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Parks commission's vote on football group's special status is confirmed

A Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission decision that helps a controversial youth football league maintain a special status for cheaper use of city athletic fields is now official, despite confusion over Thursday's vote.

According to the official record, the commission was unanimous in its recommendation that the City Council extend "Group 3" category status to the Matt Leinart Flag Football League for one year.

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Leinart's group first became a Group 3 following City Council agreement July 2014. The decision allowed the league to pay $25 per hour, per field at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex — the rate granted to nonprofit groups made up of Costa Mesa residents.

That low rate came under fire last week, following the publication of an Orange County Register investigation that said Leinart's group wasn't a nonprofit, but rather a for-profit entity that should've been paying at least $77 an hour — even as much as $239 an hour. The company achieved the lower rate by registering under Leinart's nonprofit foundation.

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According to the Register, Leinart's group owes Costa Mesa around $50,000, possibly more.

On Friday, confusion about that night's vote became apparent after Commissioner Byron de Arakal disputed the record, arguing that his actual motion did not actually recommend Leinart's group Group 3 status. He pointed to the tape of the meeting, in which he did not mention Leinart's group but said he wanted to see a special, high-priority "Group 1" status granted to other nonprofit youth sports groups.

The commission unanimously approved his motion, though one commissioner later asked the recording secretary to read the official record of the vote. The secretary said the commissioners recommended the Group 1 status for the nonprofit sports groups and a Group 3 status extension to Leinart's football league.

Following her reading, none of the commissioners cried foul or questioned the record.

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It is because of this that the vote, as read by the secretary, is what stands, Recreation Manager Travis Karlen said Monday.

"It was not challenged by any of the commissioners, so therefore the city's stance is that it is the actual direction," Karlen said.

On Monday, de Arakal said he was disappointed with City Hall's decision to maintain a recommendation he did not ask for.

"I could not disagree more with that interpretation," he said. "The city's interpretation was not the intent of the motion and it was the not the substance of the motion. As far as I'm concerned, that was not the motion the commission voted upon."

De Arakal added: "I unfortunately did not challenge the clerk's rereading of the motion because I was focused on the next items on our agenda."

Before the commission's vote, city CEO Tom Hatch said Costa Mesa officials had met with Leinart's group about the problem, and the league will probably have to repay whatever it owes City Hall for use of Jack Hammett fields.

"If they have operated as a for-profit organization, then they should pay the appropriate rate," Hatch said.

The council will hear the matter in July.

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