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Update to City Parks and Commission Fields Policy Proposal

posted Mar 24, 2013, 4:52 AM by AYSO26 Regional Commissioner   [ updated Mar 24, 2013, 4:53 AM ]
The commission is moving inexorably forward with the policy proposal.  They are largely
ignoring your input and feedback because the commission has a privately stated goal that is not consistent with their publicly stated goal, and just wants their results without publicly addressing the inconsistencies between those goals.

The publicly stated goal is to provide equal and fair access to fields for all Palo Alto residents.  And this goal is being used to argue that the special category of community-based, all volunteer organizations (of which AYSO is the only member) needs to be removed.  The detail argument is that a resident player of Stanford Soccer Club (SSC) and Palo Alto Soccer Club (PASC) should have equal access to fields as a player in Palo Alto AYSO, as stated by the commission.  

The privately stated goal, and by privately, I mean that this goal is openly stated at the private meetings the city has with the brokering soccer parties (AYSO, SSC, PASC and Union), is "to develop community based competitive soccer".   In other words, preference is to be given especially to SSC and PASC to develop Palo Alto based competitive clubs.  And those preferences include policy elements that mitigate or even contravene the openly stated goal of fair and equal access to fields by Palo Alto residents.  Simply, favoritism to SSC and PASC trumps the public fairness goal for our residents.

The key issue is whether the community agrees that the City should invest in developing community-based competitive soccer clubs, rather than letting the regionally-based competitive soccer continue to be the norm here, as it is everywhere else.  The commission is making this decision on their own, without reference to city council or the rate-payers, and using this current brokering policy initiative as the vehicle to forward that agenda into policy.

At the very least, an honest assessment of the goals of the City in this regard, the hard dollar costs, and the denial of fair access to Palo Alto residents, to further this club agenda, should be reviewed by city council in an open public forum.  This affects not only AYSO, but all rate payers and users of our fields.  Tell your council and your neighbors.  This is a large policy shift, expensive, and affects every Palo Altan.

For brevity, I will simply state the impacts on AYSO and the community here, without going through all the numbers again.

1) AYSO is being told by the city that they must put more than 1 team per practice slot, the historical norm.  This is to ensure that there are enough slots left over to provide more brokered fields to SSC and PASC non-residents.
2) The brokering of fields is being changed from a team-count basis, to a player count basis.  This puts the AYSO community at a further disadvantage in slot counts, since SSC and PASC have larger teams.  If their teams are 40% larger, their slot count will jump by 40%.  Including the non-residents.
3) AYSO may have to drop its 75% player policy.  Palo Alto AYSO policy is that every player gets to play at least 75% of every game.  To achieve this requires putting fewer kids on a team, so that they can all play that amount.  If AYSO is forced to increase its roster size to be consistent with club and obtain fair brokering, AYSO will have to drop that policy.  This has been a key service to our community, and is a big difference in the behavior of club vs AYSO.  Club teams are larger and the coach will bench weaker players and give stronger players more game time.  AYSO ensures the weaker players get their fair share of game time (75%), at the expense of the competitiveness of the team.  Winning the game is not the primary goal.
4) Fields will be brokered to non-residents of SSC and PASC and Union (the only brokered youth sports organizations that draw players regionally).
5) Palo Alto residents of other organizations will be denied brokered access, because, in the words of the commission, "we don't have enough fields to broker those organizations".  Actually, we would, if we only brokered residents, like every other city.  The 51% number conveniently limits the brokering to SSC, PASC and Union, from amongst the regionally based competitive organizations, and reserves enough Palo Alto fields to broker their non-residents.

On the positive side there are some aspects in the new policy that do help fairness of access.  And i want to point out that AYSO has been working positively to improve and mitigate the harmful aspects of the new proposal with tweaks.  But that does not amount to an endorsement of the proposal.

1) At AYSO suggestion, there are some penalties for clubs when they hold a large number of game fields to compensate for their inability to plan a game schedule, and not being able to have consistency from week to week in the number of game slots they use.  The penalties will push the clubs to return unused fields earlier.  Unfortunately, the underlying inability of SSC and PASC to smooth out or plan their game schedule is not addressed, and we will continue to suffer the lack of consistency through the season.  To my knowledge, only these organizations exhibit this behavior.  All other leagues including baseball, the next biggest user of fields, are consistent.  We would like to see further improvement here.
2) At AYSO suggestion, a buffer is established to reserve a block of fields that cannot be brokered, allowing for ad hoc resident booking.
3) At AYSO suggestion, a pool of fields is established from which brokered parties can book ad hoc use, and provides for city management of fields that club has historically blocked out as their own supporting their lack of ability to schedule consistently.  This does not address the underlying problem of poor planning, but does put the management of those fields back into the hands of the city, and provides a degree of transparency to the process.  It also provides public users the ability to see what fields are "in play", rather than just hiding all the fields in a black hole.
4) At AYSO suggestion, we need to avoid the instability and chaos of open brokering each season, with a process that includes more stable methods of field allocation, with brokering as a last resort when the parties can't agree.  Our push is that we start with a historical (what did you use last year) and see if the parties can agree to just repeat, or maybe repeat with a few adjustments.  Our expectation is that all parties will all want to repeat.  But where disputes arise, the city arbitrates.  If a majority of the brokering parties reject the arbitration, then brokering is performed over the disputed items.
5) AYSO is recommending that field fees be increased across the board.  Our fees are below normal.  To rent Mayfield or Cubberley is less than half the cost of renting the field at PALY or Gunn, and is 1/2 the cost other city's charge their brokered parties.  And especially, our grass fields are dirt cheap, please pardon the pun.

To re-iterate, an honest assessment of the goals of the City in this regard, and the hard cost, and the denial of fair access to Palo Alto residents to further the club agenda, should be reviewed in open public review.  This affects not only AYSO, but all rate payers and users of our fields.  Tell your council and your neighbors.  This is a large policy shift, expensive, and affects every Palo Altan.

Gordon Short
Regional Commissioner
Palo Alto AYSO