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Council praises Little League, OKs fee waiver
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LATHROP — The Lathrop City Council has always been a big supporter of the Lathrop Little League. Council members, recognizing the huge contribution and positive impact of the youth organization to the community, have never let the group down. They have consistently approved the group’s request to waive all fees associated with their use of public facilities such as the softball and baseball diamonds at public parks.

This year is no exception. Tuesday night, the council unanimously approved the Little League’s latest fee-waiver request.

But not before they addressed all the concerns of resident Carissa Weber who also happens to be a leader of the new Mossdale Community Church as well as a member of the Lathrop Parks and Recreation Commission. It was Weber who was the reason the Little League took the fee-waiver before the council after it was defeated in a commission vote with Weber opposing. There were four commissioners present at the meeting when the vote was taken. However, the fourth member, Anthony Castro, happens to be the vice president and head coach of the Lathrop Little League so he abstained from the voting due to conflict of interest.

Explaining her reason for not granting the league’s request for fee exemptions at the council meeting, Weber said she was “not against kids” but that she was concerned how such use of city funds will “affect the community at large” especially at a difficult time for the local economy as evidenced by all the residential foreclosures happening all over town. That would be “a disservice to the residents in the community,” she said.

She was also concerned about the Little League’s use of the park facilities and how that could impact their accessibility “for the rest of the community.”

Park and Recreation staff announced that the Little League games and activities will be limited to specific dates and that during these events, other portions of the parks will remain open to the public. Furthermore, staff explained that only the two community parks — Valverde Park in the Old Town District on Fifth Street and Mossdale Park west of City Hall in Mossdale Landing — will be used by the youth organization during the baseball season from March to early June. People will still be able to use the other city parks such as the Apolinar Sangalang Park behind Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary School in Stonebridge.

Mayor Kristy Sayles praised Weber for presenting “very valid points” and for voicing her concerns, and at the same time urged her to continue her work with the Parks and Recreation Commission.

“I truly understand your concerns, especially the amount of the fees,” Sayles told Weber. “But (Little League) is still something that I have to support. There are a lot of positive things that come out of this fee waiver. Little League takes a lot of kids off the streets and has done that consistently for a great number of years.”

“I think it’s our responsibility to help young kids have a place to play,” added Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo.

Compared to the amount of the fee waiver, the “benefits are huge” coming from the Little League, Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal said. Besides, added Councilman Christopher Mateo, “if it’s for the kids, what’s $3,000?”

Councilman Robert Oliver pointed out that Little League players “are also citizens (of the community) and pay taxes in Lathrop” that go to support such facilities as the baseball fields and parks.

“They are there for the use of the town and its citizens. The Little League is a fine thing for the community. This (fee waiver) is a small thing that the city can make to our youth,” Oliver said.

In response to the concerns of Weber, Castro said that they will work with any group in regards to their use of the parks involved.

“Anytime any group wants to use a field, we’ll be happy to work with you. All it takes is a phone call, and we’ll be more than happy to work with everybody,” he said.

As to the outcome of the council vote, Castro said, “I wasn’t expecting anything else.”

At the same time, he saw this issue as an example of how important it is for people to look at all the angles of an issue to better understand what’s at stake.

“I think it’s good that the citizens and her (Carissa Weber) have an opinion, but people also need to understand the big picture before they shoot things down,” Castro cautioned.

The $1,525 fee waiver will cover the Little League’s use of such public facilities as the Community Center’s multi-purpose room, baseball fields and concession stands. The nonprofit youth organization, which has a membership of approximately 180, is run solely by volunteers including umpires and coaches who are remunerated on occasion, as its president Sandra Nunes put it, by free hot dogs and drinks.