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Debate surrounds Allen Field winter light schedule

One youth soccer group in La Jolla who uses Allen Field wants to change the terms of their lease with the city, requesting an hour-earlier start on Saturdays and use of temporary lights on winter nights.

But their wishes are being opposed - and could be thwarted - by some nearby neighbors of the field.

The field issue was dealt with by the La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) at its July meeting, but the matter was tabled until a face-to-face meeting with neighbors and community planners could be arranged. That meeting, with about 20 residents present, took place last weekend, said Sherri Lightner, LJSA president.

“The neighbors basically said, ‘We don’t want it (lease changes),’ ” said Lightner, who added neighbors told her they’re going to write a letter to the association opposing changes by soccer groups to their Allen Field lease.

Eric Chapman, a board member on both La Jolla Youth, Inc., and La Jolla Youth Soccer, who use Allen Field, said, due to increased enrollment by both groups, jointly accommodating about 1,800 youth soccer players year-round, that they are requesting the Allen Field lease with the city be amended with two changes. One is to begin use of the field an hour earlier, 7 a.m. rather than 8 a.m., on the busiest day of use, Saturday. The other request is that, during November and December, they be allowed to use temporary lights on the north half of Allen Field only, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to allow practices to occur without having to displace children.

Chapman said, in his view, the amended lease terms are not unreasonable. “If jackhammer construction projects are able to start on Saturdays at 7 a.m.,” he said, “we ought to be able to go out and kick a ball at a city park. With the lights, the neighbors are concerned that, once they allow them, they think it will (use) just grow and grow. But the lights won’t be on during the summer. We just want lights to give kids some time to practice during the two months when it’s dark after school. That’s when it’s really crunch time for practicing.”

Lightner said the lights issue at Allen Field could end up being a moot point, as one neighbor of the field pointed out at last weekend’s meeting with community planners.

“One of them (neighbors) commented that there are certain requirements for using illuminated lights at fields,” she said. “It’s not clear that they (La Jolla soccer groups) as tenants are able to do whatever they want (with lights). It may take a 50-foot-tall light stand, as there is a requirement for a certain amount of uniformity in (field) lighting. So it’s not clear they will be able to use the temporary lights because of the safety concerns.”

There have been other complaints posed by neighbors about use of Allen Field by youth soccer groups, however, other than hours and lights. Many neighbors have also expressed concern about overcrowded parking and for-profit tournaments at the local field which draw soccer players from areas far outside La Jolla.

Mary Kaliff, Nomads spokeswoman, noted the infrequent tournaments her group holds during the year go a long way toward paying for the maintenance of Allen Field, as well as paying the overhead costs for soccer teams.

“We are contributing 50 percent of the cost of maintenance of Allen Field - $67,000 a year,” said Kaliff, who added the Nomads did not support the request for use of temporary lights at the field, fearing that request would upset neighbors.

Kaliff added the Nomads host tournaments, which draw the best soccer teams from around the country, on only five weekends a year. “These (proceeds) go for maintaining the field and for our (player) scholarship program,” said Kaliff. “We don’t like to turn anybody away. We don’t feel that anybody’s ability to play should be inhibited by their ability to pay.”

Kaliff pointed out the Nomads five annual soccer tournaments benefit the La Jolla business community as well by filling local hotels and restaurants on those weekends. She said there are other benefits too.

“These tournaments bring college coaches from all over the country for recruiting,” Kaliff said. “Without the tournaments, we would not have the money to pay for upkeep of Allen Field, pay our professional coaching and administrative staff, or cover all of our expenses.”

It was also pointed out by Kaliff that the Nomads were instrumental in the installation of Allen Field in the early ‘80s, when Nomads boys raised funds for the field’s clubhouse, which was installed a few years later. The Nomads’ program has been successful. They have won six national titles and been at national competitions 11 times. Currently, two former Nomads players are on the U.S. National team. The Nomads were also accepted into the USSF National Team Program as a player development academy.

Lightner said the next meeting of the LJSA, at which time the issue of Allen Field could be heard, will be Sept. 12.