First published in the April 28 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The shared outdoor field space throughout La Cañada Flintridge sparked some impassioned public feedback last week at the city’s Joint Use Committee meeting, where representatives from the La Cañada Unified School District, City Council and city staff continued to work on how best to manage recreational facilities amid increasing demand from user groups and youth sports teams.
The meeting highlighted the importance of the city’s Athletic Field Master Plan, for which the committee is seeking public input as it explores ways to expand the usage of existing facilities amid limited field space in a landlocked town.
“Great towns mean great fields and parks,” said committee member and governing board vice president Joe Radabaugh. “I’m confident we can improve things. Historically, leaders of the school district and city have worked together toward the mutual objective of addressing field space needs for our students and community. In a day we are really one team serving the community in all this …”
Though the pandemic temporarily shut down sports activities on the back of coronavirus mitigation measures, team field needs have come racing back to the forefront as the school district juggles a later school start time with district athletic, club and recreation teams that all use the fields.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette sought committee approval on a resolution to modify the time of a joint use field agreement to recognize that La Cañada High School hours end at 6 p.m. from the current 5 p.m. The need for the change comes on the heels of Senate Bill 328 — a bill authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino of LCF — that requires middle schools and high school to start no earlier than 8 a.m. and no later than 8:30 a.m. and which goes into effect next school year. Though LCHS changed its start time five years ago to 8:30 a.m., other schools are now adopting the policy which pushes back the time when after-school activities and games begin.
The district has been volleying the time change for certain students, Sinnette noted, depending on the sport or program, sometimes allowing students to leave class early, which is resulting in a loss of academic instruction.
With the resolution, the district also proposed transferring $40,000 to a special fund to purchase safety lighting for Foothill Intermediate School and elementary school sites, which will allow for an extra 30 minutes of play plus safe pack-up and exit as it gets dark. It also proposed an additional $10,000 to the special fund that would be used to redesign the play area at Palm Crest Elementary, which is currently under construction, to maximize field space.
The joint use committee, however, ultimately did not approve the resolution as it requested the data to underpin the need for the time change, and asked Sinnette to have the district provide a breakdown of class and school exit times as well as programs, practice and game times to compare the justification for moving back the school field use time by one full hour.
“I’m not comfortable that I have the data to make this kind of change and take it to our council without understanding how our user groups are not going to lose time with this,” said Mayor Terry Walker. “I think we have to recognize the significant contribution our user groups bring to this agreement … I’m not comfortable at the outset that this is an equitable agreement for both parties.”
Residents gave a wide range of public comment, including about the importance of supporting public schools in La Cañada Flintridge to foster the education excellence for which the city is known. Sports club representatives also testified to the dilapidated condition of certain fields due to overuse, while others expressed concerns of finding equitable practice times, especially for younger players.
The joint use committee members expressed their commitment to hammering out the best possible solutions with all the user groups through the field master plan, for which they would like to garner more public discussion. A more marketed approach might prevail in uncovering more funding avenues to improve and expand field usage.
“There are only two ways to get more field space — buy more or acquire more land or get more from what you have,” added Radabaugh, who suggested holding a town hall meeting on the subject. “I think we’ve got to take a big swing here to get big things done — we’re showing unity between our two governing bodies that we’re going to tackle some things we haven’t tackled in the past, but the sense of urgency is at the point that we’ve got to do some things now that maybe didn’t have full community support in the past.”
Walker reassured residents that the joint use committee was formed precisely to meet the needs of the community at large and the children across the district, both those in public schools and those in youth user groups.
“We all work very well together,” she noted. “I think we pride ourselves on having a healthy relationship and always working for the betterment of the schools and the children.”
As the city continues to seek input from community members regarding the Athletic Field Master Plan, residents are asked to direct any questions, concerns or general feedback to city staff. The next regular Joint Use Committee meeting is scheduled for May 26 at 8:30 a.m.