Recently the city of Encinitas took bold action to cancel a 10-year lease with the YMCA which provided the best and most useful park and playing fields in the city, and replaced it with a 30-day tenancy agreement cancelable without cause by either party. Huh?

And, oh yeah, they kind of forgot to tell the thousands of people who run, jump, kick, shoot, tackle and play on these fields, day and night. All in a city many regard as the outdoor recreation center of the country.

It’s a strange story about how the city and the YMCA entered into an agreement to basically allow either side to close these fields. But here goes:

For 25 years the Ecke YMCA on Vulcan Ave was the home of the Encinitas Little League as well as other youth sports leagues and adult leagues, too.

Tom Dempsey played ball there before going off to be an NFL field-goal record holder. Others know it as the home of the Encinitas Little League, which this year came one game away from a trip to the World Series.

But these fields didn’t build themselves: The Ecke family donated the land to the YMCA for the benefit of Encinitas youth back in the 1980s, and in 1989 the then-nascent city of Encinitas entered into a 25-year lease with the YMCA.

The YMCA didn’t have the money to build the facilities, and the city didn’t have the money to buy the land, so a deal was struck. The city agreed to build three or four baseball fields which could also accommodate at least two soccer fields, plus a snack shack, and equipment storage areas.

In return for constructing and maintaining those amenities, the city would have the right to program those fields to suit public demand including Encinitas Little League, Encinitas Soccer League, and what became up to seven other user groups.

The lease payments for the five acres of prime real estate less than a mile from the beach was a whopping $25 for 25 years. Yep, a buck a year for 25 years. Do the math, the 25 years was up in 2014.

But the lease also had a ten-year option that the city could exercise at its discretion at the end of the original 25-year lease. But for some reason that no one will fess up to, they threw that away.

About a year ago, in December 2013, the YMCA field lease extension appeared on a consent calendar at the Encinitas City Council meeting. That means it is routine, noncontroversial, and does not require discussion.

But there was a kicker in the routine item: A Termination for Convenience amendment had been added— meaning either party can terminate the lease with 30 days notice, and for no cause.

None of the organizations who rely upon and use and plan their future seasons on the availability of those fields were notified of this agenda item. To quote James Lindsay, former Encinitas Little League team manager and coach and member of the Encinitas traffic and public safety commission, “I sure as heck did not have any knowledge of a change to the YMCA field lease; in fact I wasn’t even notified the lease extension was up for consideration. None of the [little league] people I routinely talk to were aware of it.

“This was clearly an untrumpeted lease extension and amendment that allows the YMCA to kick the users off the fields with just a 30-day notice.”

The only explanation is that the YMCA somehow hornswaggled the city into the agreement, knowing that the people who use the sports fields often compete with YMCA members for parking.

So getting rid of at least some of the fields solves two problems at once for the Y:

One, fewer fields and field users means more parking for YMCA members. And fewer fields means more space for future parking lots.

Realistically, the YMCA would probably not be thrilled if the city stopped paying the $140,000 annual maintenance fee with 30 days notice, and surely none of the nine organizations and their thousands of participants who rely upon the YMCA fields to be there for them would be okay with 30 days notice to vacate the fields.

Even so, as more and more people learn about the new lease arrangement, more and more questions are being raised about who thought it was a good idea to put scarce playing fields at risk. “These fields are crowded, well-used, and really needed in our town. Losing those lighted ball fields would be a true loss to Encinitas,” said Lindsay.

Questions: Why did they do it in such secrecy? Did the staff’s briefing point out the meaning and significance of the lease amendment to the then-mayor, Ms. Barth, who had to sign off on having the issue on a consent calendar instead of a regular agenda for discussion? She’s now out of political office so we may never know.

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