M. Terry / SFVS

Las Palmas Park in San Fernando, where the Santa Rosa Baseball and Softball league plays games.

The City of San Fernando has ended the long-running contract it had with the nonprofit Santa Rosa Baseball and Softball leagues for use of Las Palmas Park, a contract that — while not exclusive — had given the league priority on using the fields there and at a reduced cost. The termination becomes effective on Oct. 1.

Concerned parents and league officials flocked to the San Fernando City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sep. 3, to protest what they claimed was a City effort to close down the league. It was their understanding that Santa Rosa would be unable to use the park facility for baseball or football until at least Oct. 1.

“Our fall season actually starts Saturday,” said board member Christiane Ilejay. “I understand there may be a compliance issue, and I hope we have the opportunity to fix whatever issues there are. But I want this council to consider how this impacts the children.”

(Kimball would later clarify that understanding, saying Santa Rosa could continue to use the park facilities under the old contract until the termination becomes effective on Oct. 1.)

Frank Delgado, current league president and treasurer, said he learned of the contract termination on Tuesday.

“I wasn’t aware that we weren’t in compliance,” Delgado said. “It would have been nice if concerns [of non-compliance] were addressed to us so we could have addressed them and moved forward. But to take away programs and leave kids out there to fend for themselves, get in trouble…youth programs provide structure, teamwork. To pull the rug out from under us without notification is horrible. There was no communication between myself, and Parks and Recs.”

Gilbert Cabral, who said he grew up playing in Las Palmas and now had grandchildren in the league, was “flabbergasted” when he got the email from Julian Venegas, director of the City’s Recreation and Community Services, about ending the contract.

“I can’t see taking my grandson out of our community to play at another park,” Cabral said. “Travel ball is hard; it’s time-consuming, and it asks a lot of parents and children to leave their community and play in other communities, and make those communities rich. We can keep our children here in our local parks, and just grow…we’re trying to see how we can resolve and move forward with the compliance part. I’d love to resolve this and come back to this being a great place to play.”

City Manager Nick Kimball stated to the council and the audience that the intent was “not shutting the league down.”

“For a number of years now the City has been working with the league to address a lot of its compliance issues,” Kimball said. “We had a contractual relationship, which afforded them some special priority when it comes to using the fields. There were discounted fees. This isn’t about wanting to get more money.

“Part of that contractual relationship required legal nonprofit status documentation, financial transparency requirements, insurance requirements — a number of requirements as part of that relationship. And we’ve been having, for years, a number of issues with the league being able to comply with all of these issues.”

The City now feels, Kimball said, it is being put in “a potential lability situation” if the contractual relationship continued the way it is.

“The league can continue,” Kimball said. “It would just be a different relationship.”

Meaning Santa Rosa would now be applying to rent the fields at Las Palmas Park for their sports like every other organization without any special prioritization.

According to Kimball, via email, the current 10-year contract between the City and Santa Rosa was executed in 2016. Prior to that It was year-to-year. The contract “basically allows” the League to use the fields at a discounted price of $15 per child per season. 

 Without an Agreement, the League may still use the fields, “but it will be at the regular field reservation rate, which is charged per use rather than one fee for the entire season,” the email said.

The email stated the contract had different requirements, including legal documentation, financial transparency, insurance, and enrollment requirements, and that “The City has experienced various compliance issues with all of those requirements throughout the term of the contract.  The League President has been aware of the compliance issues and staff has been working with the League to address those issues.  At this point, the City cannot continue in a contractual relationship with the League without full compliance.”

It went on to state, “the City is not shutting down the League and is very mindful that the League offers a valuable recreation option for our community’s children. The City’s decision was to end the contractual relationship with the League, which gave them priority status for field use and discounted season fees.  The League may continue, it will just be on a first come, first served field use reservation basis.”

Just last year City officials said the league was in danger of  being “in default,” in part because then president Marcos Martinez had been accused of not paying for uniforms and trophies from companies in the San Fernando Valley. Venegas had also given Martinez “one final extension” to fulfill various actions that would bring the league into compliance with the contract it had for use of the baseball fields.

Some of those actions included providing proof of the league’s nonprofit status, presenting audits for the past three years verifying how the league spent its money, and filling a multitude of vacancies on its board. At the time, only Martinez and Able Luna were listed board members, president and vice president respectively.

Venegas said then that the City has issued notices of default on several occasions, “but we don’t want to yank the opportunity for kids to play baseball.”

At the Tuesday council meeting, Kimball said Santa Rosa could and should plan on having its fall leagues.

“We wanted to make sure this step was taken before the [upcoming] spring season and get the league going sideways,” Kimball said. “I also want to clarify that the City is looking at running our own league out of Las Palmas Park starting in the spring. We want to continue to have an option for children who want to play baseball when the spring comes around.”

On Wednesday, Delgado said Santa Rosa is still trying to work things out with the City to get use of the fields.

“We have our fall programs starting this weekend; we might have to push it back a week, to give us some time to find where our agreements are with the City,” he said. “I’m trying to reach out to Parks and Recs; [Venegas] has never reached out to me to let me know we were not in compliance. I want to at least get that documentation to them so we can get these issues resolved.”

Ilejay said on Wednesday that Venegas said he would send Santa Rosa officials an email with what the league was still not in compliance — “we’re not holding our breath to that,” she said — and that the league would have attorneys review the contract and all previous emails between Santa Rosa and the City, probably starting Thursday, Sept. 5.

“As far as we knew, through last week, we were in compliance with everything,” she said. “There had been constant communication with Julian; he’s never notified us that we weren’t in compliance or said we shouldn’t be moving forward. We’ve never been served with any formal notice of being out of compliance.”

She added that Venegas did meet with several Santa Rosa officials outside of the Council Chambers, and told them the City didn’t have to give them “any notice” regarding termination. Ilejay also found the idea of the City wanting to start its own spring leagues “very interesting.”

“It just seemed like new information all the way around,” Ilejay said.