Angry and worried parents showed up to Las Palmas Park in the City of San Fernando on March 24 to discuss and find out for themselves what the current situation is for the Santa Rosa Baseball and Softball League.
Santa Rosa is in danger of default with the city and whose league president, Marcos Martinez, has been accused of not paying for uniforms and trophies from companies in the San Fernando Valley.
Julian Venegas, director of Recreation & Community Services for the City of San Fernando, told parents he gave Martinez one final extension until March 28 to fulfill a “number of actions” in order to comply with the agreement the league has with the City for the use of baseball fields at Las Palmas Park.
Among those actions is providing proof of the league’s nonprofit status, and presenting audits for the past three years verifying how the league’s money is being spent. There’s also the issue of filling several vacancies on the league’s board of directors. Currently only Martinez and Abel Luna are listed, as president and vice-president. They don’t have a secretary or treasurer or any other board members.
Questioned by parents as to why City officials have allowed the league to operate although the league hasn’t complied with audits for three years, Venegas said, “[San Fernando] has issued notices of default” on several occasions, but “we don’t want to yank the opportunity for kids to play baseball.”
Santa Rosa owes the City $1,800 for fees not paid for last year’s season and hasn’t paid this year’s fees, according to city officials. That’s on top of the nearly $7,400 Martinez is accused of owing several companies in the Valley for orders he placed but allegedly never paid. The companies provided uniforms and trophies “on good faith.”
Martinez did not appear at the meeting attended by nearly 30 parents. The league’s board vice-president, Luna did attend but said he was not involved in the financial transactions, and only deals with equipment and other baseball aspects.
He also said that the league doesn’t have other board members because other parents were reluctant to take those positions.
“Nobody wants to step up,” Luna said.
The meeting was conducted by Venegas, who said the city decided to organize it after hearing from several parents that “there is not enough communication between the league and the parents them-selves.”
This “lack of communication” is something Jerry Jimenez and Julio Esparza say they know firsthand. They both have sons who play for a 9-and-under baseball travel team called “Black Widows” that belongs to the league.
“We don’t want our name dragged through the mud,” said Jimenez, regarding the accusations against Martinez and the league.
Esparza noted that “our team has had problems in the past.”
Last fall, they paid fees that would entitle them to play 10 games at Las Palmas Park, but in the end, “we just practiced.”
“Everything is at other parks,” Esparza said.
Even worse, Jimenez said,
is that sometimes “we were practicing and Marcos (Martinez) would show up with his team and push us off to another field. It’s happened twice already.”
When asked if they con-fronted Martinez about these issues, Jimenez said, “We’re too busy to chase somebody down.” But when they have brought it up, they get no answers.
“We’re worried about the oversight,” he said. “You have to constantly be asking because calendars are not honored.”
Also present at the meeting was Israel Pena of the Northridge-based company Gold Crest Engraving, where Martinez went a couple of years ago to order trophies after being referred there by a friend.
As reported in the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, Pena filled three separate orders for trophy work. He said on the first order Martinez paid him in full, although slowly. Pena said there were more issues with getting the second order paid off, but Martinez still managed to do it.
For the third order, Pena said he asked for payment upfront and Martinez wrote him a check for $5,000 made out to “cash,” telling Pena to hold on to it. Once he finished the trophies, Martinez would pick the trophies up, pay in full what he owed, and pick up the check that he gave to Pena.
But Pena said he has still never been paid for the work, despite trying to recuperate the money several times. He said Martinez has given him every excuse in the book — ‘my grandmother was sick’, ‘my grandmother died.’
An outstanding debt of $1,400 remains, as well as some trophies Martinez never picked up after not paying him back in May of 2016, Pena alleged.
Parents attending the meeting all agreed they want the league to continue but are concerned about reconciling the debt. Alex Meyerhoff told them, “It’s up to you to decide what you want to do. we will work with you.” Meyerhoff suggested the parents could “start fresh” under a new name.
But parents including, Erica Banuelos, said that might not be so easy for working parents, some who juggle activities for more that one child and may have kids playing in leagues at other parks. “I can’t commit to getting a whole new team together,” she said
“I don’t think the league can continue because no one wants to join the board because they would be responsible for all of the money owed,” said one parent as she left the meeting, “But, I think Marcos has to go.”
Michael McCollum, a team dad for the U7 travel team, had a different perspective.
“My experience with Marcos is that he’s been a great coach. He’s really good with the kids, encouraging them and emphasizing if they do well in school they can play baseball.”
McCollum, who lives in Echo Park, brings his 8-year-old to San Fernando because he likes the Pony program offered at Las Palmas. He said the fees to parents are much more affordable compared to other leagues where competitive parents also pay for private coaches. In a town like San Fernando, sometimes parents struggle to pay their part for tournament fees, said McCollum.
“This is the cheapest program around but a traveling team for the league may have two tournaments in a month and Marcos asks parents for fees once he finds out how much the tournament is. For instance, if the tournament fees for us are $500, the cost is divided up among the parents, but sometimes parents don’t have it, especially if we play more than one tournament a month. So the rest of us may do what we can to kick in a little more.”
Parents wondered if they started the league under a new name if that would give them a fresh start. The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol asked city officials if they would be willing to oversee the league in the same way other cities like Burbank have. “Nothing is off the table,” Meyerhoff said. Mayor Ballin however said the city doesn’t currently have enough staffing or resources to take on such a venture.
On Wednesday, March 28 Venegas met with Martinez at San Fernando city hall. Martinez, he said, delivered some bank statements and paid the fees for last season but did not deliver all the necessary documentation. Venegas stated the league was now “in breach” of the operation agreement it has with the City. He said Martinez did pay the fees for last season. But he did not have “confidence” that Martinez would deliver the remaining paperwork
Therefore the city would be presenting options to the parents and have called a meeting on April 12 at Las Palmas Park. The decision could include shutting down and restarting a new league. But, Venegas said, that is something league parents and participants would decide.
He said the league can still use the city’s baseball fields in the meantime so that the kids aren’t affected and options are considered.