Long time Village residents with an eye to the future of our city are right to be interested in Cays Park. We all pay for it, and we all can use it, even if it is down in the Cays. Of course it is just a field right now but, as some might remember, it used to be the dump. Things do change. And given its enormous 15 acre size and incredible seaside location, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that it could be something fabulous, for ourselves and our posterity, forever.
The City Council was right to embark on a Master Plan for the park. They started with a good plan for gathering public input, developing three conceptual schematics for the public to review, and then boiling the three down to one based on public feedback received. And the Mayor did a great job kicking off the first workshop in the Cays, enthusiastically telling residents that, since the turf was all beaten up and had to be completely torn out so the irrigation system could be replaced, the Council felt this was the opportunity to make any changes Cays residents wanted. All they had to do was speak up. Cays residents were impressed; no Mayor or previous Council had ever asked them before what they would like to have in Cays Park.
That was three years ago and, unfortunately, it’s been a tough road since then, mostly because key City staff have actually been working against the Council’s desire to gather good public input and develop the three schematics, both covertly and overtly. It was so bad for so long the Mayor labeled it “a soup sandwich” and, when new City Manager Tina Friend finally arrived, the Council put fixing the problem at the very top of her priority list. And as you probably heard, overall the situation really hasn’t gotten any better; recently they fired the highly respected landscape architect firm that they have been counting on the whole time—over 100K down the drain with not one schematic to show for it. Now the plan is to once again start the process over again from scratch, beginning with carbon copy RFP language from the first time through. Ouch.
The big disconnect requiring resolution at the moment originated as a result of a major shift in park management philosophy between former City Managers Mark Ochenduszko and his replacement, Blair King.
During his tenure Ochenduszko managed the park for relatively quiet balanced local use between many different Coronado user groups, including soccer and Cays residents. It was good policy and it made good sense--like you would expect for a public park. When he was here as Interim City Manager recently he could not believe the extent to which soccer had been allowed to take over the entire park during his absence, lamenting at one point that “Cays Park was meant to be a primarily Passive Recreation park for Cays residents.”
By contrast his replacement King viewed the park as “more of a regional park” that “just happens to be in the Cays.” During his tenure he unilaterally turned it into an Active Recreation park for the exclusive use of what is now called the Coronado Futbol Club. The well funded and well run Club brought in professional coaches and now have a growing list of players who have received big money college scholarships and/or become professional players. On their website they refer to the park as one of their “fields” and use it regularly for big money Southern California regional soccer events. They know what they’re doing; it’s a fabulous program.
Of course there’s usually big money behind the curtain with any big change like this. With King running high cover for them at City Hall the parent corporation for the Coronado Futbol Club brought in literally millions during his tenure, all of it tax free because they could claim “public benefit” on their annual IRS Form 990. King never charged them one cent to rent the public acreage and the taxpayers paid the 102K annual maintenance bill. The “public benefit” claim was ironic because the public lost the use of the park all day Saturdays and Sundays, and from 3 to 7 on weekdays. And, because the “fields” were “required” for soccer, no trees, landscaping, benches or other normal park amenities could ever be added that would have made the park nice for the public when the Futbol Club wasn’t there; obviously you can’t have a bush in the middle of a soccer field.
Although Cays residents loved seeing kids play soccer, they weren’t too happy about having the one city park they used to enjoy under Ochenduszko, and began to enjoy again during Covid when soccer was temporarily suspended, essentially taken away from them completely when the sport overwhelmed the park under King, especially since all of the other 16 Coronado parks worth going to are all miles away in the Village.
Realizing from experience when King left that the extremely pro-soccer staff he left behind didn’t really care what they said, when Covid wound down they did their own internal survey to give the Council the information they asked for at the beginning—the information they presumably needed to direct the landscape architect to develop the three initial conceptual schematics for public review.
The enthusiastic response rate for the survey was nothing short of incredible and the results were telling. In short, Cays residents for the most part very much support Coronado Futbol and their impressive program, but 89 percent feel that it needs to be scaled back at Cays Park to greater or lesser extent. Specifically, 53% percent feel that the park space should be 50% Programmed (for groups like soccer and tennis), 23% support 25% Programmed, with the rest on the fringes. Of course any reduction in “Programmed” space makes more “Non-Programmed” space available for general public use. (A good example of “Non-Programmed” park space would be Spreckels Park, or just about any other city park in Coronado.)
Said another way, the survey indicated that Cays residents clearly want Cays Park to include at least some large area for Passive Recreation again. Taking it one step further, they said they would prefer that the park feature ocean views, trees, drought resistant landscaping, and nice walking paths for both day and evening use–like a regular park, rather than just a field. Also strongly supported was the idea of turning some large portion of the park into “a beautiful, aesthetic centerpiece of the Cays community, much as Spreckels Park serves as a beautiful, aesthetic centerpiece in the Village.” All of this seems to fit nicely with the Council’s initial vision of a Master Plan and the first three associated schematics they planned. (Full survey results are available at www.cayspark.weebly.com.)
If the April 19th Council Meeting was any indication, Coronado Futbol Club clearly has a very different view. They want the entire park to continue to be devoted to their unrestricted use, as it has been under King, and they are unwilling to acknowledge the interests of Cays residents. They told the Council recently that their plan is to offer “competitive soccer” training for up to 24 teams at Cays Park, and their website proudly proclaims their history of serving the “San Diego community”--not just Coronado.
If the Council wanted to continue to devote large areas of public park space and time to the Coronado Futbol Club--the precedent established by King--the solution might lie with Tidelands Park. No professional effort to investigate ways the efficiency of the 43 acre park could seriously be improved to support soccer has ever been done, but with a relatively minor change to the layout three large soccer fields could be added without decreasing the space for baseball there at all. Unfortunately the Council would have to gather their courage to face the Port but, after all, former Mayor Mary Herron negotiated the construction of the enormous park primarily to support Coronado youth field sports in the first place, and updating the layout to accommodate soccer’s increase in popularity throughout the District since the park was first constructed decades ago makes perfect sense.
If they were successful Cays Park would still likely be used for soccer, but the pressure would be relieved, thereby allowing at least some portion of the park to be returned to its original Passive Recreation purpose, along with the added benefit of eliminating the daily drive down the Strand for many Coronado Futbol parents and players. This is a “win-win-win” for Cays residents, the Coronado general public, and the Coronado Futbol Club. Despite anything lazy naysayers might offer it should be pursued with resolve.
The bottom line is, to move forward with the Master Plan, a basic decision must be made. Should Cays Park be:
(1) a primarily Passive Recreation park, for Coronado general public enjoyment (like most other parks in Coronado, but with the addition of some area for active sports), which would allow some consideration of Cays residents, as it was under Ochenduszko,
(2) a primarily Active Recreation park, for individual and team sports only (with most of the park devoted to the Coronado Futbol Club), without consideration for Cays residents, as it was under King, or should it be
(3) some combination of the two?
Cays residents would prefer option (1), but will support option (3). The Futbol Club will only support option (2). Perhaps what we need is an all-Coronado survey to see what the people who own and pay for the park think it should be? Or the Council could put it on the ballot to answer that question? It is, after all, our biggest city park, the 50-75 year time horizon of the Master Plan is a long time, Cays residents and the Coronado Futbol Club both have valid points, and City Manager Friend is correct when she says we need to get this right.
VOL. 112, NO. 43 - Oct. 26, 2022