Economic realities mire teen centers future

FAIRFIELD - Add kids of the local teen center to the list of people awaiting a stronger real estate market.

As the local Police Activities League passes the 18-month mark at the Matt Garcia Youth Center, community response has been strong. The police union has raised tens of thousands of dollars through summer salmon barbecues and charity races and local companies have supplied everything from colorful decorations to electronic equipment, said Dawn Shepherd, treasurer for the PAL board of directors.

But of all the donations, sponsorships, grants and fundraisers, essentially nothing has been saved to permanently fund the center.

The first, best and essentially only plan for an endowment centers on a 33-acre parcel of land apparently deeded to the city of Fairfield more than 25 years ago by late developer Billy Yarbrough. City officials have explored whether the land could be sold and the money put toward accelerating the creation of an enduring source of funding for center.

I think we are good for the immediate future but we have always known long term we have to do something else, said Debra Russo, Yarbrough’s daughter and until recently a member of the center’s board of directors.

To date, the program has been bankrolled by the city — which has a lease on the property through August 2012 and an option to extend that contract for another five years — and donations from local residents, businesses and charities. It has no dedicated source of funding. Supporters have previously expressed worry that community support could flag if a serious incident occurred at the center, which so far has been relatively trouble-free in its short existence.

The program doesn’t come cheap; Rent alone on the facility costs nearly $12,000 a month. Utilities have been estimated to cost about another $5,000 a month, and the city spends about $10,000 a year on property taxes, from which it is not exempt because the space is subleased from a private company.

In the short term, Shepherd said the league and teen center will continue to make ends meet with community support.

Meanwhile, the program itself continues to grow. It now includes two full-time employees and a growing number of part-time workers. Coaches now teach soccer and other sports and volunteers recently built a $50,000 sound studio.

It is not clear how much the deeded property would fetch on the real estate market, which is still barely starting to claw upward.

It could be pretty valuable when time comes,? said Russo. It’s not a good time to sell now, though.?

The land, located near Cement Hill Road in north Fairfield, appears to have large concentrations of sensitive habitats, such as vernal pools, wetlands and Contra Costa gold fields, City Manager Sean Quinn has said.

That would make it difficult to sell for development, but raises the possibility of selling the land to a developer who would use it as habitat mitigation for projects elsewhere. Russo said the land was originally intended for youth athletic programs, so spending the money on the teen center would be in line with the family’s wishes.

Russo said supporters are not too worried about the near future because many of the donations were made with five-year commitments.

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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