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SDUHSD opts against leasing sports fields to Carlsbad

The San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) board decided not to move forward with staff’s recommendation to approve a 10-year agreement with the City of Carlsbad to manage and maintain the district’s La Costa Valley sports field complex similar to that of its city parks.

The 28-acre site on Calle Barcelona features two baseball fields, a softball field, and three soccer and lacrosse fields. The fields are currently used by teams from La Costa Canyon High School and San Dieguito High School Academy, as well as leased out to groups such as Encinitas Express Soccer and accessible to the public. In 2016, the district renovated the vacant property using Prop AA funds—it was originally purchased for use as a middle school site but the district opted to use the land to serve the district’s athletic program needs and provide a community resource until such time that a new middle school is necessary.

The agreement with Carlsbad was on the agenda for approval at the board’s May 10 meeting. During public comment, opponents argued that if Carlsbad were to administer the use of the fields, it would leave Encinitas teams made up of district kids scraping the bottom of the barrel for field use.

“I’m completely opposed,” said Brad Silcox, vice president of the Encinitas Express competitive soccer program and a district parent. “If you guys give it to Carlsbad, we won’t get any consideration. Zero. Your constituents are the ones that are paying for those fields and your constituents aren’t going to get to use those fields because they will go to all of the Carlsbad youth organizations…any of the Encinitas groups that would like to use those fields will get no consideration from Carlsbad.”

While the La Costa Valley site is “technically Carlsbad,” SDUHSD Vice President Mo Muir pointed out that it is only one street away from Encinitas, where there is a lack of field space.

As only a small portion of the district is in Carlsbad, Muir requested that rather than approve the agreement, the district should issue a request for proposals to see if there are any other cities or organizations that are interested and capable of managing the fields if district staff is unable to.

“I would request we table this and do our due diligence for our students,” Muir said.

SDUHSD President Beth Hergesheimer agreed that they should table the agreement until they were certain that the city of Encinitas and district students and families have priority for use.

“I’m not comfortable (with the agreement),” Hergesheimer said. “I thought we were moving toward a better commitment to have it accessible for our part of the community.”

According to SDUHSD Associate Superintendent of Business Services Tina Douglas, staff had been in discussions with Carlsbad to enter into an agreement in which the district would avoid the cost of maintenance, upkeep, operations, and security at the site while preserving priority access to the fields for the instructional purpose of extra-curricular sports. The agreement was tentatively scheduled for consideration by Carlsbad City Council on June 12.

“Within the agreement itself, the school district has priority for use of the facilities,” Douglas said.“Beyond that, there is no caveat or language that provides any other type of priorities for other levels. There doesn’t become an incentive for the City of Carlsbad to take on the property if we’re holding back the majority of use.”

Per the terms of the agreement, the ability to build a potential school site on the property was preserved and the property could not be significantly altered without district consent.

“You don’t know what you don’t know. And we don’t know when this district will need this land and we shouldn’t be giving away or even leasing land to another community,” said SDUHSD Trustee John Salazar. “The people who own this land are the people who live in this district. I think this is just a terrible precedent and I definitely do not support this.”

The district has not had discussions with outside agencies like the YMCA or the Boys & Girls Clubs to manage the site even though Muir said she has been requesting it for four years.

SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill said there was a reluctance to reach out to agencies like the YMCA or Boys & Girls Clubs as they are membership-based organizations and their intent with the property was to maintain open access to the public. Partnering with a fee-based membership organization could unfairly restrict access to the site, he said.

Douglas said they additionally did not talk to the city of Encinitas about managing the fields as it is located in the city of Carlsbad.

“Carlsbad has the most interest in being able to lease the facility because it lies within their city limits,” Douglas said.

Dill said they did reach out to Encinitas in the past but at the time, they didn’t express an interest. Muir’s husband is on the Encinitas City Council and she said he had never heard about it and that in her personal discussions with council members they were “100 percent on board” with talking about the possibility to manage the fields.

During public comment, Encinitas Express President Jon Sevinson commended the district for creating the sports complex when they figured out that the demographics were not there for a middle school. He said while he understands that the main purpose was for overflow for district sports programs, community-based soccer, baseball and football organizations have also been a beneficiary as fields are at such a minimum in the area.

Sevinson said they have enjoyed leasing the fields from the district this season, paying $30,000 in rental fees. He said they are happy to pay for use and have developed a great relationship with district staff and have even offered to help with maintenance.

“I understand that this has become more like a city park and you guys are not necessarily equipped to handle that. However, you guys decided to do this. This was the decision that was made and now that there are unanticipated results, you’re trying to push it on to someone else,” Sevinson said. “We like very much working with the school district and want to maintain a good working relationship. This agreement would be taking away use from the taxpayers.”

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