Both of Oceanside’s high school football teams made it to the CIF finals last month. But according to youth coach Jason Mageo, that feat was achieved in spite of the support youth football gets from its hometown.
“Oceanside is known for its football players not soccer or baseball, even more so after our two high schools won state championships.” Mageo is co-founder and president of the Oceanside Warriors youth football league. “Yet you wouldn’t know it by the way the city treats our youth football programs. This whole field situation is ironic to me.”
The irony is that the Oceanside Breakers youth soccer players get exclusive access to the 20 soccer fields at the El Corazon mid-city park and commercial center.
And then there’s the $26 million city of Oceanside just went into debt so that a 56-meter pool could be built at the new Oceanside Aquatics Center.
April Tenorio was a longtime volunteer with the Oceanside National Little League. She says she has no bad words for Coach Frank Zimmerman or his Breakers soccer squad. But as for the lack of field space for Oceanside's other local young athletes she says, “It stinks. We’re getting squeezed out. The fields they give us are crap but that’s all we have.”
To plea for his cause, Mageo occasionally hauls his jersey-clad football kids to city council meetings begging for more fields to play on. But he says it hasn’t helped. “The Little League, Pop Warner and rugby teams are all fighting over the same small piece of land. We’re not actually fighting, per se. We’re just trying to look out for our kids.”
It’s a different story for Oceanside’s soccer moms and dads, thanks in part to San Diego developers Sudberry Properties. The San Diego based developer was awarded the contract to develop the city-owned El Corazon property at the center of town. Sudberry created a subsidiary called So Cal Soccer to run some 20 soccer tournaments a year. Longtime local soccer coach Zimmerman was allowed to use the So Cal Soccer fields on a limited basis. It’s the only local youth program invited to use the fields.
“I heard about the fields at El Corazon but they told me I could rent them for like $22,000 for a Saturday,” says Mageo. “We just don’t have that kind of money. We are all volunteers.” He says it’s even worse for Oceanside Pop Warner. "Those kids have to play their home games at La Costa Canyon [in Carlsbad] or Ramona. This is nothing against Frank and his Breakers. He has a great program. He’s got well over a thousand kids. He used to feed his best kids to the [San Diego] Surf. Now the Breakers are as good as the Surf.”
Last week Oceanside aligned itself even more deeply with soccer when a plan was announced to move the 42-year-old San Diego Sockers to a new arena they said they would build at El Corazon. The Sockers said they would rather own their own 5,000-capacity soccer arena in Oceanside than pay rent at their home for the last eight years, the Pachanga Arena long known as the San Diego Sports Arena.
The Sockers get that El Corazon land through Sudberry, even though it is owned by the city of Oceanside.
The news struck some as a big step forward: Oceanside gets a pro sports team involved with the fastest growing sport in America, and the city won’t have to pay for it. Plus, it would signal the first real development at the long dormant El Corazon site.
In 2006 Oceanside bought the 465-acre mid-city El Corazon site that once had a silica sand mine. It was renamed El Corazon with the hopes that it would become a thriving mid-city mecca of parks and new commercial development. The city awarded development rights to Sudberry in 2011: the city donated the land, and in exchange Sudberry promised to build a hotel and commercial and office space.
So far Sudberry has not followed through on any development except the 20 soccer fields which were graded by the City of Oceanside.
“Their agreement with the city expired this month,” says Mayor Peter Weiss. He says Sudberry has come to the council to ask for an extension of their agreement which the city is dealing with at this time. “The original plan called for them to build like 300,000 square feet of commercial and 300,000 square feet of office space. Unfortunately, the demand for retail is shrinking. And there is not that much demand for office space, we have found.”
But the soccer fields are booming.
The 20 soccer fields take up 103 acres. Rob Haskell was tasked by Sudberry to manage the So Cal Soccer facility and the logistics of the overseeing the 20 tournaments held there every year. Haskell says he could provide no financial details about how much Sudberry makes from the parking fees it collects, but he did admit that during the 60 tournament days a year, the 2,300 parking spaces go for $12 to $15 each a day. One insider who declined to be named says that Sudberry only has to pay the city $300,000 a year and that the income from parking fees alone are clearly a huge windfall for Sudberry, shorting the city of Oceanside out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost revenue.
Haskell says that in order to get the parking fee income data I would have to speak with Sudberry Properties. A request for a comment from Sudberry principal Charlie Abdi was not returned.
When it was brought up to Mayor Weiss that since Sudberry has not come through with its promised development, and since it is collecting parking fees for guests to park on public land to see soccer games on fields graded by the city on city property, couldn’t the city consider buying out Sudberry which is allowed in its lease?
Weiss did not think that was a good idea.
“The city could not be as efficient at running soccer tournaments as So Cal Soccer is. It is just not one of the fundamental things we do. Look at Goat Hill [when Oceanside ran a golf course operation]. We did a horrible job.”
What no one seemed to be sure about was that there are actually two additional fields adjacent to the 20 El Corazon fields which are supposed to be set aside for free public use.
Mageo of the Oceanside Warriors says that this was the first he had heard that these unlit fields adjacent to So Cal Soccer existed. “We don’t need lights. I wish someone would just let us know.”
Frank Zimmerman of the Oceanside Breakers says that the two adjacent fields are accessible only when he and the Breakers are there to open the gates. “But there is no one there to manage the use. There might be kids doing donuts in the parking lot.”