At Monday night’s San Carlos City Council meeting, San Carlos staff made the recommendation to the city council to approve a contract in the amount of $1,746, 150 to Interstate Grading and Paving for the Highlands Field Renovation, i.e. synthetic turf. The timing of the proposed synthetic turf comes at a time when public awareness regarding possible park closures and a major city-wide budget shortfall are at an all-time high. After a major downturn in the economy and the failure of Measure U (sales tax increase) was rejected by San Carlos residents, the synthetic turf issue found itself caught in the crossfire once again. San Carlos residents made impassioned pleas to the city council on Monday night, both for and against the installation of synthetic turf. In the end, the San Carlos City Council voted 4-1 to approve the contract and move ahead with the synthetic turf contract.
How will San Carlos fund the $1,746,150 needed for synthetic turf?
The funds will be coming from a few different sources:
(1) Approximately $1,000,000 will be coming from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation via an agreement between the City of San Carlos and PAMF. While this one stipulation is part of a much larger City of San Carlos and PAMF agreement, in this particular section PAMF stipulates that the funds are to only be used for athletic fields and athletic facilities.
(2) The majority of the remaining funds will be coming from Park-in-lieu fees. These fees are paid to the city by developers in-lieu of building additional parks. This fund protects these funds for being used only for park capital improvements.
(3) Measure G funds, which have been collected and matched by the city via a $6 parcel tax since 1999, collected about 1.2-1.4 million dollars. One million dollars of this amount was spent on the Burton Park renovation. Technically, the remainder of those funds are still available for use, although the staff made it quite clear that Measure G funds are no longer necessarily needed to fund the synthetic turf contract.
Why can’t the city use those funds targeted for synthetic turf to cover the budget shortfall?
(1) The $1,000,000 which is being given to the city from PAMF is restricted for capital improvements for athletic fields and facilities only. Redirecting that money would violate the agreement. The next question, which was posed by the city council, centered around the feasibility of asking PAMF to modify that one part of their agreement with the city to allow for those funds to be used for other budgetary items. City staff advised the council that asking PAMF to modify that part of the agreement may be opening a can of worms because PAMF would probably ask for other parts of the 90 million dollar contract to be re-negotiated. Additionally, even if they were successful, the $1,000,000 would only be good for one additional week of prolonging the eventual budget shortfall under the City’s current operating budget.
(2) The park-in-lieu fees paid to the city are not transferable to the general fund, which could then theoretically be applied to different department shortfalls.
(3) Funds designated for capital improvements through Measure G cannot be redirected without another election with approval for the redirection with at least a 2/3s majority of all San Carlos residents.
What the public had to say to the city council last night:
“This is not the time to be making this decision.”
“We are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
“What is stopping us from opening a dialogue with PAMF and at least seeing if they are open to re-negotiating the the terms of the $1,000,000 payment.”
“When I volunteered for youth sports, I had no idea it would entail spending so much time in this room.”
“When my son first spoke to you here regarding synthetic turf he was ten years old, today he is away at college.”
“We have great people on both sides of this issue.”
Summary of views
When broken down, there appear to be two opposing sides to the issue of synthetic turf in the wake of the budgetary crisis:
Those in Favor of the Plan to Install Synthetic Turf: Enough is enough. Proponents have argued that the city has been waiting for this project for over ten years. The proposed funds are specifically earmarked for projects such as the synthetic turf project and if the project is abandoned now, the odds of it ever coming back are next to zero. The city is in desperate need of an all weather field which can help take the burden off some of the already over-used fields in San Carlos.
Those Against the Plan to Install Synthetic Turf: The plan is irresponsible on several levels, namely the city is proposing spending a significant amount of money on one specific field, benefiting the minority, when the budget shortfall is causing problems all over San Carlos and affecting many city departments. Second, many believe that the environmental concerns regarding synthetic turf have not been adequately addressed.
What the city council had to say:
Those four members of the city council voting in favor of moving ahead with the contract for the installation of synthetic turf, sited common themes. The most common theme was that they did not like the idea of using capital funds for operating funds. Some of the council members made clear that they took the message of Measure U to mean that the people of San Carlos wanted the city to learn to live within in its operating budget, or general fund. Using capital funds designated for park improvements for operating expenses did not make sense for some council members and seemed to go against the message being sent to council by the defeat of Measure U. Additionally, some felt the issue had gone on long enough. The City was finally in a position to address the problem and the time to act was now.
Council member Grocott dissented, and at times appeared upset with San Carlos staff , who he thought may have been playing politics by threatening park closures. Council member Grocott went on to say that he thought spending $2,000,000 on an improvement that was really only benefiting one segment of the general population, in this case the soccer playing community, was not a well-reasoned choice.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more divisive and long lasting community issue in the history of San Carlos. I remember attending the very first neighborhood meeting regarding possibly installing synthetic turf in 2002 at Highlands. The fact that it is still around 8 years later is almost unbelievable. The unfortunate part about making a decision like this is that one side, who believes very strongly in their position, is not going to get the result they were looking for. Personally, I have learned quite a bit about San Carlos while being involved in this issue since the very beginning. I was on the Parks and Recreation Commission when this issue first came to a head in 2005, and I can tell you the divisiveness that this issue created within San Carlos was truly unfortunate. San Carlos has many very bright and passionate people on both sides of this issue and I hope that both sides can finally put this issue behind them and move on. Eight years is long enough.