As politicians start pushing the Sacramento Zoo relocation ask them Where Have All The Elk Grove Soccer Kids Gone?

By D.A. Gougherty |

People who have observed the Elk Grove City Council for any period will recall when their fetish of the moment was soccer. That fetish was so strong the Elk Grove City Council, led by former Mayor Gary Davis, tinkered with taking on over $100 million in debt to finance a stadium and soccer facilities for an expansion Major League Soccer team.

Given that Sacramento can't get that expansion team with billionaires backing, it showed the scheme was delusional. Nonetheless, the city purchased 99 acres outside of the 2014 city limits to build its stadium.

An integral part of sales jobs for the stadium was desperately needed soccer playing facilities for Elk Grove youth soccer leagues. Along with Davis, former Elk Grove City Councilmember, California Assemblymember, and current Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper repeatedly claimed Elk Grove had more youth soccer participants than any other North American community.

This is an audacious claim compared to soccer hotbeds like Los Angeles or Seattle. Nevertheless, the city council banged that drum and said the city desperately needs more soccer facilities to accommodate the demand. 

The demand was primarily caused by the Elk Grove Soccer Club, which effectively controlled access [supply] to city soccer fields, artificially inflating demand. The IR Soccer Academy metaphorically flashed a red card, convinced the Cosumnes Community Services District to a more equitable allocation, and voilà, the problem was corrected.

I have been reminded of the supposed soccer pitch shortage of years past when driving by Jan Rau Park on Saturday mornings this fall. That soccer pitch is probably the best in Elk Grove, east of Hwy. 99 that is not part of an Elk Grove Unified School District high school. 

As you can see from the video shot this morning (see below) at 11 a.m., there wasn't a kid's soccer team, orange slices, or Capri Sun juice packets to be found. If there were such a demand for youth soccer pitches, with its ample parking lot and Sheldon Road street parking, this would be in heavy use every Saturday. 

Alas, the facilities are not being utilized for kids' soccer games. Kids are still playing soccer in Elk Grove, but maybe, just maybe, Cooper and Davis were exaggerating - something common for elected officials all along the political spectrum.

These empty youth Saturday morning soccer pitches bring us to the Sacramento Zoo's proposed relocation to Elk Grove. Just as they did for the soccer fetish, the city has purchased 98 acres, of which 65 would be the new home of the Sacramento Zoo.

Just as Cooper and Davis made exaggerated claims about the need for expensive facilities to serve an overinflated group of youth soccer players, be wary in the next few months. Politicians like Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen and Sacramento Zoo officials will make exaggerated claims about the cost and burden to taxpayers to build the facility, the so-called economic impact, and attendance numbers, just like Cooper and Davis did about youth soccer participation in Elk Grove.

Be skeptical of the claims and so-called studies that will be trotted out, complete with smoke and mirrors. Unless taxpayers want to be on the hook for up to $500 million, frame questions about the zoo through the lens of the soccer scheme and metaphorically ask them, where have all the Elk Grove soccer kids gone?  

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