Jun 27 2011

Opinion: Who Should Pay to Replace Turf Sports Fields?

Comments before the Piedmont School Board, June 22, 2011

I am a very long time Piedmont resident. On May 25, Mr. Gadbois asked Ms. Hubbard a critical question, inquiring if turf replacement can be charged as a direct cost to the private sports clubs.  I note the Piedmont sports clubs are given priority access to the School District fields, and this is certainly a special benefit for them.

Ms. Hubbard responded that this replacement cost could not be charged to users.  I believe she stated that the legal opinion, given around 2003 or 04, is not based so much on statute in the “Education code” but as case law. Additionally, Ms. Hubbard stated the unique Piedmont situation well: “Most Districts do not have the use we have by outside groups.”

Was Piedmont’s unique situation taken into account in the legal opinion?  Case law is normally binding if the facts are substantially similar. Perhaps in giving the private sports clubs so much deference, a situation has been created that would allow an appeals court to acknowledge that the basic physical and economic situation in Piedmont is unique.

What is spent on paying for sports fields takes money from academic and arts programs, a zero sum game. Possible cuts to the music program will be discussed tonight, a subject dear to me as I was a professional musician for 20+ years. Money spent for turf wear and replacement may curtail other programs.

Having the School District bill the City for turf replacement is not desirable. Taxpayers are paying a disproportionate share of general funds for recreational needs now.  The City’s municipal services tax is in trouble and may fail as a result of financial mismanagement. I do not want to see the School parcel tax reach that same danger level. Whether taxpayer money comes from the municipal services tax or from the School parcel tax is inconsequential. Those tax dollars all come from residents’ single wallet to pay a disproportionate share for recreational facilities replacement.

One alternative may be to ask the private sports clubs to voluntarily pay their share of turf replacement costs. But as Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization, in their Blair Park proposal, has stated, they expect the City to pay for turf replacement. This will not be an easy task on your part.
I am hopeful this Board revisits this issue soon. I sincerely thank you.

Rick Schiller

(This letter expresses the personal opinions of the author. All statements made are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.)

3 Responses to “Opinion: Who Should Pay to Replace Turf Sports Fields?”

  1. I hope the City collects some money for the use of the pool by the High School water polo and swim teams. The members of those teams whose families aren’t pool members have been getting a free ride for way too long.

    At least the Sports Clubs currently pay something to the School District for use of the fields, even though its not as much as you would like.

  2. I appreciate Mr. Schiller’s concern and frustration regarding funding the longer-term maintenance of the School District’s athletic facilities, including but not limited to the eventual replacement of the Witter Field artificial turf and track. We need to plan now for these known future costs so that we are not forced to scramble in the future.

    As we work toward a solution, it is important to have basic facts in mind. Therefore, let me clarify a few points:

    (1) This is a community issue because School District athletic facilities are used by the community. Excluding gym classes, District athletic facilities are reserved and used, roughly, 50% by student athletes, 25% by City Recreation Dept. programs, and 25% by sports groups. Other folks use the facilities as well, but do not reserve it.

    (2) It is not accurate to say that sports groups are given “priority access” to District facilities because they are not. The District’s Facilities Use Handbook, available at the PUSD website, makes plain that the priority is (1) PUSD use; (2) City and Adult School use; and (3) “other groups and organizations.”

    (3) Much as I might wish otherwise, the Civic Center Act only allows the District to charge “direct costs” to “clubs or associations organized to promote youth and school activities.” Piedmont’s sports organizations clearly qualify to be charged only “direct costs.” Unfortunately, the conclusion that “direct costs” do not include replacement of artificial turf is based on the statutory language, not caselaw. There has been no deference to sports clubs–the District is charging sports clubs what it is allowed to charge under the Civic Center Act–and the sports clubs have paid those fees without complaint.

    (4) Mr. Schiller suggests that it is not desireable for the District to bill the City for the Rec Dept.’s use of the District’s athletic facilities as taxpayers already pay too much. My proposal, made over a year ago, was for the Rec. Dept. to include a District user fee in the Rec. Dept. charges for its programs using District facilities–which sidesteps the question whether Piedmont voters would prefer to fund recreational facilities by taxes or by user fees. The City opposed my proposal, but has been discussing an alternative funding mechanism involving “surcharges” and contributions to fund preservation of both the District’s and the City’s athletic facilities. Progress has been stalled by the City’s self-inflicted takeover of the Piedmont pool (changing the City’s cost for the pool from zero to an estimated $350K-$450K).

    (5) Setting up a funding mechanism need not be so hard if we remember that the District athletic facilities serve the children and adults of our community, and that we need to share in the cost of preserving them. With the State cutting the District’s budget year after year, the District can do its share, but cannot pay it all. Sports clubs, which are paying “direct costs” that are well below market rates, should voluntarily contribute more to a sinking fund. And participants in Rec. Dept. programs, who use District athletic facilities over 2000 hours per year, should contribute a fair share as well (unless the City’s elected representatives vote to subsidize Rec. Dept. participants with tax revenue, a decision I leave to them). If these funds are placed yearly into a secure sinking fund, we can save up the necessary funds over time and the amounts are manageable.

    Richard Raushenbush

  3. I appreciate Mr. Raushenbush’s thoughtful response and appreciate his clarifications. I find his #4 especially enlightening. I believe by his #5 that we are in agreement on my main point, that the Sports Clubs could elect to voluntarily contribute more of the actual direct costs, and not merely the lesser direct costs as defined by the Civic Center Act. This would relieve residents of a special benefit hidden tax in favor of the private sports clubs, and allow the desirable community use to remain uncontroversial and ongoing. Such use is fundamental to the culture of Piedmont. As a long time resident, I find it unfortunate that so much of what was formerly available for general community use has been prioritized to organized sports club use, Linda Beach being a prime example. Organized sports club play has its benefits, as does kids just goofing around with each other and their parents.

    Turf replacement expense is an ongoing issue for both the School Board and the City. By Mr. Raushenbush’s statement, the private sports clubs are responsible for about 25% of the wear on School fields. In that 25% framework, the clubs have exclusive priority use. In contrast, Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization has removed all general community passive assets at their proposed Blair Park Sports Complex, and the wear on the two fields at Blair Park (should the project reach fruition) will be virtually 100% as a result of Soccer club and other private sports clubs use. Despite this, PRFO has firmly asserted turf replacement cost is not a responsibility of PRFO or the private sports clubs. This cost is to be paid out of general taxpayer funds.

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