November 10, 2010

What's A Park For?

Part 1: Our Soccer Years

Note: This is the first part of a 3-part series.

Before we moved to Poway in 1976, our family lived in an apartment in San Diego. The only "open space" in the apartment complex was a communal concrete patio. Fortunately, we lived within walking distance of a park, and biking distance of the bay and ocean. On weekends, we enjoyed visiting the zoo, museums and the aquarium. We missed those amenities when we moved to Poway, but we loved our quiet neighborhood and all of the open space.

Our house was a brand new house. The yard was bare dirt. During our first year, we spent an enormous amount of time planting a few trees and a garden and a lawn so our kids would have somewhere to play. We also built a "play structure" in the backyard to entertain the kids. Our friendly mailman, Kent Miller, told us about the Poway Soccer Club. My husband and I signed up our 5 yr. old son and soon found ourselves coaching his team, the Spirits. For the next 14 yrs., our life from August through early December revolved around soccer. Twice a week practice, Saturday games.

Saturday Morning, circa 1977
Big brother in his soccer gear.
Little sister with a bag of "goodies" to keep her entertained.

Mostly we practiced at Valley School. The playground was lined by huge shade trees that are gone now. We would warm-up in their cool canopy and hope a breeze would kick up before we started drills. As the kids got older, the practice field got more crowded. There were more kids playing. And lots of them were younger kids who might get hurt if one of my players let loose with a full strength kick. So we moved our practices to a field at Meadowbrook School.

The Meadwbrook field was in terrible shape. There were divits and gopher holes everywhere. But it had one big attraction. The only other team practicing there on the same days we were, was a girls team. Of about the same age.

It became our "tradition" to scrimmage the girls on rainy days, instead of calling off practice. The boys would phone me to make sure I extended an invitation to the girls, and they would never forget to remind me to ask the girls to wear white T-shirts. You know, so we didn't have to do "shirts and skins". Uh, right.....

Rainy Tournament, 1985
Were we crazy or what?

The first time my boys team scrimmaged the girls I was worried that someone might get hurt. The girls were just as quick and wily, but the guys could really slam that ball pretty hard. And they could take each other down pretty aggressively. My worries were unnecessary. Without any instruction from me, the boys all took some edge off their game. The only slide tackling was done by the girls. This afforded the girls a much better opportunity to improve their game than it did for my guys, but it never seemed to diminish the guys hopes that it would rain on our practice days.

Championship Tournament, 1989
We silkscreened and airbrushed our own "away" shirt
We thought it was s-o-o-o cool.
The referee was not impressed.

A couple of times we managed to get the opportunity to play in the sports arena during halftime of a Sockers game. One time, the boys decided to invite the girl's team as their opponents. After a few minutes of play, everyone realized something was off. So, they juggled the teams. Half the boys switched to the girls team and half the girls came over to our side. Both sides figured out their own substitutions. The coaches and the referee had nothing to do but chat with each other. The kids had a ball. Literally and figuratively. We all went out to pizza afterwards. I was so proud of them. My boys (and I think the girls team also) were quite skilled and had won their division from time to time. We played hard and well and won more than our share of the games. Yet, as a youth coach, I had no illusion that my role was to prepare these kids to be professional soccer players. One of my goals for my team was that the players would have a lifelong love for the game and be able to play with people of different skill levels and genders on a recreational level. I felt like I accomplished that.

The Spirits, 1989

From time to time, my husband and I run into one of the boys we coached. Most of them are almost 40 yrs old now and have kids of their own. They tell us that they have fond memories of those years. We do too. There were a few sad moments too, like the time nobody came to pick up one of the players after practice and we had to drive him to a bar on Poway Rd. to find his mother. But for the most part, coaching was a lot of work and a lot of fun.

It's been almost 20 yrs since we last coached a soccer game. Today, more kids are playing soccer. And they aren't just playing during the August- Dec season like we did. Lots of them are playing year round. In addition to the recreational teams, the Poway Soccer Club has several diffrent levels of competitive teams. Our boys team played in the competitive circuit because they had won their recreational division. But in those days we did not have paid professional coaches, as the kids do today. The competitive teams are looking for the very best players, so kids who live outside of Poway also try out for and become players on those teams. There weren't enough practice fields when we played and there certainly aren't enough now that playing soccer has become practically a full time occupation for some kids and with the number of kids from outside of Poway who are playing on Poway teams.

The number of kids playing baseball and softball has also grown, not to mention that there are newer sports leagues in town: rugby and lacrosse. It all adds up to a lot of needed fields.

They start them pretty young nowadays.
Diaper changes at half time?

Poway has also changed too. In the last 20 yrs., almost all of the new housing has been what I would refer to as housing extremes: McMansions in the north or low income, subsidized "affordable" apartments in south Poway.

Many of the McMansions have ample space on their lot for their own personal park. Heck, some people have enough room for their own personal ball field on their lot. And there is so much land up there, that the neighbors can barely see it. How cool is that?

People who live in the affordable apartments of South Poway don't have a backyard of their own. The common grounds areas are small and don't provide much of a place to play. If the kids kick or throw a ball on the grounds, their family can be kicked out. Their families need to go to public, communal parks in order for the kids to let off some steam. The also need public park space for all the other things that people use a backyard for: birthday parties, picnics, family gatherings, neighborhood shindigs and just to hang out in the fresh air.

Kids in apartment houses aren't the only ones who need parks. People who live in trailers and small lots have a need for a public park in lieu of having a backyard or a children's play area of their own. And even people in McMansions can appreciate having public parks for "play dates" and for neighborhood interaction.

There is not enough park space in Poway to serve the needs of the sports community and there are not enough parks to fill the needs of the people who do not have a big backyard, or maybe even any backyard. Our community leaders, most of whom live on very large lots themselves, haven't really planned for enough park space. In the next decade, Poway will still be required to build apartment houses because Poway has opted to form a redevelopment agency. Where will the kids play? Where will the families hang out on a summer's evening? Even if the sports teams light every single practice field in every single neighborhood park, there still will not be enough park space for the sports teams and there will be no space for the people who do not have a backyard of their own.

One of the biggest mistakes our leaders made was not to require the developers of Old Coach Estates to build a large public park. In fact, the Old Coach developers didn't even have to pay the required "in lieu" fees instead of providing a park. Don Higginson suggested that they provide a few public tee times instead as their contribution to the recreation needs of the community, and the rest of the council agreed. Those tee times serve the needs of only a few privileged people and leave the rest of the community wanting. We need leaders who have the best interest of the whole community at heart.

Ginger Couvrette is the Poway Youth Soccer League program administrator. I've never met her. I am sure she is a very fine person and spends a lot of time trying to provide sports opportunities for kids in the area. Ms. Couvrette is on the City of Poway Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. She advocates for more playing fields. Every year, the city formally assesses how much field space the sports teams need, and Ms. Couvrette assists with that. Mrs. Couvrette speaks for the sports community.

Ms Couvrette probably has little need of a park, other than for sports use. The front of her house faces a golf course. The back of her house also faces open space. Her backyard is ample enough for family gatherings and kid's activities. She certainly doesn't represent everyone in this community on the Parks and Rec council. Who does represents the apartment dwellers? Who assesses their needs? Anybody? Whose idea was it to give voice to the sports community and no voice at all to other park users? And whose idea was it to make these two groups fight it out with each other? And why do the sports people always want to take over neighborhood parks and open space in south Poway to meet their needs? We are the ones who most need our own open space and neighborhood parks for other purposes.

Daddy and Baby Hanging Out Together at Mission Bay Park, 1972

I've lived in an apartment and I've been an enthusiastic youth team coach. I can sympathize with both groups. We shouldn't be pitted one against the other. The park space conflict in Poway is the result of terrible planning. And some misguided city policies. If there are any solutions to our park problems, it won't be found by dressing up the kiddos in their soccer shirts and having them scream at council meetings. People are going to have to actually listen to each other and work together to pressure our community's leaders to work for both sports groups and non-sports park users.

In part 2 of this series, I hope to illustrate some of the ongoing pain-in-the-ass adventures our neighborhood has endured trying to keep Starridge Park a neighborhood park and not allow it to be turned into a sports park. In part 3, I plan to review the city's general plan, and some of the ordinances and policies that pertain to parks and show what a discordant mess they are. If you are along for the ride, don't feel shy about speaking up and added your comments to the dialogue.