It seems fitting that the longest running internal battle in the history of San Carlos has taken yet another bizarre turn. Fasten your seat belts, synthetic turf is once again making in headlines in San Carlos.
For those of you who have been living under a rock or are new to San Carlos, here’s a brief synopsis of the history:
The ten year debate over synthetic turf and its possible installation in San Carlos has been the subject of heated debate, public outcry, commission meetings, city council meetings, studies and a lawsuit. The issue has been struck down by city council and then revisited and approved. The Parks and Recreation Department in San Carlos first started looking at installing synthetic turf back in 2000. The City did this primarily for one reason: increase playable hours. Back in 2000 the City of San Carlos commissioned a report that examined their current parks and fields. The “Mahady Report” as it is now known, basically said that San Carlos fields would face dire effects, including field failure, in the upcoming years because the amount of traffic on current fields was simply more than the fields could support. The recommendation was for the City to add more fields or turn one or more of the fields to synthetic turf and have that particular field take some of the play load from other fields that were overused. It was initially believed that Highlands Field and Stadium Field (located directly behind Highlands Field) were the best two options for synthetic turf installation because of their size and ability to take the burden off of other fields. Stadium Field was scrapped early on in the process because it was ruled too dangerous for firetruck/emergency access to the field. The only real road access was from vehicles coming up Madera and eventually up to Elston Court. Additionally, all involved believed that without the benefit of lights, the field would not be getting enough bang for the buck. Lights at Stadium Field were viewed as not being practical. Highlands Park already had lights installed, making it that more attractive and it remained the primary focus of the Parks and Recreation Department.
Over the years other sites were discussed. Most prominently, the field at Heather School was discussed in addition to Highlands Field, but it was ultimately ruled out after the San Carlos School Board and the City did not see eye to eye on the field. Others that were looked at included Burton Park, Tierra Linda Middle School’s field and Crestview Park. However, none could match attractiveness of Highlands Park, with its size and lights. The City finally authorized the installation on synthetic turf amid heated debate and construction began on the new field.
In the mean time, a group called Save Highlands Park, sued the City in 2009, claiming that the documentation the City used to approve the synthetic turf installation was not stringent enough. The City believed that the lawsuit was ultimately without merit and began the process of hiring a contractor and starting the installation.
On Tuesday, Judge Marie Weiner of the San Mateo County Superior Court, finally submitted her ruling on the Save Highlands Park lawsuit. The result has both sides claiming victory. The somewhat confusing ruling essentially said two things: (1) the synthetic turf, itself, is acceptable; and (2) the City failed to adequately study the effects of the increased traffic on the environment.
The City is claiming victory because the ruling did not stop the project from continuing. Save Highlands Park is claiming victory because Judge Weiner backed the group’s argument that the city rushed the project and ignored their own data on the impact of traffic on the environment.
Both groups seemed to be somewhat surprised that the other is claiming victory. One thing is for sure, both groups will now spend more money on legal fees to gain further answers into the vague ruling. The City Council will be discussing the results of the ruling at their upcoming meeting.
Having been involved with this issue since 2000, I can see why the City is claiming victory. Much of the debate surrounding synthetic turf was on the actual turf itself. Was synthetic turf a favorable playing surface? Was it likely to cause more injuries? Did it take away from the mostly natural state of the park? Were there any hazardous effects from playing on synthetic turf?….these were all questions put before the city as measures of concern if synthetic turf was to be installed. Judge Weiner seems to have stated that the turf itself, is fine. Her real concern seems to be a secondary problem, that being any possible environmental issues with increased traffic going to the field. Combined this part of the ruling with the lack of any type of injunction against stopping work on the installation of the synthetic field, and you can see why the City feels victorious in the ruling. On the other hand, the vagueness of the ruling and the concern stated by Judge Weiner over the inadequate study and analysis for possible environmental effects due to increased traffic would be a logical point in favor of Save Highlands Park. Stay tuned as this seemingly endless issue reclaims San Carlos headlines in the weeks to come.
* Over the years I have written a few articles on the blog regarding the synthetic turf issue. In each article I feel that it is important to disclose that I was on the Parks and Recreation Commission from 2003 through 2005, and ultimately resigned my position on the commission, largely due to the frustration surrounding this particular issue. While on the commission I did vote in favor of the installation of synthetic turf.