Sunday, July 14, 2024

Council Moves to Keep a Minimum of 75% of Athletic Field Space at Cays Park

It took just over five hours for the Coronado City Council to decide to maintain at least 75% of the current athletic field space as the city redesigns Cays Park.

The rest will be allocated toward passive, recreational amenities like a sunset viewing deck or flexible use areas, though the council requested that designers maintain as much of the current field space as possible in a park redesign carrying an anticipated cost of $30-35 million.

The unanimous decision at the Dec. 5 City Council meeting came after more than two hours of public comment, demonstrating the tension between disparate community needs, available space, and city budget.

But the council was hopeful it could keep much of its 7.5 acres of sports fields and still add additional amenities to the park.

“I feel like most of what we’ve heard tonight comes down to a management issue,” Councilmember Casey Tanaka said. “We have 16 acres: Are we using them right? Is there a way to have our cake and eat it too?”

Coronado faces field space constraints for its youth parks, and Cays Park hosts practices and weekend games for Coronado youth soccer during soccer season, in addition to two soccer tournaments annually. More than 600 children – most from Coronado – play soccer each year between recreational and competitive leagues.

“These are the three words I keep hearing over and over again: ‘community,’ ‘Coronado,’ and ‘outreach,’” said Zac Armstrong, president of the nonprofit Coronado FC (competitive soccer league). “When I hear the word ‘community,’ I think of family, I think of youth. I think of what makes our community good.”

But not everyone plays soccer, and the council and public commenters alike questioned whether the land is being used equitably. The evening’s discussion hinged on whether some field space should be reallocated into alternative uses.

In addition, some residents of the Cays worried about noise from athletic fields and potential view obstruction.

“The sound of children playing is a lovely sound, but whistles are not a lovely sound,” said Sue Steven, a Cays resident who said noise from soccer games was audible from her house. She punctuated her comments to the council with a shrill whistle.

“Less is more – we want fewer fields,” she concluded with a final blow of her whistle, to raucous applause from the audience.

However, the council agreed that youth sports are supremely important to Coronado, and teams need to play somewhere. Councilmember John Duncan, who coached his own children through youth sports, noted their importance in mental health for both children and adults.

However, Councilmember Mike Donovan cautioned against yielding too much land to sports.

“I’m pretty hard staying at 75% (of current field space),” Donovan said. “I think 100% is – I don’t want to say it’s a slap in the face, but I get the point that Cays residents are saying: They have the biggest park in the whole city, and the whole thing is used for field sports.”

Donovan wanted to see more land allocated to passive, recreational use. The rest of the council agreed, but hoped such passive amenities could be fit in among the fields, considering that the current park’s layout uses just under half of its acreage for athletic fields.

“I look at the park and I think it’s entirely inefficient the way the fields are laid out,” Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey said. “The reason I’m open to keeping 100% (of the fields) is because it maintains youth sports, it maintains the activities already there, and I think there’s an opportunity to improve the efficiency so we can add more amenities.”

Pete Collins, director of Coronado FC, said the nonprofit league could maintain its current programming with 75% of the current field space, though it would cause some scheduling challenges.

Another objection to the current state of the park was the constant presence of soccer over other sports. However, as Collins and Armstrong spoke to council, it became clear that the league was being allocated more time for the fields than it needed. During the soccer season, the club finishes its weekend use of the field by 1 pm, but has them reserved all day.

The council agreed that streamlining the programming of existing fields could solve the problem – and noted that, while soccer may be popular now, if that changes, the athletic fields are open-ended and could accommodate another sport in the future.

The council also hoped that the park redesign could accommodate nonprogrammed field space so that people could use the park for pick-up games or practicing sports with their children.

Finally, budget, as always, was a concern. The estimated $30-35 million park project includes $13-15 million in needed, deferred maintenance.

“That’s more than I wanted to spend in the first place,” Tanaka said, noting that he thought the park was fine as it is.

Ultimately, the final design of the park will hinge on maximizing amenities within the constraints of space and budget.

Schmidt Design Group, who is overseeing the project, presented several options for council input. The chosen options will inform a final design that will be brought to council for input. After deliberation, the council chose to include nearly every design option presented. The options and consensus opinion on them are outlined below.

Theme: The council agreed on the theme of “natural and cultural wonders of Coronado.”

Maintaining an elongated dog park: The council agreed to prioritize maintaining a long, dog-run style park to support canine exercise, although members agreed that shortening it slightly if needed would be acceptable. The council supported enclosing the park with a fence hidden in shrubbery.

Tennis and pickleball courts: There are currently three tennis courts and eight pickleball courts at the park. The council decided to honor a past commitment to add an additional tennis court, and its consensus decision was to leave the courts in their current location.

Softball backstop: The council agreed on a backstop, without a skinned infield, in hopes of maximizing grassy space that could be used for other activities.

Half- or full-court basketball: The council was torn on this matter: Tanaka did not feel strongly, while Bailey noted that the wind conditions at the park do not support basketball. Ultimately, Duncan, Donovan, and Downey supported a full court, creating a consensus.

Parking: The council opted to keep similar amounts of parking at the park, noting that most of the time, there are plenty of spaces.

Remove cul-de-sac adjacent to the fire station: Removing this could free up additional park space, and the council opted to move forward with it. Downey questioned whether the fire department needed the space for current or future training needs, but Coronado Fire Chief Jayson Summers said the department uses the space because it’s there, not because it’s needed.

Remove concrete median on Cays Boulevard: Doing this would allow for more street parking; the council agreed to do this.

Bike path connection: Designers suggested adding an entryway to the Bayshore Bikeway. During the city’s public feedback period, residents were opposed to this, citing a security concern. The council agreed to exclude this option from the plan.

View impacts: Another major concern for nearby residents was that any additional trees or amenities would block views. The council opted to use fabric shade structures, which are less visually obstructive, and to cluster trees in the park’s core (near the removed cul-de-sac) to reduce view obstructions to homes at the park’s perimeter. Further, the council agreed to use small- or medium-sized trees.

Playground enhancements: Council supported enhancing the existing play structure and implementing universally accessible play equipment.

Exercise equipment hub: This was an amenity that the council agreed would be nice to have, but not at the expense of more important passive space amenities.

Sunset viewing deck: A deck would be built above the park’s existing wall, adding acreage and a viewpoint for residents. While the council questioned its cost, it ultimately came to a consensus that it would hold immense public benefit. “I think this could be the greatest amenity we put in,” Tanaka said, though he noted his concerns on cost.

Lighting: This item comprises several options: adding safety lighting around pedestrian walkways, maintaining existing court lighting, and potentially adding ballfield lighting. The council easily agreed that pedestrian lighting and court lighting was important, but was torn on ballfield lighting. Currently, teams use portable lighting for evening games, which are low to the ground and cause glare. The council agreed it would be open to looking into alternative portable lighting options.

Public art: The council agreed that this amenity is nice to have, but not a requirement, and it could be added at a later date. Duncan noted that any art should be in alignment with the park’s theme.

“If there are areas that lend themselves to fitting in some art, great,” Bailey said. “But I don’t want the designers to work on public art at the expense of other amenities.”

Restrooms: The council agreed that the park should maintain just one bathroom, but that the existing one should be expanded. Adding another would add additional plumbing, staff, and maintenance costs.

Unprogrammed field space: This option was raised by city council, not by the design group. Citing the public benefit of the option for pick-up games or throwing a ball around, the council hoped the final design could incorporate open space that would not be used by organized sports.


Community Encouraged to Weigh in on Cays Park Proposals, Learn About Options 100, 75, 50, 25

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 10 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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