Improvements to OB’s Robb Field are on the horizon, but local sports leaders want some problems addressed now
The new Robb Field Recreation Alliance says restrooms, playing fields, parking and lighting need fixes that can’t wait.
Arguably Ocean Beach’s best-known park — Robb Field — is slated for some major improvements.
A much-anticipated initial meeting about a city of San Diego proposal to amend the park’s general development plan to make several renovations was held April 4.
The purpose was for designers and project managers to present and collect public input on concepts based on “a thorough analysis of [the park’s] current state in addition to input provided by the ... [city] Parks & Recreation Department, which operates and maintains the park.”
The project’s timeline includes two more community meetings this year before the Parks and Recreation Board gives its approval to a final GDP amendment in the fall.
While nearly everyone is excited about the prospect of improving the popular park along the San Diego River at 2525 Bacon St., users say several troubling issues need to be addressed now rather than later.
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Representatives of soccer, softball and tennis players — the largest group of users of the park — are teaming up to focus attention on the problems.
Albion Soccer Club Chief Operating Officer John McKaveney, Peninsula Youth Softball President Jill Wyatt and Peninsula Tennis Club President Todd Sprague founded the Robb Field Recreation Alliance in March.
Sprague said the alliance is not at odds with the city or the development plan, but since the amendment process for improvements will take time, the group is hoping to find ways to solve some of the park’s needs as soon as possible.
During the initial meeting, the city put forth several proposals involving improvements to pathways, parking and lighting, field and recreation center renovations and replacing a restroom facility, as well as plans for the playground, a community garden, pickleball courts and additional parking and sports lighting.
Players’ frustration builds as search continues for solutions to tennis/pickleball conflict over courts
Peninsula Tennis Club in Ocean Beach, the city of San Diego and private pickleball facilities are working to address the citywide issue.
The alliance presented its own proposal in line with the city’s but addressing some of the more pressing matters.
Many of the facilities at Robb Field are at least 50 years old, and wear and tear are showing, the group says.
In one of the public bathrooms, users say, urine often fills cracks in the floor, while mold grows on the ceiling. Youth playing fields are filled with holes created by rodents, while the roads to the fields are unpaved and full of potholes. A lack of lighting over the whole area creates safety concerns, they say.
McKaveney believes much of the problem lies in a lack of funding for improvements, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. He praised city staff, who he said “are awesome people and just as frustrated as we are. It’s just a matter of getting the funding.”
The Albion Soccer Club first moved into the park in 1981 with six small teams, McKaveney said.
“We now have 120 competitive teams, 18 affiliates and are moving into Europe,” he said. “We serve 2,300 boys and girls between 4 and 18 years old.”
He said about 80 percent of the players are from Point Loma and Ocean Beach but some come from as far away as Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
But McKaveney said he has seen worrisome changes at Robb Field in recent years.
“There are rows of broken motor homes, squatters, violence and drug use; it’s not safe for the players or anybody,” he said. “We don’t want to lose membership or participation because of the field or safety issues.”
McKaveney said he hopes the city can address many of those issues while the GDP amendment is in the works. He said Albion supports the GDP proposals, with a couple of changes to address a large multi-use field in the rear of the park.
“The field is rapidly becoming unplayable because of new and existing holes and uneven surfaces,” said McKaveney, who added it may be usable for only six more months.
He said Albion is looking for a phased renovation to fix damaged fields and the lighting issues.
“We want to collapse the holes and replace the fields with multipurpose turf,” he said. “This would provide a consistent field surface for soccer, rugby, lacrosse and other groups, which would also save money during drought years.”
He said the second phase would provide better lighting to improve general safety and the safety of players.
Albion has even offered to assist the city financially with the renovations, McKaveney said.
“We’ve been here 40-plus years and want to continue,” he said. “We want to develop a real, updated multi-use park. It’s really important that it gets fixed.”
The Peninsula Youth Softball Association, which serves girls ages 5-15, also hopes some of its concerns can be addressed now.
With hundreds of girls from communities including Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, Bay Park, Hillcrest, North Park, Golden Hill and more playing softball during the spring season and hundreds more using the Robb Field diamonds annually, Wyatt said it’s an exciting time for softball.
But families are demanding answers to the problems at the park, many of them similar to the ones described by soccer users.
With light bulbs out or non-existent across the park, dark areas attract homeless people, Wyatt said.
The restroom in the quad area, she said, has “almost no lighting and it’s very dark. The floors are completely unmaintained and they have gullies that fill with urine. The ceiling is made of wood; it is full of mold and so discolored it looks black.”
“The first feeling you get is that you aren’t sure what you will find behind the door,” Wyatt added. “But then you walk in and there is almost always someone in there doing drugs, trying to take a shower or living there.”
The situation has become so bad, she said, that the young players are never sent to the facilities alone and are usually advised to use the bathroom before they leave home.
Parking is another big issue, Wyatt said.
“The makeshift parking lots are great, but you are literally entering on a makeshift dirt road and parking in a dirt lot, so it feels like four-wheeling. And there are potholes at every turn,” she said.
“It’s very frustrating when every single day we are trying to answer questions about the lighting and the bathrooms and more. The answers are long overdue. We are first out there to have fun, but at the end of the day, you need to have facilities that support your sport and launch you to the next level.”
Sprague said the Peninsula Tennis Club at Robb Field is in a better position to deal with concerns than either softball or soccer because it has a special use permit from the city.
“The special use permit allows us to keep up with what we oversee,” Sprague said. “The other groups don’t have that — the city is responsible for maintaining their facilities. But if the city doesn’t have the funds, the users are stuck with deficient facilities. They really don’t control their own destiny.”
Mutual support among the various park users is a major goal of the Robb Field Recreation Alliance, Sprague said.
“We support one another because the common good is most important. This park is an important part of what makes San Diego ‘America’s Finest City,’” he said.
Sprague believes much of the community is unaware of the problems at Robb Field, and he feels that by having conversations now, the issues can be addressed and solved.
“These are very short-term needs,” he said. “But taking care of the problems benefits not just Robb Field but all of Ocean Beach and San Diego.”
Juliana Grotzinger, the Robb Field GDP project manager for the city, said she is happy to have the alliance’s input and is looking forward to future meetings with the group.
“The alliance has great ideas and they put together a beautiful plan,” Grotzinger said. “They know their user groups and gave us great feedback.”
McKaveney said he is feeling positive about the future of Robb Field.
“This has only come out as a concept plan, but it’s progress and it looks like there is interest and traction,” he said.