Empty baseball field and part of grass outfield with stadium lights
Santa Clara charges youth sports groups $14 per hour to reserve city-owned fields, and the groups are asking for the fee to be dropped or discounted. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Youth sports nonprofits in Santa Clara are asking the city to drop its fees to book fields, and officials are looking for a compromise.

This year, Santa Clara started charging youth sports groups such as the Santa Clara Westside Little League and the Police Activities League (PAL) $14 hourly to use city fields, which brings in about $115,000 annually to the general fund. The city starting charging a fee two years ago, and these groups said the fees are a financial strain on families and want them to be decreased or dropped entirely. The Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to waive the charges from July through December, giving city employees time to discuss the fees and other access concerns with the sports groups.

Councilmember Raj Chahal said the revenue generated from the field fees is negligible.

“The benefits to the community, to the kids, to the families, is much more than $115,000, if you put an economic value to the benefits,” he told San José Spotlight.

Mike Walke, president of the PAL executive board, said the league received a nearly $14,000 city invoice for its use of fields during the regular softball season. The softball program has about 140 players, and dividing the total cost of field use by the number of players chalks up to $100 per player — a cost that could get put on families as part of registration.

The cost has meant that the league has had to find more creative ways to find revenue, but the increasing financial strain affects parents who might not be able to afford higher costs.

“I’m hoping that they waive the parks usage fees for nonprofit groups, period,” Walke told San José Spotlight. “This started two years ago. It’s not working. So I hope we go back to the way it was before, where nonprofit youth groups within the city don’t have to pay fees.”

The city also has maintained the Wade Brummal Youth Sports Grant since 2015, which imposes a $25 fee on non-Santa Clara residents participating in local sports groups to provide scholarships for residents who can’t afford it. There’s about $152,000 saved, according to city data, though the youth sports groups said the fund has a cumbersome application process.

City spokesperson Janine De la Vega said the city is inviting local youth sports nonprofits to a July meeting to discuss these concerns before bringing it back to the city council in the fall. She said the city plans on going over the fees and about possible revisions to the grant program. Walke said the league has a strong partnership with city employees, so he’s looking forward to working with them to find a solution.

The city subsidizes $22.2 million, or 86%, of its $25.8 million parks and recreational expenditures, De la Vega said. The field usage fee was initially levied to help the city recoup some of the costs. The city is also considering a bond measure in November to help fund its $624 million infrastructure deficit.

Councilmember Suds Jain said one benefit to charging for field use is it ensures the fields are not overbooked. He said the scholarship fund should be better utilized and publicized to support families who cannot afford registration fees, but he worries that making fields free to use will lead to the fields being abused.

“It’s not about a trivial amount of money from the general fund, but it’s about (using) those fields … when they’re reserved,” Jain told San José Spotlight.

The Santa Clara Westside Little League pays to use fields owned by the city and local school districts, and league President Linda Pascoal said these fees add up to about half of the league’s total operating costs. She said the league tries not to pass the cost of field usage further onto players, since the lower division registration price is $200, but she’s expecting the number of players registering to drop significantly over the next few years because of increasing costs.

“It’s such an insignificant amount of money compared to (the city’s) overall budget, but it is not insignificant to groups like ours,” Pascoal told San José Spotlight.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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