A group of East Vancouver parents is questioning the Vancouver Park Board's decision after their children's soccer program was denied a permit at their neighbourhood park and forced to move to a different field 30 blocks away.
Union Soccer Club started a learn-to-play program at Slocan Park in Renfrew-Collingwood in January, attracting upward of 50 enthusiastic youngsters from the surrounding streets and those who came via SkyTrain, thanks to the next door 29th Avenue Station.
But starting this week, the program is longer welcome at Slocan Park.
The grass fields, which were recently upgraded, have now been designated "Grade A" by park board, meaning they are reserved for "official games" only.
Ryan Lamourie, parent of five-year-old Lola, says he can't understand the decision to deny the permit, especially given that the fields are sitting empty because of provincial health orders banning games.
"[The Union soccer program] has been a really positive thing for our community when we really need it. And to be told we have to leave just because this field is reserved for something else is really disappointing," he said.
Union Soccer Club co-owner Judith Davalos said the program will now run out of Clinton Park in Hastings-Sunrise, but is losing families because of the move.
"We are so sad," she said. "We really want to be back there. If now they give us the permission, we'll be back [at Slocan Park]."
Parent Gerhard Breytenbach questions why families are being forced to drive to a different field when there's a perfectly good one within walking distance sitting empty.
"Bureaucratic idiocy mixed with red tape snafus for absolutely no logical reason," he said. "The city is telling us that because we want to use this for adults in the future when COVID is not a problem, your kids can't use it in the meantime."
Rule linked to maintenance budget
In a statement to CBC, the park board said the Grade A Slocan Park fields are still open to the general public for things like picnics.
"Artificial turf fields and Grade B fields (and lower) are permitted for practices, camps and other activities. This is a citywide procedure that is linked to the field maintenance budget and we apply it consistently throughout the city to preserve quality facilities for their intended use," said the statement.
Parent Mariana Rueda wonders why park board officials couldn't be more flexible.
"I cannot believe a community can say that an open space... that was created for enjoyment, is not for kids. It's not right," she said.
Lamourie said the Union soccer program quickly became a community focal point as a safe and affordable outlet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said attempts to appeal to park board officials have been frustrating.
"What I find disappointing is that they've told us that there are many departments involved, so it will take a long time to reverse any decisions," he said.
"These kids, more than ever, need social activities and physical activities. We're really letting down these children by not letting them play on these fields."