SANTA MARIA, Calif. - With more than 5,000 registered soccer players at the youth and adult levels, the city of Santa Maria is a soccer hotbed. But surprisingly, there are relatively few places in the city where the game can be played.
Now, a community-based grassroots effort has been organized to change that and bring a large-scale soccer complex to the Santa Maria Valley.
"The complex we're trying to make is a 20-field complex," said Cynthia Gudino, soccer liasion, One Community Action Coalition. "We're also trying to add within that 20-field four complex are indoor soccer fields."
The project is a joint effort between the One Community Action Coaltion and members of the soccer community.
"All of the leagues here in town," said Gudino. "We have Santa Maria Valley Soccer League, Santa Maria Valley Youth Soccer League, Central City Youth Soccer League, women's league, Orcutt Valley Youth Soccer, CalSouth."
Rick Velasco, who is the treasuer of the California State Soccer Association, which operates from Paso Robles to the Mexican border, believes the complex is a necessity.
"The fields that we currently have are deficient, not only for playing," said Velasco."We have close to maybe 15 available fields, they're marginal, so if we do an analysis, I project we need 28 soccer fields to accommodate the 5,000 players that we have here locally."
Another important aspect of the project is to create a positive environment for the area's youth that could help them steer clear of negative influences.
"Stay out of trouble, stay out of the streets, keep them focused on a program," said Gudino. "If we actually direct them to a sport like soccer, we focus them to direct their energy on in that."
In the first step in what could be a years-long process, organizers spoke with the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Committee Tuesday night during a public hearing on sports field usage.
"What we're looking at right now is how can the city, the coalition and other groups that are in field sports, can work on a plan to start looking at the feasibility of a complex and then also how to better utilize some of our existing facilities to meet the needs that we have right now," said Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada.
Posada added a "blue-ribbon committee" could be formed afterwards to further study the project.
"The committee work will probably take anywhere from 10 to 12 months of committee work and research and depending on what's available on the funding calendar for the state, we're probably taking about another 24 months to be considered for funding any project."
Posada noted the project would likely require a significant parcel of land, probably between 30-to-50 acres in size.
"That's one of the challenges is finding a parcel of land large enough to handle that kind of a complex," said Posada. "Any kind of a parcel that size would have to go outside the city. It would require things like an annexation or partnership with the County of Santa Barbara to meet the needs of a soccer complex."
If and when a suitable site is determined for the complex, next comes another significant hurdle organizers will have to clear. It's estimated the project could run several millions dollars to construct.
"What we're looking at is trying to come up with a fundraising plan, someway where we're looking at grants, sports organizations do have grants for field development," said Posada. "The State of California has some field development money available, some local funds, local donors, so there has to be a whole plan developed on how to raise that kind of money over the course of time to even get the project off the ground."
If it does, the complex organizers believe it would be a huge economic boon for the city, especially if it meets Velasco's plan for the complex to host between 15-to-20 large scale tournaments each year.
"That will be close to 54,000 tourists coming to the town," said Velasco. "That will translate economically to close to $4.5 million to the economy of Santa Maria and that will be on a yearly basis."
With the project just in its infant stages, Gudino emphasizes its important for the community to help take part in the process. She noted people can sign an online petition to show their support at change.org.
"We want the community to be involved," said Gudino. "Go to the meetings. The idea that we have online on change.org is not set in stone, it's just an idea that we created, so we do need the community to provide their feedback on what they would like to see in this complex."
The timeline to build the Santa Maria Soccer Complex will be long-term, at least a few years even with best case scenarios.
"I'm hopeful something like this can get built," said Posada. "I think it's been a need for quite a while, I think the group has gotten to the point where they're organized enough to get something like this moving. I think people need to be flexible and be willing to accept some compromise in what this facility may end up being like."