The Red Hill Park Affair With Astroturf
By Carol Sterritt
Recently a most urgent call for donations to the Red Hill Park Fund arrived in local mailboxes right after San Anselmo voters had defeated Measure B. The two million dollar park project is edging towards its final design and conception. Over 500 San Anselmo residents have offered their insight or served on committees that have steered this endeavor along.
Already $ 300,000 is pledged from the funding of Marin's 2001 School bond. At least $ 100,000 will be offered by the Community Partnership Fund, a fund made up of County monies that need the approval of the Board of Supervisors. Another $ 100,000 to $ 150,000 will come from funding that the Town of San Anselmo might receive from the state. These state funds are specifically designated to be used only for developing sport programs and playing areas. It is also stated that residents have already contributed $55,000.
Meanwhile, over at City Hall, things are tough. City Hall's phones are answered by volunteer receptionists. The City Treasurer, Janet Pendoley, is also a volunteer. During the November election, voters were asked to approve "Measure B," a ballot proposal calling for a $250 per living unit assessment throughout the town. This measure was defeated.
Nonetheless, the Red Hill Park project marches on. The five acre site now stands designed to include the following: a multi-use court, suitable for volleyball or basketball. A baseball field. A soccer and lacrosse playing field. An area for a dog park. A walkway for hikers that will encircle the entire affair. Bleachers, fences, picnic areas, toilets, and parking spaces complete the list of amenities. Construction has not yet begun, so the original completion date of end of summer 2006 seems unlikely.
The site for the park is directly above the Jack in The Box at Red Hill Shopping Center. The five acre plot of land to be developed is fully owned by the Ross Valley School District. The Tamalpais Union High School District currently leases the site. As discussions regarding the Park began some four years ago, the Town of San Anselmo was also given authority regarding this project. Eventually a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) was created, with five people serving on this board. They are: John Wright, Peter Breen, Lori Lopin, Barbara Thornton, and Bob Walter.
One of the reasons that public discussion about the park has dragged on for a small eternity is that various controversies have erupted. For quite a long while, the issue of lighting was contentious. As recently as Spring 2005, speakers came to the JPA meetings and spoke about the type of installations that night games would require.
The notion that playing fields might be lit up until 10 p.m. or longer troubled the locals, especially residents of the Parkside Apartments, the Sunny Hills Apartments, and the Sequoia Drive neighborhood. Adding to residents' concern was the fact that the lights would be some 60 feet tall.
Recent publications put out by the JPA dismiss the notion of lighting as mere "rumor." However, only six months ago, there was still talk of installing lights, and some discussion of how to apply for grants that would pay for such lighting. Community members who were ardently opposed to the lighting often cited the dual issues of park usage time and of noise. (Apparently by lighting the park after dark, the noise and banter from late night playing would affect residents peace and quiet.) One resident, Michael Camry, undertook the effort of getting a petition with 231 signatures of residents opposed to the lighting. He then presented this petition to the Town Council. Also, Friends of Corte Madera Creek took the position that lighting might disturb wildlife.
Another controversial subject was that of just who would ultimately be allowed use of the park. The dog park crowd, who had already been nudged out of Memorial Park, feared that they would be disregarded in terms of overall space. They were also seeking certain amenities, such as water for washing their dogs. At one point, they began looking for a dog park area at White Hill. When that did not come to fruition, they returned their sights to Red Hill. The space that they are now being given seems to meet with their demands, but due to concerns over pollution, they will not be given a way to wash their dogs at the park. What they will have to enjoy will be a one acre, fully fenced, off-leash dog run area.
Of even greater interest is the discussion of who the playing field designs will accommodate. The initial concept included a tennis court, one of the more expensive aspects of the park's design and construction. That has now been replaced by the multi-use court. The second discussion centered around just who would use the fields. Critics and even some supporters asked which local schools and sports leagues who hungrily eyed the coming playing grounds would actually be given a vested interest in the park?
This item sparked further local dissent. Residents argued that the fewer schools allowed to consider their park as their home field, the better. Continuous use of the park was something many wished to discourage, as fears that traffic congestion and around the clock noise would negatively affect the community. The park's final design details the fact that the principle teams using the playing field will be those of Drake High School. Teams from the San Anselmo Park and Recreation Center will be allowed use of the fields.
But other teams will most likely desire using the playing field. So when other teams do use the park, who will receive the fees? Nowhere in the recent flyer is this matter discussed. Nor is there any mention of how easy or difficult it would be for teams other than Drake or the Park and Rec leagues to wind up using the field.
When Is A Rose Not A Rose
Perhaps slipping beneath the public's radar is the issue of artificial turf. In Spring of 2001, when the School Modernization Act was passed by voters, to the tune of $121 million dollars, there was NO discussion of the fact that when playing fields were renovated, they often would be covered in artificial rather than real turf. As Tamalpais High geared up for the installation of such fake grass, the local com- munity stood unaware. Mill Valley locals that I contacted stated that it was not fake but real grass that was going into the site. I had no way to convince them otherwise. And when the artificial turf was in, one person that I had contacted called to tell me how nice and green the "real" grass looked when she drove past it.
Over the last two weeks, the Marin community at large has debated the merits of wildlife habitat. A pond nestling next to a Marin hotel is about to be filled in for a much needed parking lot. Various people and organizations who are steadfast proponents of the environment, and of wildlife, have protested the fate of this one little, itty-bitty pond. The experts well understand its importance in terms of species', especially birds', survival.
But all over Marin, the ecological community is losing the Commons. Our school and community sports fields are giving in to the trend for the artificial turf. People driving by in their cars are fooled, but not so Mother Nature. In April 0f 2004, when I stomped around on the Marin Academy's artificial turf, I was amazed at the scarcity of birds, and the non-existence of insects. I was floored by the odor of the chemicals, and the sickening, burning rubber like, kerosene smell of this product.
Discussing this matter with Trustee John Wright, I asked why artificial turf was chosen. I asked if certain considerations were part of the determination process, such as the raw ugly fact that most of the corporations supplying the artificial turf have not yet been around as long as the warranty for the product.
Wright answered that the choice made with regards to turf at The Red Hill Park site was the same choice that many other organizations had made for their playing fields. He did not point out that since he is a Tam Trustee as well as a Red Hill Park JPA director, that he was one of those choosing this product for another site. After he defended the choice by saying that so many others were doing it, I asked if it shouldn't be a concern when a vast number of projects turn from the real deal to synthetics. Exactly what happens to Marin wildlife when so many playing fields, sports areas and golf courses, etc. turn to the plastic lawns due to it being a supposed low maintenance product?
As Wright tried to shine me on, I began to explain the concerns. These were not only my concerns but those of the Red Hill Park critics' mindset At least one such critic had emailed me various journal articles relating to the disadvantages of the fake turf. Among the disadvantages: higher surface temperature when compared to natural grass playing surfaces (as much as 50 to 60 degrees hotter). Dissatisfaction by major NFL players. More susceptibility to player knee and hip fractures on artificial turf. Etc.
I did not get too far down on the list of concerns when Wright cut me off, and attacked my lack of professional journalistic standards. We were at a stand-off. I was not able to get any further down my list of questions. Perhaps further flyers sent out by the proponents of The Red Hill Park will answer these questions. Perhaps not.
But among the unanswered questions are these: should a town entity that is run by volunteers be sprucing up a local rec area to the tune of two million dollars when that site is not even owned by that town? And since it is a two million dollar endeavor, are any of the entities involved (THE JPA, The Town of San Anselmo, The Ross Valley School District) seeking to create a system of charter busses to bring the students from Drake over to the site at Red Hill, or will that transport end up occurring through parents in individual cars adding to congestion on Sir Francis Drake (the one and only one thoroughfare.) Will the water that is ostensibly saved through use of the artificial turf be handed out by MMWD for building yet another strip mall of mini-businesses and office parks?
And last but not least, what will happen to our wildlife when it is finally proven that they cannot learn to consume artificial turf?
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