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Forgiving California Soccer Park Astroturf Loan Means More Local Kids Play Soccer

California Soccer Park

Long-suffering fans of the U.S. Men’s National Team will have to wait four years before the American squad gets another crack at the FIFA World Cup after they were crushed by the Netherlands 3-1 last Saturday.

It was a bitter disappointment after the team’s promising performance in the group stage of the championship, held this year in the peninsular Middle Eastern country of Qatar.

Brazil is favored to take a record-extending sixth title in the World Cup final on Dec. 18. The next men’s FIFA World Cup won’t be held until 2026 in North America, with matches spread out between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

But U.S. soccer fans won’t have to wait that long to get their kicks because the women’s FIFA World Cup takes place just nine months from now, next August in Australia and New Zealand. The U.S. Women’s National Team, captained by global superstar and Redding native Megan Rapinoe, will be gunning for its third straight FIFA World Cup victory.

By the way, the U.S. men’s team has never reached the finals in the World Cup, let alone won the championship, a fact that aided multi-time world champ Rapinoe’s successful lobbying efforts to increase income parity between women and men in the sport.

Love her or hate her, the outspoken Rapinoe is Shasta County’s most prominent celebrity athlete. Thanks to her, we now have soccer in our DNA. Thousands of would-be Rapinoes have honed their skills at California Soccer Park, the 22-acre facility located at 9800 Old Oregon Trail, and thousands more are to come.

California Soccer Park shouldn’t be confused with its next-door neighbor Big League Dreams. The latter is owned and operated by a private company; California Soccer Park is owned by the city of Redding and operated by the nonprofit Shasta Regional Soccer Association.

Redding invested upward of $7 million in the project back in 2006, which features four lighted NCAA regulation fields, synthetic turf, plenty of parking, and year-round play.

Allowing a separate nonprofit organization to operate the park saves the city money on staffing, and permits a heavy volunteer contingent of local soccer aficionados including SRSA’s board of directors to participate in the sport.

SRSA raises money to operate the park through sponsorships, advertising, a concession stand, and attendance fees. It doesn’t operate with taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, California Soccer Park’s fields were originally surfaced with artificial turf made from recycled automobile tires, which in the early aughts was marketed nationally as a sustainable product.

It turned out to be anything but sustainable as plastic leaves of grass and tiny black rubber balls separated from the deteriorating turf under heavy use, frightening concerned parents and blighting the soccer park.

Replacing the shoddy sod cost $5.1 million, approved by a 4-1 vote of the Redding City Council in 2019 and paid for with a $1 million grant from the McConnell Foundation and a $3.1 million loan from the Redding Electric Utility.

The REU loan included $2.5 million funded by a previously successful REU lawsuit involving wholesale electricity rates and $500,000 from the city’s successful lawsuit against the artificial turf manufacturer.

The remainder of the $5.1 million was to be paid by a lease fee charged to the SRSA. The $6000 monthly rent would have raised $620,000 over 10 years.

The new artificial turf, is better than the old turf.

“Would have raised” because right about the same time the replacement artificial turf arrived in April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The California Soccer Park was ultimately forced to close for months by state public health mandates; to help it bridge the gap the city of Redding stayed the SRSA’s $6000 monthly lease payments until September 2023.

Even though the soccer park’s rent has been deferred for almost two years, an anonymous soccer dad/coach recently contacted A News Café to complain that low-income families with kids who want to play soccer are being held hostage by the city’s lease fee.

SRSA board president Brian Salado doesn’t necessarily disagree. Depending on the age of the player, it currently costs approximately $60 to $120 to join Redding Youth Soccer League for the spring and fall seasons. That includes 22 practices and 8 games per season. The fee helps cover the cost of some coaches, referees, and security, including employee background checks to weed out potential child predators.

That’s more than it costs to play Little League baseball at Caldwell Park, but Salado points out it’s considerably less than the hundreds of dollars parents pony up to enroll their kids in AAU basketball.

“We are all in agreement to support lower-income families, to make it more inclusive for everyone,” said Salado, adding that as coach of a girls’ soccer team, he’ll pay the entry fee for players whose parents can’t afford it, just to make sure kids with talent who really want to play hit the field.

SRSA is on the tab for the park’s utilities and upkeep. Salado is confident that the soccer park takes in enough revenue from sponsorships, advertising and admission fees to pay the rent with some funds left over.

At the same time, he recognizes the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic decrease in volunteers the organization depends on to break even.

Translation: It’s not going to be easy for California Soccer Park to recover from the pandemic, especially when its $6000 lease payments resume in August, just in time for the women’s FIFA World Cup.

But what if there was an easier way?

Fighting for the ball at California Soccer Park

As it turns out, there is. Last year during the city’s budget workshops, a proposal was floated to forgive REU’s $3.1 million loan that helped pay for the $5.1 million turf replacement. Redding City Manager Barry Tippin pointed out that the funding sources for the loan, two successful lawsuits, are like a windfall profit, in that the money that came in was unexpected.

That means people are less likely to miss it when it’s gone. The money didn’t result from an REU rate increase, therefore forgiving the loan is unlikely to negatively impact ratepayers. Since REU and California Soccer Park are both owned by the city of Redding, the city council, should it choose to forgive the loan, would essentially be forgiving itself.

The $300,000 to $400,000 annual debt service on the $3.1 million loan, once forgiven, would be transferred to the city’s general fund, where it could be spent on, for example, public safety. Or other parks and recreational opportunities.

Part of it could be used to lower or even eliminate the SRSA’s $6000 monthly lease fee, which in turn would relieve upward pressure on enrollment fees for youth.

That would mean more players, upping the chance another Rapinoe will emerge from the Shasta County playing fields.

Last February, the Redding City Council voted 4-1 against forgiving the REU’s $3.1 million loan. But according to Tippin, forgiving the loan is in his opinion still the right move when it once again comes up in budget negotiations this February.

“Repayment to REU is a good thing and marginally helps REU,” Tippin said. “However, REU’s budget is significant and if you did not repay the loan, it likely would not have a noticeable impact on rates.”

“Contrary to that, the debt service on the loan will come from the general fund and cost between $300,000 to $400,000 per year. Since the general fund covers the cost of our public safety services, this is funding that could be used for that purpose. “

To be certain, Salado isn’t lobbying for loan forgiveness, perhaps because there’s no loan contract between the SRSA and the city, and because the local soccer community takes great pride in making California Soccer Park a going concern through their volunteer efforts.

This soccer fan suffers from no such illusions and finds the new Redding City Council’s 3-2 approval for revamping South City Park heartening. The new Bethel majority, featuring two-term city councilwoman Julie Winter plus newcomers Tenessa Audette and Jack Munns, voted in favor of applying for a $3.5 million grant to fund the project.

Even though it’s just a grant and not taxpayer dollars on the line, the freshly anointed Mayor of Redding Michael “Dr. No” Dacquisto, and councilmember Mark Mezanno voted — you guessed it — no.

Back in 2019, Dacquisto voted in favor of the $5.1 million package to replace California Soccer Park’s dilapidated artificial turf, including the $3.1 million the Redding-owned REU loaned to the Redding-owned California Soccer Park.

Last year, he joined the 4-1 majority that rejected forgiving a loan it has granted itself, on the principle of the thing.

There’s a reason Shasta County’s founders established the Redding Electric Utility in 1921, more than 100 years ago. Public ownership of electrical utilities literally puts power in the hands of the people. That power includes forgiving a loan that was paid for before it was even granted.

This is a win-win situation and a no-brainer. The Redding City Council should reconsider forgiving the REU’s $3.1 million loan when budget negotiations resume this February. It should spend some of the $300,000 to $400,000 it will save on supporting the California Soccer Park.

Soccer is now in our DNA. No one will complain.

If you appreciate journalist R.V. Scheide’s reporting and commentary, please consider contributing to A News Cafe. Thank you!

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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