On Wednesday, the day after the Tracy City Council rejected the old federal antenna farm on Schulte Road as the site of a $12.4 million youth sports park, council members and interested parties were picking their brains to find another quick and easy option to lessen the overcrowding of recreation facilities by youth sports teams.
And the next day, they were still brainstorming.
We can expect these mental calisthenics to continue for another month before a series of community hearings.
We’ve heard the ideas of revamping existing school fields and city parks and, if possible, adding soccer and football fields and ball diamonds, if there is any vacant space. Another proposal is to install lights and lay synthetic turf to maximize field use.
We have several suggestions before this heated debate of the past decade resumes:
• Spend more time and energy visualizing our community’s recreation program from the eyes of the children. The views of a generation of Tracy residents were missed because of politics. In voting against the Schulte Road sports park Tuesday night, City Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert declared, “I can’t put the kids out there!” Her statement came after she listened to her 4½-year-old grandson repeatedly shout “Smoke!” when seeing cloudy wisps drift near the site of the sports park. Until Tolbert asked a neighboring industry representative, she thought her grandson’s “smoke” was steam. It wasn’t, and the Schulte Road park plan figuratively went up in smoke.
• Look at the options on separate tracks: The first, to have enough practice and game fields until Tracy begins to grow again after 2012. The second, to cover this next wave of growth. The fee schedule for new homes should reflect those future costs — so growth can pay its own way and the fields can grow when they are needed.
• Encourage partnerships, not just with local youth sports leagues, but also will local governments, like Tracy’s school districts, the city and the county. Thirty years ago, our community had a strong recreation program, with a commission representing the city, the county and the schools that oversaw a partnership dedicated to providing recreation without boundaries. City, county and school facilities were for everyone’s use. We can’t turn back the clock, but we can establish an ad hoc commission to advise local governments on nagging issues like field maintenance, scheduling and fees.
The time to “let all children play now” is short, but the opportunities we can offer are broad if we remain resolute.