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The city of Oceanside is working to change the guidelines for sports groups to rent municipal fields and facilities. Photo via Facebook/City of Oceanside
The city of Oceanside is working to change the guidelines for sports groups to rent municipal fields and facilities. Photo via Facebook/City of Oceanside
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Residents question draft group classifications to access city fields, facilities

OCEANSIDE — As city leaders and volunteers continue to improve access to a limited supply of municipal fields and facilities in Oceanside, the process has stirred questions over fairness and who can be trusted to make those decisions.

For the last few years, various recreational teams, along with the local advocacy group Save Our Streets, have been demanding fair access to municipal fields, gyms, and other sports facilities. In 2022, several teams complained about how they felt city staff had treated them unfairly, excluding them from facilities in favor of other groups.

In response, the city cited a severe field shortage as the main culprit behind the festering frustrations over field access.

Recent efforts to revise the city’s user group classification guide in its sports facility rental packet — which determines who gets priority over facility rentals — have sparked outcries from Coastal Academy High School, an Oceanside-based public charter school, after the draft reclassified them several tiers below their current status. In response, proponents of the draft guide pointed out that the school was incorrectly benefiting from a higher tier from the beginning and needed to find a rightful place in the new guide.

The complaint

In December 2022, Oceanside resident Arleen Hammerschmidt filed a complaint claiming employees of the Oceanside Parks and Recreation Department showed favoritism toward Coastal Academy High School when approving permits for access to municipal fields and facilities.

The complaint followed earlier discussions that revealed Parks and Recreation staff had incorrectly grouped Coastal Academy with Oceanside Unified School District’s joint use agreement with the city of Oceanside. The agreement is a contract that prioritizes the school district’s athletic programs at city facilities in exchange for shared access to the school district’s sports facilities.

Under the joint use agreement, which expired in 2021, Oceanside Unified sports groups are classified in Priority Group B, which gives them higher priority for the use of fields and facilities over other groups. While the agreement did not include Coastal Academy, the public charter school mistakenly received the same higher priority level.

Mance Buchanon Park is home to some of Oceanside's sports fields. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Mance Buchanon Park is home to some of Oceanside’s sports fields. Photo by Samantha Nelson

Parks and Recreation staff corrected the issue by reclassifying Coastal Academy under Priority Group C. However, the user guide remains unclear as to where a public charter school should go.

“The current user group classification does not specifically indicate what category a charter school should receive, so the staff was forced to make a decision based on the information available to them,” said Parks and Recreation Director Manuel Gonzalez via email. “Staff determined that Coastal best fits in category ‘C,’ and the city stands behind that decision.”

No favoritism, no harm

Despite the error, a third-party consultant hired by the city to investigate the complaint ultimately determined that Coastal Academy was not shown “undue favoritism” and that its misclassification did not harm other user groups’ ability to obtain permits.

The report also recommended updating the facility rental packet by removing user groups from fields when they aren’t using them, clarifying when grass fields need to rest, outlining residency requirements, and establishing criteria for group categories, which determines who gets priority over a field or facility.

Since the consultant’s report came out, a standing committee of Parks and Recreation commissioners that focuses on equitable field and facility access has developed an incomplete, temporary, draft user group guide through a series of four workshops. The committee brought the draft guide forward to the full Parks and Recreation Commission for discussion on Nov. 14.

According to Commissioner and Standing Committee Chair Wilson Godinet, there was confusion among Coastal Academy families who thought a final vote on the draft would take place that evening.

The draft

In the draft guide, Coastal Academy was reclassified to Priority Group E, a significantly lower grouping, sparking outrage from the school’s staff, student-athletes and families. More than 100 people from the Coastal Academy community showed up to the meeting, asking for a higher classification.

According to staff and students, the reclassification would severely impact the school’s athletic program. Coastal Academy does not have its own sports facilities, relying instead on city-owned and private facilities around Oceanside.

Zac Garland, a sophomore at Coastal Academy High, told commissioners that the school’s priority classification would hurt football, basketball, volleyball and other sports.

“Without these facilities and others, our sports program would be next to nothing,” Garland said.

Coastal Academy Athletic Director Glen Henton, who attended the workshops, said the reclassification would “effectively kill” the school’s athletic program. He noted that the reclassification puts Coastal under for-profit, non-resident groups over the city-based public charter school, which has slightly below 70% Oceanside residents.

A baseball field at John Landes Park in Oceanside. Photo by Samantha Nelson
A baseball field at John Landes Park in Oceanside. Photo by Samantha Nelson

“We want transparency and equity,” Henton said. “We feel the current draft right now is not fair to our student-athletes.”

Commissioner Kelyn Hsu said Coastal Academy’s reclassification to a lower priority group felt like a punitive move after previously unfounded allegations of favoritism.

Godinet pointed out that the draft user group guide wasn’t finished and stated that he wants to continue to work with Coastal Academy for its rightful placement on the user group guide. He also blamed Mark Olson, division manager for Parks and Recreation, for his role in incorrectly grouping Coastal Academy with OUSD’s joint use agreement.

Staff takes over

Ultimately, a commission majority agreed to adjust the draft guide before bringing it back for discussion. After that, the draft will go back to the Parks and Recreation Commission before the City Council makes the final decision.

Gonzalez said city staff, not the standing committee, will be leading the process to revise the facility rental packet moving forward. He plans to schedule a series of meetings with representatives from all user groups to gather their input on the revisions.

But Wilson and other standing committee members are seeking to go back and change their Nov. 14 vote, saying they felt confused and pushed into the decision. Instead, Wilson wants the standing committee to work alongside the city since he and other stakeholders remain distrustful of Parks and Recreation staff. 

“The bottom line is that Mark Olson made a decision in 2019 that he was not authorized to make: to have Coastal Academy, a charter school, function as a joint use agreement school for the Oceanside Unified School District,” Godinet said. “This action resulted in Coastal Academy students and parents assuming that they were part of the JUA for years…This caused a lot of animosity and is where we are today.”

The future of facility access

During a Nov. 15 City Council meeting, City Manager Jonathan Borrego said the city is committed to developing a facility rental packet that is “fair to all users.”

Borrego said the consultant found Parks and Recreation staff had not taken “nefarious actions” in the previous classification errors involving Coastal and the OUSD joint use agreement.

“There are members of the public that continue to make allegations against Parks and Recreation staff that I believe are quite unfair, which is why we hired an outside consultant,” Borrego said.

Borrego also said staff has successfully completed negotiations with OUSD on a new, updated joint-use agreement that will open “many additional facilities” on school grounds, including some stadiums, which would benefit the community and help to address the city’s lack of field and facility access.

1 comment

tmaddison November 27, 2023 at 8:38 pm

Don’t know about the joint use agreement, but shouldn’t any priority list put school kids above everything else without regard to what type of school they attend?

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