San Carlos City Council to take on turf tiff

The often-explosive local debate over natural versus synthetic turf returns tonight, when city leaders will decide which should be installed on the athletic field at Heather School.

San Carlos opened a can of worms on the turf issue several years ago when it began work on a game plan for resolving the city’s dearth of playing fields. After nearly a year of deliberations, a citizens committee, formed in 2005, recommended the city renovate Highlands Park’s fields with synthetic turf, followed by fields at Heather School and Tierra Linda Middle School.

But the City Council bumped Heather, which is shared by students and public sports teams, to the top of the list. Gopher holes and uneven soil are rampant on the field, which was nearly closed to teams last fall.

“We have more than 7,200 kids playing on seven fields. The reality is, you can’t play on natural grass — you end up playing on dirt and gopher holes,” said William Stambaugh, field director for local American Youth Soccer Organization teams, who supports the installation of synthetic turf.

Many residents who live near the field fear that the increase in playable hours that would be provided by an all-weather, synthetic field will bring intolerable amounts of traffic and noise to their neighborhoods. It was protests from neighborhood groups that prompted the formation of the citizens committee.

“I think all of us would prefer natural surfaces, but when you look at it, and you look at other cities that have put [synthetic turf] in, they’re looking at the long term,” Councilman Bob Grassilli said. When it comes time to vote, Grassilli said he would consider such long-term issues as relative water usage for natural-grass fields, as well as maintenance costs.

Athletic-fields developer Callander Associates is the front-runner to renovate the field at Heather School. Callander officials estimate it will cost $446,000 to renovate the field with new grass, and $1.5 million to returf it with synthetic grass, according to Parks and Recreation Director Barry Weiss. During 20 years, cumulative costs drive the price of a grass field to nearly $1.6 million, while synthetic turf could cost upward of $2 million.

Once the City Council makes its decision, the San Carlos School District will determine whether it agrees, according to board member Eric Van Der Porten.

The San Carlos City Council meets today at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 600 Elm St.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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