively reducing access by residents to quality fields and times, as the brokered non-residents take all remaining quality times and fields.

Palo Alto is the only city in our area to fail to recognize the high value AYSO brings to the community, and the high utilization of the fields it reserves.

Palo Alto is the only city in our area to broker non-residents, effectively giving higher priority to non-residents, than residents.

Palo Alto is the only city in our area to develop a special relationship with a few competitive regional clubs, beyond brokering fields to them for the number of residents playing in that organization, and selectively choosing to work with only clubs that are majority residents, rather than working with clubs that have a significant number of Palo Alto residents.


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Posted by Soccer Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Thanks to everyone on the commission for their hard work in this. It seems to be a fair way to equitably share a scarce resource.

No one denies the value that AYSO brings. But the assumptions above are that every organization - club or AYSO - has the same number of teams practicing per field. The truth is that club teams virtually always share practice fields, usually 2 teams but often 3 or 4, particularly for the turf slots. AYSO does much less field sharing and so does not, in fact, place twice as many residents in a practice slot. Nor do they have twice the residents of a club team.

Further, many of the AYSO slots are taken by very young teams who use small fields that are unsuitable for the older club teams, and hence there is no competition for those fields.


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Posted by Club soccer mom
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 27, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Given the number of times I've seen AYSO clubs book space for long periods only to find it completely empty, I think this is probably a better practice. It also seems that professional coaches are more skilled at sharing fields and accommodating other teams.


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Posted by Gordon Short
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I appreciate the attention that Palo Alto Online is giving this issue. However, there are some incredibly bad misrepresentations that I would like to correct.

We have an abundant number of fields in Palo Alto, more than our residents need. An artificial shortage is created because Parks and Recreation brokers the fields to non-residents, giving them priority over Palo Alto residents.

The other point that is not clear, from my comments, is that Palo Alto does not follow the regional norm, of brokering for residents only, and expecting organizations to find fields in other locales, from whence their players come from. Instead, in Palo Alto, we prevent meritorious clubs, such as MVLA, from brokering the fields in accordance with the number of Palo Alto players in their club, and instead, excessively broker fields to SSC and PASC, to include all of their non-residents. Any other city would require SSC and PASC to broker fields in the surrounding communities, such as Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Woodside, Mountain View and Los Altos, in accordance with the number of players from each of those cities.

Finally, the other point from my comments that is not clear here, is that priority has been taken away from AYSO, and a large number of the premier slots that would otherwise be heavily used by AYSO Palo Alto residents, will now be used by a small number of Palo Alto residents, along with a large number of non-residents.

It is easy to demonstrate in the City of Palo Alto records that AYSO has a very high utilization, and rarely leaves a field unused, that it has booked. The opposite is also easy to demonstrate of the club organizations in Palo Alto, that they have historically booked large amounts of fields, and then not used them.

Thanks
Gordon Short
Palo Alto AYSO


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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm

What are Meno and Mountain View's policies on field use?


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Posted by palo Alto Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2013 at 5:20 pm

First I would like to thank Mr. Short for all his work with AYSO. The other thing he did not point out is that AYSO is an affordable way for kids to play soccer. The cost to play Club Soccer is on a totally different level than AYSO. Keeping AYSO as a lively part of Palo Alto soccer brings opportunities to kids that otherwise might not be able to afford to play.

While the Rec Departments rules make a lot of sense, I would like to see both AYSO (all Palo Alto kids) and Little League (all Palo Alto kids) get first choice, (if there are any other all Palo Alto sports, they should be included) with everyone else getting to pick based on the new rules. Many of our fields are actually owned by PAUSD and only maintained/managed by the City, so it makes even more sense that Palo Alto residents get first choice.


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Posted by palo Alto Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Mountain View field policies: First priority will be assigned to City-sponsored and Mtn View-Whisman School District leagues/activities. Second priority will be granted to recognized Mountain View Youth Sports Organizations. Third priority will be given to unrecognized youth sports organizations and then to adult sports groups.

Menlo Park Field policies:
Field Use Priority
The qualifying criteria for field use priority is:
1. City sponsored youth programs
2. City sponsored adult programs
3. School district sponsored youth programs
4. Returning youth programs with greater than 50% residents
5. Returning adult programs with greater than 50% residents
6. Programs offering scholarships or reduced fees to lower-income participants.
7. New youth programs with greater than 50% residents
8. New adult programs with greater than 50% residents
9. All "other" programs


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Posted by Gordon Short
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Some comments after reading over the various comments above.

1) Palo Alto has many more fields than its residents can reasonably use. One of our problems is cell phone leagues; leagues that come from other locales and scout empty fields to set up games. Our shortage for Palo Alto residents is artificially created by brokering non-residents use at high priority.
2) AYSO has historically put 1 team in 1 slot, the expected norm. Lately, due to the overcrowding caused by the city brokering to non-residents, we have had to put more than one team on 1 slot.
3) Palo Alto is the only city that brokers non-residents in our AYSO Area. Our Area extends from Sunnyvale to Woodside inclusively, with Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park and Portola Valley.
4) Palo Alto is the only city that does not give priority to AYSO.
5) AYSO is respectful of field use and does not book/broker more than it needs, and does not leave unused what it does not need. A very positive feature of AYSO is the accuracy of the planning through the season, such that the exact number of slots is predicted. This contrasts with clubs' historical record of poor planning and having to book many more fields than necessary, in case they needed it, and then slowly releasing them back to the city through the season. This was another source of apparent overcrowding, without actually being over crowded. The new policy attempts to address this by limiting such booking by club.
6) As a rate payer myself, I am unhappy that this policy continues to make it look like we need more fields. We do not. What we need to do is return the fields to Palo Altans.

Gordon Short


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2013 at 6:36 pm

To those saying that fields are not utilized on Saturdays during the fall and spring seasons, I would like to mention that there is a rain out policy on the fields. Palo Alto fields are routinely closed for 24 hours after even the slightest sprinkle of rain. If an organization uses the fields after a rain out, they are fined by the City.

This is another policy that should be overhauled. The fields are often waterlogged by over watering. Fields which have experienced a short rain shower 18 hours beforehand should not be closed on a sunny Saturday. That has happened on many occasions.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2013 at 8:51 pm

How did Parks and Rec come up with the 51% and 35% numbers? While the youth programs probably well exceed 51%, the adult games are probably stretched to claim 35%. Why not be consistent with the percentages used by nearby communities?


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Posted by PA parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2013 at 10:58 pm

While we are on the subject of our limited playing field space in Palo Alto, I wanted to make a suggestion.

There is a large field across from Juana Briones Park, at Maybell and Clemo, right across the street. Look at a satellite photo on Google maps. The city has agreed to loan the Palo Alto Housing Corporation $3million dollars to buy the property so they can put high-density housing there. In order to do that, they have to rezone it to high-density from SINGLE-FAMILY zoning! There already is a high-density development going on in the same neighborhood at the trailor park, where they could quite frankly put those units it they wished.

That location is just not a good place to put high-density safely, as the traffic is already difficult and the only outlets and inlets for the neighborhood are heavily impacted by even a small increase in cars; there's no way it's going to be a small number of cars for residents (and their visitors -- as if hundreds of old people don't get visitors), since there are no walkable services for "seniors" whom they claim will be residents. The neighborhood has no ingress/egress to the north and south. This week, Maybell was closed one afternoon, and it took me 45 minutes just to make a 3 mile roundtrip in and out of the neighborhood, even without any heavy traffic. Imagine if there were an emergency at the school and one of those streets was blocked?

ANYWAY, take a look at it from above -- that lot is as big as or bigger than Juana Briones Park, and it's a large nice-sized RECTANGLE! We have such an opportunity to claim this as open space in this city!! Please contact your city counsel person to consider this alternative. We have plenty of high-density housing in this immediate area already, even new high-density senior housing, and we're getting more just around the corner in this same neighborhood (in a place that is zoned for high-density already and is getting zoned for high, they can add these units there). This particular spot is not a safe place to put high-density housing, but it would be a fantastic place for a PLAYING FIELD which we desperately need, and it's right across the street from a great park already!!

The city hasn't yet rezoned this parcel. Please ask them not to, and to consider saving this as open space! As you all know, we need the playing space, and the population of kids in the district is on the rise.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2013 at 4:30 am

I would like to commend the Parks & Rec Commission for evolving their field allocation policy to allow more equal access to all Palo Alto residents irrespective of which soccer organization a resident may participate in.

Prior to this revised policy, the allocation policy, one soccer organization got to pick practice time slots ahead of the others, creating a "2nd class" status for certain residents.

With the new policy, there are two rounds of brokering; the first round allows all soccer organizations with a majority of Palo Alto residents relatively equal access to practice time slots based on the number of Palo Alto residents. If soccer organization A has 500 players that are all Palo Alto residents, and soccer organization B has 1000 players, 50% (or 500 players) are Palo Alto residents, both A & B would get an equal number practice slots during the first round of brokering.

The 2nd round of brokering is after the "Palo Alto" residents needs have been met, and those soccer organizations with some non-residents then have access to the remaining practice slots. So in the above example, soccer organization B would then choose slots for that would represent the need for the "non Palo Alto" players.


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Posted by Gordon Short
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

What this new policy does is use a statistical aggregation of residents that participate in an organization, and allow a club to broker prime slots based on that aggregation, and then allow the club to actually deploy teams diluted with non-residents to that slot. In effect, lowering the number of residents actually using that slot, and blocking teams with higher residency count from access to that slot. This will occur for about 40% of of the prime slots across the city.

Then, this policy allows all the remaining slots to be brokered to the non-resident component of those organizations, effectively removing the rest of desired slots from access by Palo Alto residents who are not members of the brokering.

Finally, this policy subsidizes the use of the fields and actually charges only a small fraction of the cost to the community for maintenance, let alone land use. That includes subsidizing the non-residents.

This new policy requires the Palo Alto rate payer to subsidize heavily, non-residents to come into Palo Alto and overcrowd our fields, in addition to subsidizing resident use of the fields. This subsidizing of non-residents is causing our brokered resident use of the fields to compress more onto the fields to put more on each slot, and blocks good access by residents who are not members of a brokered organization, but want to use our fields.

The biggest winner in this policy statement is the club organization with the most non-residents that qualifies at 51%. They get the most subsidized non-residents for their budgets, and access to the best fields for the most non-residents.

The biggest loser in this policy statement, is the rate payer. Also losing are residents at large (not brokered) wanting access, and an organization with an extremely high resident content, such as AYSO.

Parks and Rec need to stop brokering to non-residents, and pay attention to how many residents are actually using each slot. This factor is a key reason that Palo Alto, until now, has given priority to community focused, open registration, all volunteer organizations. They put the highest density of resident players safely onto the field, and should be brokered ahead of any organization that brings in large numbers of non-residetns.

I personally encourage rate payers to send several clear signals to the city.
1) stop brokering to non-residents
2) provide pre-brokering to community organizations that openly register residents, are all volunteer, and are focused exclusively on Palo Alto
3) charge more meaningful rates, especially to non resident use

Regards


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Posted by ultimate player
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 28, 2013 at 9:42 am

A few thoughts:

100% utilization of fields isn't necessarily a good goal. The fields have been vastly overused, and inadequately maintained. Weeds and dirt are common. Trying to pack in more complete usage will damage the fields even more. If you see an empty field, it doesn't mean that we have plenty of fields.

There are certain times when demand for fields is high. Evenings and weekends are packed. Soccer coaches start practices after work, and stop at sunset. Fortunately, this means fields can recover during the day and at night in most cases. Lighting fields for nighttime use (aside from artificial turf fields) would increase damage rates. BTW, lighting artificial turf fields may be disruptive to neighbors.

Limiting use to 51+% (100%?) organizations would mean that a community of players would be unable to play in Palo Alto. Applied broadly by all cities, it would lock people out of ALL fields unless they were city-centric. This is probably more applicable to adults - kids are often affiliated with their schools or neighborhoods. I play Ultimate Frisbee with people from all over the area, and it can be a huge challenge to find open fields.

School field space has disappeared as more portables are built on fields. And our school population has grown - we have more kids, and less place at schools for them to play. We haven't added many fields during this explosive growth. And I suspect more kids than ever are encouraged to participate in athletics. Perhaps we shouldn't aspire to the same rate of field usage that we experienced in the '80s, but I suspect a strong case could be made for "we need more fields". However, there are extremely few sites that could be added, and there's really no money available to pay to purchase and maintain additional sites, even if they were available.

I see soccer, softball, rugby, lacrosse, Ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, dog enthusiasts using our fields. There's probably no easy answer to ensuring that everyone get access all the time. I thank everyone who works so hard to schedule and maintain our facilities!


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Posted by PA parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2013 at 11:34 am

@ultimate player,
Please see my email above for a rare opportunity to get another playing field! If parents were vocal enough to the City Counsel, this field could be online this spring!


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Posted by soccer mom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2013 at 1:23 pm

The city gives AYSO no respect in Menlo Park, despite what some might have you believe. We are almost 100% local -- some of our players go to school here but live elsewhere -- and 100% volunteer. We are competing with leagues that charge players $1000/season to participate and who include players from all over the mid-peninsula and beyond.

As an all-inclusive, all-volunteer, affordable league, we should get priority, but actually, it is the opposite. The club organizations typically are granted twice as many practice slots/team as AYSO. And Menlo-Atherton does not have nearly as many fields as Palo Alto!

The resident percentage should be higher than 50/51% for kids' leagues. And I would also favor charging the for-profit leagues more per hour usage, and charging them a cancellation fee to minimize the odious practice of their reserving hours of weekend game fields that they never use.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2013 at 5:20 pm

School fields in the middle of residential neighborhoods cannot support the noise and parking of a soccer venue. Have your policies fit the appropriate fields in the city.


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