Youth orchestra suspends after dispute with city – The San Diego Union-Tribune
A teen-run orchestra in San Marcos seems to be calling it quits after a feud with the city over practice space, opting to stop the music rather than comply with city requirements like having a background-checked adult in the room.
It’s a disappointing end for the 10-year-old San Marcos Youth Orchestra, which provided violin and cello lessons to a couple dozen children a year. The free instruction came from high school students, many of whom had themselves once been rookie members of the group.
The problem is rooted in the orchestra’s refusal to meet newly imposed requirements to use city space. Doing so, the group’s teen president said, would have run counter to the mission of being led by kids.
Jeremy Yu, the 17-year-old president, sent an email announcing that the orchestra had been suspended, noting that he “personally cannot and will not betray SMYO’s original vision and mission” of being run by youth volunteers.
The teen did not respond to a request for comment, but Yu’s position echoed prior comments of the adult supervisor who has helped oversee the orchestra since his daughters created it while on a city youth advisory board in 2007. Houa Vongsachang, who also did not respond to a request for comment, has said that orchestra would continue only if it was allowed to operate as a city-run program.
San Marcos spokeswoman Sarah MacDonald said the news that the group was suspending was “unfortunate” given the benefit the orchestra brought to kids.
“Should the youth orchestra be interested in continuing practices at city facilities, staff will work with the group to meet minimum-use requirements,” she said in an email.
The orchestra had been launched a decade ago by the city’s Youth Commission, with practice space in a city facility. But somewhere along the way, as the orchestra founders and their predecessors grew up, the link to the commission seems to have dissolved. Still, the music lessons and performances continued most Fridays during the school year.
The trouble started over the summer, as San Marcos officials checked the compliance of the groups that use space in the city’s Community Center.
Initially, the city approached the youth orchestra as if it was a business, and asked it to sign a contract and perhaps charge the students. The orchestra’s adult supervisors balked, fearing that the relatively informal kid-run group would be required to get a business license, fill out tax forms and such.
The orchestra wanted to be formally placed back under the umbrella of the Youth Commission, but that option was not viable. City officials said the commission only takes on short-term projects, not those in perpetuity.
Faced with pushback from the orchestra — which went public with their concerns — the city came back with a new offer, and said the group could continue to use community rooms for Friday night practices, and the city would provide an adult staffer who had been cleared by a background check through the school year.
But by fall 2018, the orchestra would have to meet three requirements: a background-checked adult supervisor in the room; signed liability waivers for the kids (which they were already doing); and insurance (at a cost of $100 a year), which the city said it would help facilitate.
That was not good enough for the group leadership, who again cited business license concerns even though the city agreed not to classify the orchestra as a business and removed all such requirements.
“Having SMYO be licensed as a business and owned by any adults defeats the original purpose of SMYO: a community service, youth-organized/operated, non-profit, and free orchestra program,” Yu wrote in an email sent Wednesday to the city’s park director. He copied the email to others, including the Union-Tribune.