When one soccer team "owns" a park

A look at what’s been going on at Osornio Park over the last 10 years

Luis A. Echeverria
October 30, 2019

Osornio Park is a small 5-acre park that sits along the northern border of the city of La Habra on Hacienda Road. The park was part of Hacienda School’s sports fields, basketball court, and play area, before the school was closed in the 80’s. The open space sat unused for a long time, except for residents, who would use it for exercise. I’m one of those residents.

In 2001, the park was dedicated to La Habra police officer Michael Osornio, who was killed by a drunk driver. A plaque was placed at the park entrance, and the park was renamed in his honor. The park remained basically the same as it did in the 80’s. I enjoyed it because it was one of the few open spaces in the area that wasn’t already claimed by a business, a school, a church, or a sports facility. I didn’t have to stare at ads, or listen to people trying to sell me something. It was a peaceful place.

At some point, a walking trail was added, which went around the perimeter of the park. Several elderly people from the area used to use that walking trail, and I used it myself when I was training to run.

Things started to change when the Pumas Soccer Club started having practices there several years after that, around 2010 or so. At first it was fine. There were never any confrontations, and people stayed out of each others’ way. It’s a five-acre park. There’s plenty of space for everyone. Or so I thought.

In 2010, the Pumas received a state grant, and started digging up the park. The neighbors weren’t notified by the city. Nobody asked us residents for any input on how the park should be used, and nobody warned us of what was taking place. Instead, the soccer team graded the park flat and put in sod, and removed all of the old trees. They put in a fence with locking gates, and signs saying “use of soccer field by permit only” – with a number to call the city – went up everywhere.

One day, I was there with a neighbor and his dogs for a game of fetch. It was later in the afternoon, and we saw the soccer team start to show up. We leashed up our dogs, and started heading out.

As we were leaving, we were approached by the soccer team president, who threatened us, and told us the city would start ticketing us if we brought our dogs there anymore. I was taken aback that this stranger would be confronting me in a city park, but I showed him my poop bags, and explained that we pick up after ourselves. He didn’t care one bit. Apparently, he had made up his mind about us already.

Around the same time, “no animals in park” signs went up. It was obvious that this same person was behind this, and he was now using the full power of city government to get his way.

But that wasn’t even the end of it. Ever since the fence was fixed and locks were put on the gates, the park would be locked periodically. But we would see soccer still being played! Even though there were signs saying “field closed for maintenance”! So, a couple of us residents started calling the city, asking if we could get our own keys to the park. To which they would reply: “we don’t give keys out to our parks.” This went on for years, and each time, we would call, and the park would be opened again so that we could use it.

Then, around 2014, things got completely out of hand. The soccer team hung advertising banners on the fences, most of which had nothing at all to do with the city, and nothing to do with soccer. People associated with the soccer team took advantage and put up signs of their businesses.

Us residents – who would still take our dogs there in spite of their signs – started waking up to trash left the night before after games. Trash cans would be overflowing with garbage, including dirty diapers, half-eaten food, etc. It was disgusting. It was more disgusting to watch this all unfold, and that the city let this happen.

Finally, this year, in 2019, I met with the mayor and tried to tell the story from a resident’s perspective, after years of emails and phone calls with different city departments. I was relieved because I thought that something would be done. I was even more excited when I received a flyer from the city, asking for feedback on our parks that could get potential grant money, which includes Osornio Park. I thought they were finally listening to the community.

I went to one of those city meetings, and they were great. I enjoyed speaking with city employees and city officials.

But someone else was there, talking to city employees and officials for quite a long time: the soccer team coach. The same man that had “talked to me” about what I was doing in a public park years ago. He was there, lobbying for his team, and his own interests.

Since that time, I have posted my negative experience with this park and this soccer team coach on google maps, only to have him come out and blame the residents openly for “failing to pick up after their dogs”. This man has no right to accuse residents, and should not be dictating public policy. This is extremely inappropriate and unethical.

Other issues I’ve brought up to the city:

  • Parking is extremely inadequate here. There are three spaces, and no disabled spaces at all
  • The inadequate parking mentioned above causes soccer team spectators and parents to park on the basketball courts, and has caused parking nightmares for residents nearby
  • There are no bathrooms here at all, and the soccer team is required by the agreement they sign with the city to provide a portable toilet, but they don’t always do that, so, sometimes there isn’t even a portable toilet here

I hope the city of La Habra does what is fair, and I hope any future improvements are done with everyone in mind. And please don’t put residents in the position of being intimidated by entitled sports teams. It’s completely inapproriate, and shows a real lack of caring and imagination from this city’s leadership.