A new turf war is brewing in San Carlos.
Two years after the city installed synthetic grass on the Highlands Park playing field — the result of more than a decade of debate, environmental reviews and even a lawsuit — a new round of opposition to the material is springing up around Crestview Park.
The city is currently planning a $1.7 million renovation of the park, including synthetic turf on the athletic field, but some neighbors are saying no way to what they call “a plastic park.” The group Save San Carlos Parks — the same name used by those who sued the city over Highlands but no affiliation — is collecting signatures, reaching out to the community and hoping their efforts plant the seeds for natural sod.
“I don’t think its a great idea at all, mostly because we have so few parks within San Carlos that to take a park with a general purpose and make changes to increase soccer play makes it a single-purpose sport venue,” said Mike Thompson who manages the group’s website and is organizing a booth at Hometown Days next weekend.
“It’s a shameful waste of a beautiful park that does serve soccer purposes,” he added.
Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said the renovation calls for artificial turf only on the playing field, not the entire park, but Thompson said the field is a very large majority of the space. The city doesn’t currently plan to add lights to Crestview — a significant ancillary worry along with traffic that Highlands residents had — but Thompson doesn’t see how it can expand playing hours particularly in winter without them.
And if they aren’t installed, he asked why is the city investing millions of dollars in a field that won’t actually expand soccer access?
The city is holding a community meeting May 23 on the updated design followed by Parks and Recreation Commission consideration June 5. Thompson said residents are optimistic that other renovation concerns like reconfiguring the volleyball and basketball courts will be ameliorated with the new proposals. The synthetic turf, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be going away.
In anticipation, dozens of neighbors have met together and with Councilman Mark Olbert. They are also hoping to spread the word at Hometown Days and by collecting signatures. As of Friday, the circulated petition had more than 400 names.
But Thompson said he and the neighbors hope residents from other areas of the city also join the fight. The city won’t stop at Crestview for soccer space just like it didn’t stop at Highlands, he said.
Moura said the city has heard worry about turf from some residents but the bigger issues are concerns the track is disappearing — it’s not — or that the hardscape area is being diminished.
“Any time you renovate a park, you really have to address all the different features and people do get emotional,” Moura said.
Emotions were never as high as the seemingly never-ending quest to renovate the city’s other playing fields, as proponents touted playing hours and water conservation and opponents argued about heat and health concerns.
The tug-of-war over synthetic turf picked up steam after a 28-member field committee formed in 2004 and recommended its use on the lower field of Highlands Park and Heather Elementary School. However, the Parks and Recreation Commission voted in favor of looking at Tierra Linda Middle School. The council later ended a two-night public hearing by voting to install artificial turf at Tierra Linda and Central middle schools and natural sod at Highlands Park and Heather Elementary School. Two weeks later, the council voted again, deciding 3-2 in favor of analyzing the idea of installing synthetic turf at Heather. When the council couldn’t reach a 30-year use agreement with the San Carlos Elementary School District over Heather, the city moved to Highlands Park on a narrow vote.
The original Save San Carlos Parks group then sued over the scope of the environmental review which resulted in the city opting for an organic infill made of coconut husk, peat and sand or a combination of coconut fiber, cork and sand.
Moura said the turf at Crestview would likely be the same material. The park is on Crestview Drive north of Brittan Avenue.
The community meeting is 7 p.m. Thursday, May 23 at the San Carlos Library, Second floor meeting rooms, 610 Elm St. The Parks and Recreation Commission meets 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 5 at City Hall, 600 Elm St.
The neighbors’ website is www.savesancarlosparks.org
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102.