Hundreds of people – most of them children in brightly colored soccer uniforms – marched Saturday from Sunnyside Park in southeast Fresno to an empty plot of land on Peach Avenue that they hope will one day become a new soccer complex.
The National Park Service ceded the land to the city of Fresno in 2006 on condition it be converted into a park or green space. The city hopes to finally use the 49-acre parcel at 2155 S. Peach Ave., but officials are trying to build a vocational school at the site – something they believe also would fill a glaring need.
For the children marching, the politics don’t matter. Many of their leagues rely on Sunnyside Park, which can squeeze three or four concurrent soccer games onto its heavily trodden green space.
“There’s holes and puddles” at Sunnyside, said Aneesa Gomez, the 9-year-old goalkeeper for the Sanger Starlettes. “It’s really bad where the goalies stand – sometimes we get hurt.”
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Her teammates sounded off about overcrowding – it’s difficult to fit teams and spectators onto the fields. Roosevelt Youth Soccer League, one of several fighting for space in southeast Fresno, has 600 participants.
Jose Leon-Barraza, president of the nonprofit Southeast Fresno Community Economic Development Association, has worked for several years to coax the city into converting the Peach parcel into a park. He walked at the head of the marching crowd, which at its height was large enough to block both lanes of Peach Avenue.
Leon-Barraza was joined by Ralph Alcaraz, the president of the Roosevelt league.
$6 millionThe amount pledged to building and maintaining parks south of Shaw Avenue in Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s city budget.
“A soccer complex here would be a jewel for the city,” Alcaraz said. “Soccer tournaments would bring teams from out of town. Where would they stay? Here. Where will they eat? Here.”
Mark Standriff, spokesman for Mayor Ashley Swearengin, said the city would like to bring more parks to southeast Fresno, but the cost would be too great.
“It would cost us half a million dollars per acre to develop that park,” Standriff said. “And that’s not including the maintenance costs each year.”
During a rally held at the Peach site after the march, Leon-Barraza said the city received notice from the National Park Service in September that it had 90 days to form a plan for the site or else the federal government would take it back.
Standriff said the city did receive a letter from the Park Service, but he wasn’t sure what its stipulations were. The city responded with its own letter and has yet to get a reply, he added.
In September, Swearengin offered the Peach plot to the State Center Community College District as a possible vocational school location.
Standriff said Saturday that building a vocational or other higher education facility on the empty lot remains a focus for the administration. That kind of use is also a high priority for Council Member Sal Quintero, whose district includes the Peach site.
“We want more parks, too,” Standriff said, “but we feel that there’s a portion of that community that’s also underserved when it comes to higher education.”