Costa Mesa council debates 'local resident' definition in city field-use policy

Costa Mesa City Council members voted unanimously this week to officially approve tweaks to the city policy that governs the use and allocation of local athletic fields.

However, it wasn't one of the proposed changes that dominated Tuesday night's discussion, but the policy's definition of a "local resident" that the council adopted last year.

The policy states that those who live or attend school within the Newport-Mesa Unified School District boundaries — which encompass virtually all of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach — are considered local residents.

Organizations with larger proportions of local participants can be eligible for higher-priority and lower-cost access to athletic fields.

Councilwoman Sandy Genis questioned whether the city should re-examine the definition of "local."

Defining it as is, she said, has opened the door for groups with large numbers of Newport Beach residents to get prime access to Costa Mesa fields, even if only a small percentage of their participants are from Costa Mesa.

Genis said it's important to ensure that Costa Mesa taxpayers and their children can use local fields, especially given the money the city spends to maintain and renovate the fields.

She pointed to the council's vote earlier Tuesday to apply for a $1-million state grant to cover part of the cost of an estimated $4.5-million project to install synthetic turf at two fields in the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex.

"If the Costa Mesa kids are a small minority, then what on Earth are we spending 5 million bucks for?" Genis said.

Wendy Leece, a former council member, said she also was concerned that the city is "being overly generous with our fields" and that Costa Mesa needs to make sure local kids aren't being boxed out.

Aside from Genis, though, the council didn't seem inclined to reconsider the matter.

"We went through a lot of discussion on this item and I thought we came up with a really good plan to include all of Newport-Mesa, which keeps our Newport-Mesa kids together," Councilman Gary Monahan said. "So I have no interest in revisiting this item."

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said Costa Mesa and Newport Beach have close ties. Children who live in one community may go to school in the other, he noted.

"The system works just fine," Righeimer said. "It's good to have all the kids together. I don't think there's a big issue with it."

Councilwoman Katrina Foley said she thinks the city should continue to explore whether there are other ways Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and the school district can partner to support youth sports.

"I do think that Newport could do more and their residents would enjoy it if they would work better with the school district and with our city to open up some fields in their community," she said. "There are some opportunities there."

Costa Mesa coordinates and issues permits for the use of athletic fields at district sites within city boundaries.

In Newport, requests for access to school fields within city limits primarily go through the district, not the city, according to Justin Schmillen, Newport Beach recreation manager for youth and adult sports leagues.

"We are not in charge of allocating the school district fields," he said Wednesday. "There's a separate permitting process that our sports groups go through."

For its own fields, the city has an allocation and use policy that, though similar in some ways to Costa Mesa's, differs in one major respect: Only someone who lives in Newport is considered a local resident.

Schmillen said he isn't aware of any recent pushes in Newport to try to expand the residency definition the way Costa Mesa has.

Foley said Wednesday that she thinks "it would be helpful if we could get a partnership with Newport Beach where they have a similar residency requirement" because that might open low- or no-cost facilities in Newport that Costa Mesa teams could use.

"I think there are definitely opportunities to have conversations about how we can better collaborate and partner to support youth sports," she said.

Code of conduct

The biggest change to Costa Mesa's field-use policy Tuesday was the addition of a code of conduct, which makes it clear that foul language and abusive or disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated at city fields.

Smoking, vaping and drinking alcohol also are prohibited.

Failure to comply with the policy could result in a strike against a user group. The city uses a three-strike policy, with repeat violators subject to suspension or loss of permits.

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