Skip to content

Sports fields strained by understaffing, overuse

on September 23, 2008


story and audio slides by MELANIE MASON and SAMSON REINY

A ground squirrel peeks his head out of its well-established hole. Sensing people around, it retreats, only to reemerge moments later. This is not a scene of out of Caddyshack. This is the field at Oakland’s Sobrante Park, where the game of the day is technically soccer, but can sometimes more closely resemble Whack-a-Mole.

As fall approaches, excitement for the start of soccer and football season is tempered by the state of Oakland’s sports fields. Dry, brown grass and potholes of varying sizes are common. More fundamentally, players and coaches say there are simply not enough fields to support Oakland’s many recreational sports players.

“It’s a yearly struggle to get fields,” said Christopher Seiwald, president of the Jack London Youth Soccer league, a program that has 7,000 youth participants from the Oakland, Alameda and Piedmont area.

Youth and adult sports leagues reserve fields through the city’s Office of Parks and Recreation or through the Oakland Unified School District for fields on school property. OPR has 53 multi-use fields available, although the majority of those are only suitable for practices or the youngest youth teams. Of those 53 fields, only ten are regulation length (suitable for teenage players and older) and only two are equipped for football games.

A ground squirrel on Sobrante Field

A ground squirrel on Sobrante Field


At a recent practice on Sobrante field for his Oakland Soccer Club team, Michael Barragan, 14, said fields in Antioch and Richmond are superior to those in Oakland. “There are no holes in the ground there,” said the Castlemont freshman.

California’s ongoing drought has certainly affected the fields, as the city has been mandated by East Bay Municipal Utilities District to cut back by 30 percent its use of water for irrigation. Jim Ryugo, building services manager with Oakland’s Public Works Agency said the cutback would be a challenge, as the city “already does a good job of judiciously using its water.”

Additionally, the limited size of the maintenance staff has made repairing and maintaining fields especially difficult. Because the city is responsible for maintaining over 130 city parks and public grounds, maintenance workers have to cover a lot of ground. Only two or three staff members, for example, work on a sizeable sector of the city that includes Bushrod Park, Hardy Park, and the Rockridge and Temescal branches of the Oakland Public Library. Clinton Pugh, a gardener who works in that hub, said that if the city employed more people, “the fields would be looking a lot better. I would say 50 to 100 percent better.”

The maintenance and repair of those fields is intensive because they are so heavily used. “There is way more demand than capacity,” said Doug Fielding, director of the Association of Sports Fields Users. “User groups are all fighting over tiny spaces.”

Scheduling games and practices has become a complex negotiation between user groups and the city’s department of parks and recreation. Don Levine, the match secretary for Jack London Youth Soccer League, worked this year with a team of five other volunteers to coordinate the league’s game schedules. Sometimes a little creativity was required to make sure everyone got time on the fields: In some cases, teams would “double up” games on a certain weekend – either playing two games in one day or playing on both Saturday and Sunday – instead of playing one game on two consecutive weekends.

In other cases, the reservation system, controlled by the city, has led to confusion and scheduling conflicts. Ty Yurgelevic, who has been involved in Oakland soccer as a player, coach and league official over the last 25 years, said that when he arrived to a scheduled soccer game last year, a Little League game was already in full swing, despite assurances from OPR that there would be no conflict. The episode was “typical of the errors that have happened more times than I care to remember,” said Yurgelevic.

New playing fields would do much to ease the current high demand and the complications that come with it. That appears to have been in the case in Berkeley, where the new Tom Bates Regional Sports Complex on Gilman Avenue has recently opened thanks to efforts by Berkeley, Emeryville, El Cerrito, Albany and Richmond. Youth soccer leagues in Alameda and Contra Costa counties are “tremendously overcrowded,” said Fielding. “They were able to move onto the Gilman field and lessen overcrowding.”

The new complex has caught the eye of Oakland soccer leagues. “We’re definitely envious of what they have up there,” said Seiwald. But new fields are unlikely to be built in Oakland due to the city’s geographic constraints. “There is no new land to annex,” said Ryugo. “Oakland city limits are fixed. We need to use our existing parks as efficiently as possible.”

The newly remodeled Ernie Raimondi Park in West Oakland is an example of this new drive to maximize sports field use. The park, which began renovation in September 2007, recently reopened with two regulation-size fields, one with synthetic turf, as well as a baseball diamond and a putting green. Kathryn Raymond, director of the nonprofit group Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, said her organization raised approximately $5 million in grants and private donations for completion of the first phase of the project. An additional $4-5 million will be required to complete Phase II of the renovation, which would include covering the second multi-use field with synthetic turf, as well as smaller park features such as a quiet garden and a picnic area. The official grand opening of the park will be on Sunday, October 5.


Raimondi Park has been newly renovated.

Newly renovated Raimondi Park in West Oakland.


Raymond said she hoped that the Raimondi project would ease demand by “doubling the amount of playing time.” In addition to lights that would allow teams to practice and play after sunset, the installation of all-weather synthetic fields would extend soccer season into the winter months and would entail significantly less maintenance. Ryugo said that while installing synthetic turf is a significant expense at the outset, it has a relatively lower day-to-day maintenance cost. “There’s substantially less water used, there’s no mowing costs,” he said.

And while synthetic turf is not a perfect playing surface – “It has none of the natural cooling tendencies. On a hot day, it’s like playing inside a hot tire,” said Seiwald – many players say it is an improvement over Oakland’s current natural grass playing fields, such as Caldecott field and Oakport field, which were repeatedly singled out as among Oakland’s worst. Said Alex Menesis, a long-time player and coach in Oakland’s recreational leagues, “It’s good to know you can run with confidence knowing there’s no holes on the field.” Or ground squirrels, for that matter.


Audio slide show by Samson Reiny and Melanie Mason||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||


  1. Soccer Parent on January 27, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    From Massachusetts to California, we face such similar field issues. Our locality has been considering field turf artificial fields. They are about the same cost to install, are much easier on the body than the old astro turf and are much less costly to maintain than grass fields. They play pretty similarly to grass and wear much better than the real stuff. We have been stunned by the reports of how the tiny chunks of rubber are getting out into the environment and causing problems. I guess we will have to go back to the drawing board and build strong grassy fields that have good drainage and irrigation. We will have to watch out for overuse and moderate which sports share a field in which seasons. Thanks for your insights.

  2. Football on February 9, 2009 at 7:08 am

    Nice article, thanks !

Oakland North welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Oakland North assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to:

Latest Posts

Scroll To Top