The Manhattan Beach City Council has given the American Youth Soccer Organization until the end of December 2013 to raise $1 million for synthetic turf at the Marine Avenue Park soccer field.

According to a pact between the city and the AYSO, the group will continue to receive priority use of the field if it raises the full amount, with a stipulation that other organizations may also make donations. Field use will be allocated based on contributions.

"The way I see it, if you contribute 25 percent of the million-dollar project, you're getting 25 percent of the allocated time," said Mark Leyman, recreation services manager. "But we didn't specify what days and what times. That will be up to the city manager to negotiate the final agreement (and determine a fair allocation)."

Councilman Nick Tell said it's time for the project to get done. He suggested that if the organization does not raise the money in time, the council should be able to contribute the remaining amount and allocate the city's share of field use to the AYSO or other nonprofit sports groups.

"At some point we've just got to end this thing," Tell said, noting that the group pledged in July 2011 to raise the money by February 2012, which didn't happen. "We may at some point say, `We're just going to fund this ourselves if you don't get it done in time."'

Fifteen to 20 years ago, the council set a policy allowing resident-based youth groups to have priority use of the fields.

"Because AYSO has 3,500 kids, they pretty much have the lion's share of all the fields," Leyman said. "They really don't have much competition."

The AYSO has dibs on the Marine Avenue Park field until 8 p.m., and adult groups can play from 8-10 p.m. Manhattan Beach Sand and Surf, a club group, competes with the AYSO in the spring, Leyman said. But in the fall, the AYSO is the only youth soccer group using the field.

When the AYSO first approached the council with its request, representatives said that one month into every season, the Marine Avenue field disintegrates into a pit of dirt, then mud, leaving players vulnerable to injuries.

According to an agreement last year, the city would cover the cost of replacing the turf, estimated at $500,000 after the 10-year life span.

According to city staff, synthetic turf - which was installed at the Manhattan Village field more than five years ago - has additional benefits besides safety. It can accommodate year-round play, cost less to maintain than grass and does not require pesticides, watering or mowing.

The AYSO has raised $350,000 for the project. The city has applied for a $200,000 grant but will not be notified of approval until January.

Under the deal, the AYSO would manage the project and would not be charged for use of the lights at Marine Avenue Park during the group's scheduled times.

Ross Kay, AYSO's Region 18 commissioner, acknowledged that in the beginning, the group struggled to bring in money and get people on board. Kay said a lacrosse group promised $200,000 but didn't have the money when the AYSO went to collect.

"None of the user groups came with money," he said. "We hope that changes."

With the hiring of a professional fundraiser, outreach has increased significantly in recent months, Kay said.

Paul Minestrella of Manhattan Beach Sand and Surf said the group believes turf would be beneficial to the whole community. Sand and Surf is willing to commit $200,000 to the project, he said. A finance team is working to see how much the group still needs to raise.

"We want an equivalent percentage of field time," he said. "I feel we can come to common ground that will benefit both organizations."

Mayor Pro Tem David Lesser questioned why the city is seeking outside money to rehab a city-owned field. The Manhattan Village synthetic turf - a $1 million project - was mostly paid for by the city with $100,000 in donations from other groups.

"Can I prioritize a play field over a public safety building? I don't think so," City Manager Dave Carmany said, noting that Fire Station No. 2 was built in the 1950s and is not seismically sound. "We're trying hard to work with a group that's trying hard to donate $1 million. I'm thinking, `Let's try to make it happen."'

Councilwoman Amy Howorth said she values the private-public partnership concept but wants to ensure the process is fair.

"What you don't want to have happen is, `This field is controlled by AYSO. This field is controlled by this group.' They are all of our residents' fields," she said.

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