Rec group approves synthetic turf at Ocean Air Park

In an 8-0 vote on Nov. 27, the Ocean Air Recreation Advisory Group recommended approval of replacing the existing surface with synthetic turf at the Ocean Air Community Park field. The project will next move on to the San Diego Parks and Recreation Council and director for approval. As it is a joint-use field between the city and the Del Mar Union School District for Ocean Air Elementary School, the school board will also weigh in on the field conversion.

The park enhancements will also include a new concession stand with a restroom, new picnic shelters as well as Americans with Disability Act (ADA) improvements.

The synthetic turf project was approved by the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board back in 2015, tapping $5.7 million in Facilities Benefit Assessment funds. The then-rec council made the recommendation for artificial turf as it provides a more consistent and level playing surface that does not require irrigation, fertilization or landscaping. According to the city, the artificial turf would provide year-round use with no down time for renovation and can also support heavier use, allowing for additional programming at a very busy park.

The FBA funds cannot go toward the maintenance or replacement of the existing natural turf field.

Mike Rodrigues, district manager for the Parks and Recreation Department, said that synthetic turf is a fairly new product for the city. Pershing Middle School in San Carlos was the city’s first synthetic turf field, it has been in place for 10 years and has been replaced once. A synthetic turf conversion has also been proposed at the Carmel Valley Recreation Center fields—the Carmel Valley Recreation Advisory Group is set to make a decision at its January 2019 meeting.

About 90 percent of the playing surface of synthetic turf fields is created by the infill which supports the turf blades. The majority of turf fields have used the traditional infill of crumb rubber made from old shredded car tires—the material has been controversial with some parents as it is dirty, smells bad and can get very hot.

Erin Leugars, of Spurlock Landscape Architecture, said that the city has decided to go with FieldTurf for the turf project and will use the company’s PureFill infill, a mixture of sand and cork material harvested from the cork oak tree.

“Cork infill is non-toxic, it’s a natural material,” said Leugars, adding that an underlay pad will be installed to absorb shock from falls. “There is no rubber used in this product.”

While the infill is not rubber, it will still get hotter than a natural turf field would. Leugars said in full sun, on hot days the surface of the artificial turf is 30 to 50 percent hotter than the air temperature. Two feet above the surface it is 5 percent hotter than the air temperature and 5 feet above the surface it is equal to the air temperature.

While a natural turf field requires an average of 90,000 gallons per week for the 3.5 acre-field, minimal water is needed for maintenance for synthetic turf. Maintenance of a turf field includes mowing, fertilization three times a year, aeration four times a year and reseeding every one to two years. By contrast, synthetic turf must be brushed every two to three weeks, washed and swept as needed to remove debris.

Replacement is typically eight to 10 years after installation.

The decision to change the field to turf came as a “shock” to some local residents and a petition gathered signatures from 65 neighbors in opposition. (A previous petition when the field conversion was first proposed in 2015 collected 275 in opposition). A group of residents attended the Nov. 27 meeting to express their concerns.

“My primary concern is for the safety of the kids,” said resident Priti Ojha.

Ojha said her research has found that with synthetic turf there is an increase for lower extremity injuries. Resident Hirdey Bhathal pointed out to the group that evidence-based safety data is at this point still unknown and without that information, it is not the right time to move forward.

Residents such as Kumar Saikatendu shared concerns about the cost—especially if it will need to be replaced in eight years. Rodrigues acknowledged that the city does not currently have funding to replace the fields seven to 10 years out –residents wondered what the state of the synthetic turf could be if it cannot be replaced.

Tim Curry, a representative for FieldTurf, said their oldest fields have made it to 15 years; over 3,000 fields have lasted 10 years or more. Curry said typically the plastic blades are what wears down on a field and more infill will be visible at the end of the turf’s life but there will be no bare patches. The blades on the turf vary in height (the tallest at two and a half inches) and will shrink over the life of the field— Curry said the bulk of his company’s research and development has gone into making the blades last longer.

Bhathal said that he was frustrated with the board deciding for their neighborhood, wanting to know how many of the committee members lived in the community.

“I don’t think the neighborhood wanted it, asked for it, requested it,” Bhathal said. “You are pushing your own agenda…You guys will get what you want, we get all the problems and headaches.”

During public comment, Carmel Valley Recreation Advisory Group member Marilee Pacelli reminded those in attendance that the advisory groups are volunteer boards and open to anyone who would like to join, “People that serve on this (group) do so because they want to. They are not pushing this through, this is something that we have been talking about for years,” Pacelli said.

Pacelli said those on the board mostly represent the thousands of local kids who play for local sports leagues such as Del Mar Little League, Del Mar-Carmel Valley Sharks and North Shore Girls Softball.

Brandon Roach, an Ocean Air Recreation Advisory Group member representing Football ‘N’ America, stated that he has no financial interests or ulterior motives—he lives in the community and his three kids play soccer, lacrosse and flag football on the Ocean Air fields. While he heard the residents’ safety concerns, he has similar safety concerns about gopher holes in the existing surface at the park as well as the dust cloud that his kid played soccer in a few weeks ago due to poor field conditions as the “natural turf” is mostly dirt.

“Having worked on this project over many years, I would be happy to see it come to fruition,” Pacelli said. “It would be a bonus to this community to have a field that would look beautiful all the time, year-round, and allow the committee to use it on a daily basis without having to worry about water and wear and tear on the field, gopher holes and other safety issues.”

If the project is approved, it is estimated that the fields would be down for three to four months during the installation of the turf—Rodrigues said the idea would be to complete the work during the summer to lessen the impact on Ocean Air students.