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Posted on: February 1, 2024

February 1 - Message from the City Manager Regarding Friends Field

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See the Letter and Attachments Here

A Message from City Manager Todd Cusimano:

February 1, 2024

Sharon Nakatani, Board President
Mill Valley School District
411 Sycamore Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Dear Board President Nakatani,

I am writing to address my concerns related to the proposal to place the new Middle School campus on any portion of Friends Field, and the potential impact on the community, including the Mill Valley Community Center. I believe it is crucial to revisit our collaborative history, understand the current situation, and explore viable solutions for the benefit of our community. 

Understanding the importance of our ongoing collaboration between agencies, in 2019, former City Manager Jim McCann, former Recreation Director Jenny Rogers, former Superintendent Kimberly Berman, and current Assistant Superintendent Michele Rollins engaged in drafting a Joint Use Agreement to formalize and provide clarity on the City's responsibilities in programming, using, and maintaining District property, including Friends Field. See attached and refer to Exhibit C and D. Unfortunately, despite five years of discussion, negotiations, and numerous public meetings at the Parks and Recreation Commission, the revised use agreement between the City and District was not finalized.

History:

Since the 1960s, the City and the District have shared a long history of cooperation, utilizing the land around the Middle School and Community Center for the community's benefit. Collaborative efforts between the City and District led to the optimal placement of the new Middle School, with the City agreeing to swap what is now the Public Safety Building site, then owned by the District, with the current site on Sycamore Ave. This swap was beneficial to the school as it made it closer to neighborhoods and increased the ability for children to walk and bike to school. 

The District’s property, now known as Friends Field, was a former landfill that was converted to a grass playing field. The District struggled to pay the high costs of maintaining the field, leading to an agreement that the City would renovate the field and charge fees for afternoon and weekend use to support field maintenance and upkeep. The initial renovation cost the City around $1 million, and over the years the City has dedicated substantial funds from its own budget, along with those raised by the Friends of Fields and user fees, all for the benefit of the field. In all, the City estimates that it has contributed over $3.5 million for repairs and maintenance, including a significant renovation in 2019.

The history and significance of Friends Field are intertwined with the adjacent Community Center, which was constructed with a combination of public and private funds. It was built at a cost of $12.8 million in 1997 (equivalent to $25 million today), with $6 million ($11.7 million today) from community donations. Community members involved in the fundraising effort shared stories of hundreds of children who brought their piggy banks to contribute to this cherished community asset. 

Current Use and Impact of Proposal:

The Mill Valley Community Center was meticulously designed not as a standalone building but to seamlessly integrate with the pool, playing fields, and the neighboring Middle School and The Redwoods. The Center's design blends into the surrounding environment, with buildings oriented to form a crescent facing the open space of Friends Field.

Friends Field plays a crucial role in our community, acting as a scenic venue for sports, entertainment, and various community gatherings. Serving as a central hub for local youth and supporting organizations such as Mill Valley Soccer Club, Southern Marin Lacrosse, Mill Valley Little League, Southern Marin Youth Football, and Mill Valley Girls Softball, the field fosters community engagement. With over 2,500 registered participants in youth sports organizations using Mill Valley's athletic fields, Friends Field also hosts City-sponsored events, drawing in hundreds of families. Notably, the Mill Valley Music Festival attracts 5,000 attendees per day over a two-day festival, while the KIDDO Memorial Day Carnival sees thousands of participants over the Memorial Day weekend.

Friends Field provides dynamic usage for a wide range of sports and activities, with quick drainage after adverse weather, a large parking lot for safe drop-off and pick-up of players, wide accessibility, and access to outdoor restrooms. Its adjacency to the Community Center is a vital element in the area's success. Placing the new school campus on Friends Field would have a considerable impact on the Community Center and would significantly alter its function and financial viability. 

Conclusion:

While the City and District function independently, each with its administration, board, and tax revenue, we have consistently collaborated. Mill Valley is a unified town, and its beauty and success stem from the enduring partnership between the City and the District. Continuing this partnership maintains a tradition of working together for the common good. Our aim is to uphold this long history of collaboration for the benefit of the community, ensuring its continuation into the future and for generations to come.

We have diligently worked for many months to offer the District assistance in exploring alternative solutions to address the challenges your team is facing with the renovation project. We extend an offer to continue working together to find a workable solution to the renovation project and challenges. 

Sincerely,

Todd Cusimano
City Manager

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