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Stadium use plan at issue
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Now that issues of legality surrounding the Redevelopment Agency funding of Joe Debely Stadium renovations have been put to rest, concerns over field usage have arisen. Members of the Turlock City Council have previously stated that a renovated track and field at Turlock High School could bring new usage to the field, which in turn could increase hotel and sales tax revenue. Now, however, members of the Turlock community are questioning whether the renovated stadium will see an increase in usage, or if it will simply provide a better experience for current users.
On Tuesday night the Turlock Unified School Board of Trustees voted to accept a categorical exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act. This exemption would allow the district to move forward with renovation of Joe Debely stadium without conducting an Environmental Impact Report. They qualified for the exemption, in part, because they determined that renovations will not increase the usage of Joe Debely Stadium.
The Turlock Citizen’s Coalition filed a lawsuit which sought to stop the use of Redevelopment Agency funds for the improvement of Joe Debely stadium. The group claimed that TUSD has no legal right to use RDA funds for stadium renovation. On Monday, the Stanislaus County Superior Court ruled that the city acted properly in allocating $2.8 million of Redevelopment Agency funds to install a new synthetic turf track and all-weather field at the 60-year-old stadium. The suit also claimed that TUSD is legally obligated to conduct an Environmental Impact Report before it renovates Debely Stadium, because the group believes there will be more people using the field, and they will be using it more frequently. The coalition is expected to amend their original suit to include only the alleged CEQA violation.
Turlockers who own property near the stadium expressed concerns over a possible increase in traffic, noise and light pollution during games or community activities. Many residents cited a  letter to the editor written by Turlock Vice Mayor Ted Howze, published in the Turlock Journal on Nov. 21, 2009.
“One benefit of turfing the field and installing an all weather track will be increased usability and availability of the stadium venue to better serve both Turlock high schools and the city’s residents. The new track and turfed field stadium can accommodate numerous important community events...
In addition, the expanded hours of field availability from the current 800 to hours annually to a projected 3,000 hours annually, would allow the scheduling of a wide array of new events,” wrote Howze in the letter.
The letter went on to explain how new events could bring in revenue from visiting hotel guests and also generate sales tax dollars.
“That letter was a very brief discussion of a far more detailed project,” Howze said this week.
Howze said that his letter pointed out a potential for increased use, but it did not guarantee an increase. He said that currently the field isn’t used as much as it could be, even by Turlock High School students. He pointed out that the field was unusable to the school or the community during bad weather.
“Nobody has a firm grasp on how much increase will take place,” Howze said.
Howze said that ultimately, scheduling of the stadium was in the hands of the school district. Although a better venue would bring in higher quality events to the area, Howze said that increased use of the field was not the number one reason that he voted for the RDA to fund the renovation.
“When this project was brought to me I really didn’t think this was something the city would get involved in,” Howze said.
Ultimately, he supported the project because it would benefit the school district, the surrounding community, and Turlock as a whole, he said.
Debely stadium renovations have already caused new scheduling issues for the district. Both Turlock Youth Football and the new Turlock Titans youth football team will seek scheduled practice and play time on the synthetic turf.
“They (the board) were clearly aware that they would have to develop a new policy for scheduling,” Howze said.
Frank Lima, TUSD Board of Trustees president, said that the district has exclusive rights to use and schedule the use of Joe Debely stadium. Although the school has a joint use agreement with the city, Lima said that the city has no authority to schedule community events at the stadium.
“Community use is controlled by the Civic Center Act,” Lima said.
The Civic Center Act makes facilities available to organizations for recreational activities and public meetings. Joint use agreements with the city set the priority for use of Joe Debely stadium. Schools have first priority, city recreation programs come second, affiliated sports teams come third, and then priority goes to all other organizations.
“Whatever availability we have now will be in place after Joe Debely stadium is renovated,” Lima said.
Lima agreed with Howze that the field was not suitable for use during rainy weather, and he said that a synthetic field would increase students’ use of the field and track during school hours.
Turlock Citizens Coalition attorney Richard Harriman stated that the case had not been thrown out completely, and that he intends to amend his case and file the amended petition by the end of the week.
“It's not (dead), it's still very much alive,” Harriman said. “And the more I learn about this, the better the pleading's getting.”
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.