By Bill Hendrickson
The push is on to build two new athletic fields in Rio de Los Angeles State Park in Cypress Park and to upgrade the park’s existing soccer fields.
The price tag: An estimated $6 million, ideally from a mix of public money, grants and donations.
The deadline: An ambitious completion date of spring, 2022.
The effort is being spearheaded by the newly formed Northeast Los Angeles Athletic Fields Alliance (NELAFA), a group comprised of two youth soccer groups and one youth football and cheer group. In all, the three groups organize and coach some 1,800 children and teens who live and play in NELA.
One of the members of NELAFA is Anahuak Youth Sports Association, a soccer club with 1,200 players, founded by community leader Raul Macias. In the early 2000s, when Rio de Los Angeles State Park was in the planning stages, Macias was a key figure in the drive to makes sure the park included soccer fields. Today, the park – with four playing fields – is the soccer hub of NELA.
But there are still not enough fields for all the boys and girls who want to play. Moreover, two of the park’s four fields cannot be used at night because they are unlit. Nor can they be used safely year-round because they lack astroturf. The grass looks nice after it rains, but the fields are hard-packed dirt most of the time.
NELAFA aims to change all that. In addition to Anahuak, the group includes the Los Angeles Soccer Club and the Greater Northeast L.A. Bears Youth Football and Cheer.
Their common goal, announced at a recent press conference to launch NELAFA, is to build two new fields and install lights and astroturf on the two grass fields. “We are working together because we all need fields for our kids to practice and play on,” said Maricela Torres, the President of the GNELA Bears and the co-vice chair of NELAFA at the press conference. “And our kids need the fitness and discipline that come with sports and competition.”
NELAFA’s formation is well-timed. Rio de Los Angeles State Park is a linchpin in the city’s plan to create a large park along the banks of the L.A. River, and different groups are jockeying for different things in the river-park development.
Some people want active recreation, with playing fields and playgrounds. Others want passive enjoyment of nature, including protected riverside vegetation and restoration of native plants. Still others want art, performance and environmental education.
“All of these are worthy interests,” said Ken Kalopsis, chairman of the L.A. Soccer Club, at the NELAFA press conference. “They are not mutually exclusive. But we have to make sure a priority is athletic fields.”
With so many different ideas about what an L.A. River park should include, it can be hard to see how to accommodate them all.
See more about the different ideas for the parks bordering the LA River in our feature in this April edition – One LA River, Many Park Interests by K.D. Dunleavy.