City officials who think synthetic turf will provide more athletic field playing hours to area children should heed a recent San Carlos Youth Advisory Council vote against using the material at Highlands Park, according to opponents.
"The myth for the past six years in this city is that this project is for the kids,” said Daniele Huerta of Save San Carlos Parks. "Well the kids have spoken and I hope the politicians who appointed them will listen.”
The council voted 5-4 Wednesday to recommend the City Council not move forward with synthetic turf on the Highlands Park Lower Athletic Field. The San Carlos Youth Advisory Council, a group of middle school and high school students who offer opinions to the City Council, prefers to see the money spent on less expensive projects with a broader community benefit, said advisory member Kevin Harris.
As with all advisory boards, the vote carries no actual legal weight but is among the recommendations the City Council can consider at an upcoming discussion.
A good number of the city’s parks are in need of renovation. Highlands Park was chosen as the test-case after negotiations to convert Heather School fell apart with the San Carlos Elementary School District.
The 45-day public comment period on the project’s environmental documents closed Tuesday and the City Council is scheduled to discuss the matter April 13. A preliminary staff report on the submitted comments should be released the first week of April, said Planning Director Deborah Nelson.
The plan calls for converting the surface of the Highlands Park lower field from natural to synthetic turf. The field is an area of approximately 31 percent of the 11.25-acre city park. The conversion is expected to increase play space by 43.5 percent and eliminate the annual six-week maintenance closure period.
During construction, the parking lots will be out of commission but the project isn’t expected to otherwise affect use of the park.
The San Carlos City Council unanimously agreed to move the project along without the more stringent review of a full environmental impact report, leaving only a smaller document called a mitigated negative declaration necessary to address the less-than-significant impacts of installing the synthetic grass.
Barring any unforeseen problems or delays, construction may still begin as planned and finish in 2009 — nine years after the city began mulling artificial versus natural sod.
The discussions over athletic field renovation always revolve around the desire to provide more playing time for the city’s children. While detractors don’t deny more time would be great, they say that synthetic is not the right way — often citing toxicity and injury among the problems — and that the $1.5 million price tag is too high in light of budget concerns.
"This is something the community doesn’t need right now,” Huerta said. "This will only benefit elite athletes and use up all the park department’s budget, leaving nothing for capital improvements.”
San Carlos Mayor Bob Grassilli said he understands concerns about the cost but "usage always seems to carry the day.”
The youth advisory council’s vote will be considered but "there are a lot of opinions and a lot of information,” he said.
If the city had the option of using the money elsewhere, such as the general fund, it likely would do so but funds from Measure G and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation hospital plan must go for parks needs.
"We can certainly not spend it, but that money is not going to go somewhere else,” Grassilli said.
Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.