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Encinitas Little League concerned over contract change

Encinitas Little League, the talk of the town this summer when one of its teams made it all the way to the West Regional Semifinals, has raised the prospect that it could have to move from its longtime fields at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA.

The YMCA is looking to expand, which could affect the YMCA-owned fields. And a new contract would let the YMCA cancel the city’s lease of the sports fields with 30 days’ notice.

In December 2013, the Encinitas City Council unanimously approved a contract extending the city’s lease of the fields by 10 years, with the new 30-day cancellation clause. At that time, neither the council nor the public commented on the contract.

Under the lease, the city doesn’t pay rent on the YMCA fields, but it’s required to schedule games and maintain the fields.

Resident Joe Corder, who recently learned about the clause, said at last week’s council meeting that the clause could spell the end of the lease and thus displace ELL and other sports leagues.

“This time next year, the boys and girls from ELL might not have a place to call home,” he said. Corder, speaking during the portion of the council meeting reserved for the public to address non-agenda matters, asked the city to reconsider the clause.

The YMCA is drafting expansion plans that could affect “one or more of the ball fields,” wrote Susan Hight, executive director of the YMCA, in a Nov. 7 letter addressed to the City Manager.

“While we are early in the design phase, we wish to provide open communication with the city to allow them time to plan for possible changes to their scheduling of leagues,” Hight’s letter went on.

Hight did not respond to requests for comment.

City Manager Gus Vina said at last week’s council meeting that he had recently spoken with YMCA officials and “there are no immediate plans to displace the Little League or any of the leagues using the fields.”

Vina also stated that the 30-day clause could benefit the city if it hypothetically finds better accommodations for any sports leagues.

In an interview after the council meeting, Robert Wade, ELL president, said the league became aware of the clause a few months after council approval in November 2013.

He added the league isn’t questioning the rationale behind the clause, but rather it is focused on finding out if and when it has to move.

“We’re concerned about the fields going away long-term, absolutely,” Wade said. “And if they want us to move, we need to start to make plans, because there would be a lot to take care of.”

He added: “We haven’t been given concrete details or a timeline.”

Wade said the league could relocate to the soon-to-open Encinitas Community Park, yet this would probably demand scaling back the number of games and players. That’s because the league plays on four Ecke fields, as opposed to three at the community park.

Moreover, lighting at the Ecke fields allows for night games, while homeowners surrounding the community park have fiercely opposed sports lighting.

“It’s a beautiful park,” Wade said. “However, playing there would impose big challenges on us.”

He added that he didn’t know of other city fields that could accommodate ELL.

ELL, boasting around 550 players for the upcoming spring season, began playing ball in 1959 on Saxony Road land the Ecke family donated, near where the current fields are.

“Historically, that’s where the city has played Little League baseball,” said Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, who was on an ELL all-star team in 1972 that won a regional pennant.

Kranz said he was aware of the 30-day clause when the council extended the contract last November, though he didn’t think it could become a problem.

“My expectation was that those fields were very secure and it wasn’t going to be an issue,” Kranz said. “I wasn’t aware there were things in the works that might cause someone to exercise that option.

“I didn’t know we needed to make sure we needed a contract that obligated the Y to allow those fields to stay,” he added.

Kranz said the YMCA is becoming more popular and understandably looking to add parking and new facilities. Yet he believes the YMCA shouldn’t get rid of the ball fields to accommodate its growing membership.

A city study found there’s a deficit of sports fields in Encinitas, a major reason the city built the community park, he said.

“It didn’t mean that once the community park was built, we could pave over other athletic fields in use,” Kranz said.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar did not return a request for comment.

At the prior council meeting, Gaspar and Kranz requested the matter be put on a future agenda. As part of it, the YMCA will be invited to present its expansion plans.

ELL players who were on the all-star team that made it to the Western Regional Semifinals, one step short of the Little League World Series, will appear Dec. 6 in the Encinitas Christmas Parade.

This article originally stated the City Council approved the lease November 2013. However, it was approved December 2013.


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