TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex Task Force
I paid a visit to the February meeting of the TeWinkle Park Sports Complex Task Force last night. It started on time, ran crisply and finished on time. It seemed very productive. Chairman of the group, Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commissioner Dean Abernathy, ran a good meeting. I was a little worried when Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Jeff Mathews showed up a little late, because we already had Abernathy, plus commissioners Ethan Temianka and Kim Pederson in attendance - which already made a quorum. I'm not sure if we had a Brown Act violation or not. Only Abernathy and Temianka participated in the discussions. Mathews stayed a few minutes and left. Mayor Gary Monahan, who had the idea for this concept originally, is the liaison from the City Council and was in attendance. He helped Abernathy guide the discussion.
USER GROUPS, RESIDENTS AND CITY STAFF
Representatives from various user groups with vested interests in this project formed part of the Task Force and were active participants, as were the many community members, too. Interim Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz headed the city staff team that included Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia and Recreation Supervisor Lisa McPherson.
BIG LEAGUE DREAMS
The focus of the meeting was a presentation by Jeff Hopkins, a representative from Big League Dreams, one of the vendors who bid on taking over the TeWinkle Sports Complex. The precise nature of this relationship is just a little murky. Hopkins operated like their bid was in the bag, but as far as I know the City Council has not officially selected a bidder to run the complex. I know they chose Big League Dreams to be part of the Task Force, to have a representative of that industry aboard to help guide the discussion.
FOUR FIELDS... NOW
The image at the top of the page is from Google Earth today, the TeWinkle Park Sports Complex has four ball fields - three smaller ones and one large, major-league size field.
Looking at this image, taken from the PowerPoint presentation last night, the fields are numbered 1-4, with #1 being the smaller one at the lower left and moving clockwise, with #4 being the big field at the lower right. Hopkins plan would remove #1 completely to make way for a total of over 200 parking spaces, including the existing spaces shown at the bottom. At the right field line area of that field there would be batting cages. In the center, where all four fields intersect, there would be a concession stand. The current stand is 1200 square feet. The new one would be 4200 square feet, and would overlay the existing stand. At approximately where the infield of #1 is located would be a tot lot or some similar amenity.
APPREHENSION ABOUT LOSING A FIELD
A significant amount of time was spent addressing concerns about trading an active, relatively new, field for more parking spaces. Hopkins assured the Task Force that the complex would be much more efficiently utilized with his plan. Several members seemed unconvinced, but patiently listened and asked good questions. Personally, I need to hear more of the specifics of their scheduling schemes to be convinced that, in a city where we've been told for years that we are very short of playing fields for our youth, reducing the actual playing surfaces by 25% makes sense.
ALCOHOL WILL BE SERVED
The concession stand would serve the usual baseball fare - hot dogs, pizza, peanuts, soft drinks, etc. It would also serve beer and wine when appropriate. That element generated a lot of discussion by the members of the Task Force and other guests. They were assured that alcoholic beverages would only be served when children were not playing at the complex. That claim was met with skepticism by more than one participant. One guest expressed concern about alcohol being served in such close proximity to a school - the Davis Magnet School is immediately adjacent to the left on the photo - and wondered if it is legal. City staff will research that issue.
JUST LIKE ANY OTHER PARK
Hopkins assured the group that this was not a "privatization" of a City facility. He told us that, except for times when the gates would be closed during actual scheduled events, the sports complex would be open and available for residents to walk through, play catch and bat some balls on the fields and generally enjoy it as they would any other city park.
REPLICA PARKS, FOR PROFIT
His company specializes in making each field a "theme" field. One might be a replica of Fenway Park in Boston, another like Wrigley Field in Chicago and another like Angel's Stadium. It would be a "for profit" venue, with them making the profit. He told us that at most of their other municipal venues they pay the city a "rights fee". He wouldn't be more specific.
COMING BACK WITH MORE CHOICES
At the end it was decided that Hopkins will come back at the next meeting with Plans B, C and maybe D. Some of those would include using all four of the existing fields, which will require resolving the parking issues. Options that might be investigated include an agreement to use parking at Davis School and Presidio, at the top of the photo, and, perhaps, working out an arrangement with the folks at the Fairgrounds to utilize some of their parking during non-Fair times of the year.
ENCOURAGED AND CONCERNED
I'm both encouraged and a little concerned. The Task Force seems focused and able to do the job. I'm concerned about the relationship with Big League Dreams versus the other two vendors. And, I'm very concerned about the lack of public noticing of these meetings. It took a lot of arm-wrestling to finally get the City to place it on the web site in the roster of upcoming meetings last week. Last night, beyond the city staff and members of the Task Force and alternates, there were only a handful of members of the public in attendance. This is a very important issue, particularly to residents of Mesa Del Mar, so I expected there to be a bigger turnout of residents from that neighborhood. The next meeting is in a month, on March 8th, so maybe we'll see more members of the community at that one.