091217 Rec and Parks

Santa Maria's Recreation and Parks Commission met Tuesday to discuss programs and park access. 

The Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Commission is still working to find additional athletic fields and play space in the city.

In August, the commission moved to reconvene a special committee to work on the issue of finding, acquiring and/or refurbishing play and practice space in Santa Maria after an effort to build a multiphased, multifield sports complex was stalled when the city was not chosen to receive grant money it needed to begin the project.

On Sept. 5, the Sports Fields Committee began its work by reviewing an inventory of city parks, school fields and other spaces the previous committee created last year, Jim Davis, parks services manager, reported during Tuesday’s Recreation and Parks Commission meeting at City Hall.

“We are going to have this group working on stop-gap measures,” Recreation and Parks Department Director Alex Posada said when the committee was reformed.

During its evaluation this month, the group noted that many city parks share space with or are near Santa Maria-Bonita School District and other districts’ schools, but access to school properties is a continuing barrier for use by the community. 

Fences block access to many school-owned sports complexes and playgrounds, and policies about access differ from each school, Davis said.

Each school’s principal is responsible for creating the rules for access to their school, and adults wanting to enter school property when pupils may be present must first obtain a background check.

“A problem we have all of the time is school cooperation and fencing. I think we need to work on that,” Recreation and Parks Commissioner Yleana Velasco said.

The city has run into issues of access to school properties with some of its other programs, too, Velasco said.

This summer’s Safe and Strong All Summer Long program served about 30,000 children at 11 city parks. The programs ended each weekday at about 2 p.m. and after it finished for the day, children were cut off from school property used during the summer program.

“We have had discussions with the district. We’ve tried to impress upon them the importance of access,” Posada said.

The field committee is made up of city parks representatives, a representative of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, two Recreation and Parks commissioners, and members of the public, including leaders of the local youth and adult soccer community.

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Last year, the Recreation and Parks Commission created the special committee to create a strategic plan to add more soccer and other athletic fields in the city as a response from calls from the public and orders issued by the Santa Maria City Council, which declared more soccer fields a priority. The culmination of that group’s work led to a plan to create a sports complex across from Adams Park and near the Santa Maria Fairpark. The city wrote a grant for the $1 million it needs to begin that project but learned in June that it would not receive the funds. It’s that body that was renewed in August and is working on the issue now.

Neither the Santa Maria High School District nor Hancock College district is part of the group, Davis said.

“It’s been made clear by those districts that they don’t want the city to be involved in their fields,” Davis said.

Davis added that fields at area high schools and Hancock College are available for use, but applications are taken on a case-by-case basis and need to be made directly to each school.

After a discussion by members of the Recreation and Parks Commission, Chairwoman Laura Henderson suggested holding a public meeting with area school leaders to hash out an agreement that could work for the entire Santa Maria community.

The commission and its fields committee will work to organize such a meeting in the future.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.