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Santa Maria Council OKs Recreation And Park Fee Hikes

Panel also decides to ban all medical marijuana cultivation within the city but agrees to allow deliveries

Coach Charlie Bell from One Way Water Polo urges the Santa Maria City Council not to raise fees on youth and adult recreational sport programs that use city facilities.
Coach Charlie Bell from One Way Water Polo urges the Santa Maria City Council not to raise fees on youth and adult recreational sport programs that use city facilities. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The price of playing recreational sports at City of Santa Maria facilities will be going up in 2016.

In voting unanimously to implement the hike, the Santa Maria City Council agreed to raise fees 5 percent annually for the next three years but declined options for increases as high as 50 percent for long-time sports programs to use Recreation and Parks Department facilities.

"We have a responsibility to make sure the city is running in the black," Councilwoman Terri Zuniga said.

The matter brought a standing-room-only crowd of adults and youths to the council meeting, many wearing clothes sporting their team's logo or colors as they objected to a proposal for significantly higher fees.

Expressing support for the programs, council members also said fees needed to be increased since it had been more than a decade since the last hike.

"The reality is we've got to have some adjustment done," Councilman Bob Orach said.

Children can earn college scholarships from their athletic participation while also learning the value of teamwork, Mayor Alice Patino said. 

"I think sports are really important in every kid's life and they develop so much of themselves," she said. 

In addition to increasing fees for classes, the city staff proposed hikes for athletic programs that use city facilities, drawing strong opposition from those representing local swimming, water polo, softball, soccer and baseball programs for youths and adults.

Despite a 1997 policy calling for annual boosts based on the Consumer Price Index, the council had held off raising fees for 15 years.

If those fees has been increased based on the CPI  in that time, they would have risen 39 percent, Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said.

"We're here not trying to catch up by 39 percent, but we're trying to actually implement some fees that would get us back on track as far as fees go," Posada said.

In the past, the city has tried to recover some of the costs of assorted programs. Even with the increases, the city's expenses exceed revenues from the user and rental fees, city staff noted.

The department's expenditures total $8.7 million, while revenues add up to $1.5 million, leaving a $7 million gap.

Classes and programs such as ballet and swim lessons will cost 5 percent more. Rentals of buildings and facilities also will climb approximately 5 percent, he added. Discounts are given to City of Santa Maria residents.

But, the biggest discussion came when the council considered how much to charge historic sport programs — swim club, soccer, youth basketball, girl's softball, Little League and Babe Ruth — to use city facilities.

A proposed rate based on recovering city's costs would have seen the swim team pay $45,000 for the pool, instead of the current $15,000, Posada said, as the audience members groaned.

"It really comes down to a policy decision — where do you as members of the council want the department to recover fees," Posada told the council, presenting four options ranging from no increase to a 50 percent climb.

A huge increase would harm the future of the One Way Water Polo program, coach Charlie Bell said.

"(With) option four, quite honestly, we probably would cease to exist," Bell said. "We just don't have the funds to make that happen."

His program, like many others who spoke Tuesday night, doesn't turn away youths who want to participate, but can't afford the sign-up fees, he said.

"It's something that we don't want to lose," Bell said of the program.

A Santa Maria Girls Softball representative also expressed concern for the future of the program.

"If our prices go up dramatically, I'm kind of in the same boat, I don't know how much longer that we would be able to exist," Joe Beaudet said.

The program typically uses Hagerman Sports Complex, but sometimes is reassigned to another facility due to scheduling conflicts. However, before the girls can take the field, the program's board members have to pick up glass, filling several helmets with the trash, he said.

James Melena, who has been involved in various programs, urged the council not to raise prices as he noted the importance of sports programs for keeping youths out of trouble.

"Bring the price down. The City of Santa Maria needs to do all they can — grants, whatever they can — to help all these organizations, every single one of them. Bring it down so we can stop gang violence, stop the murders on the streets," Melena said.

After the 5 percent increase for the next three years, Recreation and Parks Department fees will increase annually based on the cost of living rate.

Saying the facility fee increase was a tough decision, Councilwoman Etta Waterfield echoed Councilman Jack Boysen's pledge to reconsider the fee increases if programs notice a drop in the number of youths signing up to participate.

In other business, the City Council agreed all marijuana cultivation, including commercial and private, should be banned in the city. The council's action Tuesday introduced the ordinance which will return on a later agenda for second reading and adoption.

However, the council agreed to allow delivery of medical marijuana within city limits by state-licensed providers.

The Santa Maria council's action came as the state gets set to implement new rules March 1, prompting cities in California to adopt regulations regarding cultivation.

The item drew comments of support and opposition from audience members.

Edwin Weaver from Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley said most medical marijuana patients are 30-year-old males with a substance abuse problem.

"We have a marijuana epidemic in our community and it starts with our youth," Weaver said, adding a recent group of local students with attendance problems revealed most were addicted to marijuana.

"I would really ask the question: Do we really want to allow cultivation and delivery of marijuana to our community when we know it's going to end up in the hands of our kids?" Weaver asked.

Clare Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, said the organization was concerned about setting a precedent prohibiting commercial cultivation of an ag product like cannabis.

"For example, we would not agree with banning wine grapes because of concerns with alcohol abuse," she said. "Our agricultural economy is vibrant because it's extremely diverse and has evolved with the changing market conditions and opportunities."

Others who spoke included Reggie Marmolejo whose mother, Joanne, has lung cancer and relies on medical marijuana deliveries; a pharmacist from Sweet Green Apothocary; a patient who uses medical marijuana and a representative of the 805 cannabis community.

The council also adopted the second reading of an ordinance related to fireworks in the city, including authorizing the city to pursue costs from violators when illegal fireworks are confiscated.

The new rules also establish third-party citations among other measures designed to deter the use of illegal fireworks.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @Noozha wkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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