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Wednesday, Mar 05 2014 06:00 AM

Little League, TVRPD battle over ballfield work

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Members of the Board of Directors of Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Parks District toured the Little League ball fields at West Park on Tuesday, Feb. 25. From left in the foreground are Brian Duhart, Paulette Rush, Nick Cyr and Board President Gayle Stewart. At far right is District Manager Matt Young. Members of the Little League board and the public accompanied the board on the tour that was conducted during a special meeting to discuss issues between Little League and the district. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Much to be done before opening day

With less than a month before opening day, volunteers with Tehachapi Little League are frustrated that one of the fields they use at West Park has been closed and they're uncertain when they will be able to get back to the work of preparing the fields for the season.

And, officials with Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Parks District -- which owns the fields -- are frustrated that volunteers made alterations to the fields without written authorization called for by the contract between the two entities, and created hazards by doing so.

Still, the president of the Board of Directors of the district believes issues can be resolved and the fields prepared in time for baseball season.

Special meeting

The district's board held a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 25, specifically to discuss potential contract violations by Tehachapi Little League.

The youth baseball and softball organization contracted with TVRPD in January for use of fields at West Park, 490 W. "D" St., as the league has done for years.

According to Matt Young, district manager of TVRPD, both parties agreed that Little League volunteers could perform improvements to the fields to reduce the rent payment. A list of improvements was compiled, which included replacing the grass infields with brick dust.

Young told members of the TVRPD board that Little League volunteers breached the contract when they began making unapproved modifications to the fields, including installing an irrigation system beneath the new dirt and a firehose to mark the foul line on an adjacent field.

"Little League shall not construct any improvements on the Premises without the express written consent of District," the contract states.

"I have been very forward with Little League officials that TVRPD parks and facilities serve the greater public, that TVRPD facilities are and will forever remain multi-use public resources, and that no one organization has more ownership or entitlement than the other," Young said at the meeting, reading a prepared statement.

"It's always been kind of, here's what we think needs to be done, and then we would just get an OK for it," Tiffany Ledesma, president of Tehachapi Little League, said in a phone interview. "There's never been any kind of issue."

Ledesma, who has been on the local league board for seven years, said she realizes times have changed.

"It's not a handshake world anymore," she said. "There was never a need for the legalities we have now." She also told the Tehachapi News that there are new members on the Little League board who may have been overly zealous in their attempts to make what they saw as improvements to the playing fields.

Emotions ran hot during Tuesday's board meeting. Young took the board and meeting attendees on a tour of the fields, pointing out damage, safety hazards, and unapproved improvements.

When the volunteers replaced the infield surface, their vehicles left tire tracks in the field. Some sprinkler heads from the new irrigation system were also above ground, over which Young expressed concern for players' safety. But Little League officials protested that the work on the field was halted at Young's request and the current field appearance is not the finished product.

Ledesma asked when Little League would be able to return to work on the fields, but district board members would not agree to a timeline and said Young would be in touch.

Also during the meeting, Little League board members expressed concern about maintenance of the dugouts and passed around photos; this prompted board member Nick Cyr to say that he was more concerned about safety hazards from the condition of the dugouts, particularly at Mata Field, than he was from the tire ruts left by the Little League work party.

Cyr, who is a contractor, volunteered to bring his tools and help get the dugouts in shape "any of the next three weekends." Rain over the weekend meant no work could be done on the fields, however.

At last week's public meeting, TVRPD board members concluded that the issues between the two parties could be resolved with better communication, and an amendment to the contract was deemed unnecessary.

"I think what they are doing is from a good heart, but any time you are dealing with a public resource, there is a process," Young said after the board meeting.

Mata Field closed

Ledesma said in a phone interview that she received communication from Young Wednesday morning, notifying her that Mata Field is closed until further notice. She said she emailed him back the same day asking for a timeline, and he responded by saying a statement would be released once district lawyers have reviewed it.

"As of [Friday] morning, I don't have any sort of idea about how long he will keep the field closed," she said, adding that she also does not know what needs to be done to the field before it can reopen.

With the Little League opening day -- March 22 -- looming, Ledesma said time is of the essence, but that they will not move forward until they receive something in writing.

"We completely appreciate what they're doing, but we ask that they appreciate what we're doing," Ledesma said.

Stewart told the Tehachapi News Monday morning that the district will continue to work with Little League and hopes that common ground can be found to move forward, despite communication issues.

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2014/11/26
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