Natural vs. Synthetic Turf: A Final Faceoff?

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Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past eight years you are probably well aware of the synthetic vs. natural turf debate that has created so much controversy in San Carlos.  A former mayor and long time San Carlos resident told me that he cannot recall an issue so divisive in San Carlos.

The purpose of this post is to try and state both sides of the synthetic turf vs. natural grass debate.  In full disclosure, I resigned my position as a Park and Recreation Commissioner in 2005 after the commission was unable to endorse any meaningful portion of a citizen’s advisory committee’s recommendation for synthetic turf at one of three locations, Highlands, Heather and Tierra Linda.  However, being involved with this issue since the very beginning I believe I can accurately state both sides of the debate.  In the interest of fairness, I would really appreciate anyone who is against the installation of synthetic turf to please write in and state their position with better precision.  It is not my intention to advocate for synthetic turf through this post, rather to allow both sides the opportunity to fully explain their positions.

The History Behind Synthetic Turf

In the late 1990s many of the San Carlos sports user groups began asking the Parks and Recreation Department for more field time as their leagues continued to grow in size.  Early in 2000, the city began to notice that its fields were deteriorating at an alarming rate.  Fearing that the fields were overused, the city commissioned the Mahady Report, which studied the fields in San Carlos including the current demand to use the fields.  The report ultimately concluded that the use of San Carlos fields was a little over two times the recommended usage, causing many of the fields to fail.  The report recommended that the city increase its number of fields in order to avoid over usage on its current fields.  If obtaining additional fields was not a possibility, the report recommended the installation of a synthetic field at one or more current field locations.

Also noteworthy is the fact that San Carlos lost two full size fields in the early 1980s.  Prior to the Highlands development, at the site of the old San Carlos High School, the city had usage of a full size field that was located at the present day location of Dundee Lane and Glasgow Lane.  This field was in addition to the Stadium Field (which still exists) and two large, lower fields in a similar location to the current Highlands field.  Additionally, the city lost a full size field, called La Mesa Field, when a housing development was built.  This field was at the present day location of La Mesa Drive.

With the loss of the above mentioned fields and the results of the Mahady Report the city began to look at the possibility of turning one of its current fields to synthetic turf in order to (1) allow for increased usage (2) take some of the pressure off of the current failing fields.

With this in mind, the San Carlos Park and Recreation Department started to examine a possible site for the installation of synthetic turf as well as possible financing options.  Early on, the city decided that it would be wise to concentrate on a venue which would give the city the biggest return on its investment.  Highlands Park was initially identified as one possibility because it already had lights, could accommodate a full sized soccer field, encompassed two baseball diamonds and had a field that would traditionally start to fail two weeks into the fall soccer season.

In 2003, the city held a neighborhood meeting at Highlands Field to discuss the matter with homeowners in and around the Highlands neighborhood.  This meeting would be the first of many meetings, commission hearings and council hearings surrounding synthetic turf at Highlands Park.

Many neighbors in and around the Highlands neighborhood objected to the installation of synthetic turf for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to:

 (1)   The installation of synthetic turf would take away from the true, natural character of the Highlands Park.

(2)   Highlands Park was not intended to be a sports complex.  Many neighbors feel that should synthetic turf be installed at Highlands Park, a sports complex would replace a neighborhood park.

(3)   Many neighbors believe that Highlands Park is already at capacity.  Neighbors cope with traffic congestion which spills over into the streets making up the Highlands Neighborhood.  The installation of synthetic turf would only increase this congestion.

(4)   Many have raised health concerns over synthetic turf, both the playability factors and secondary effects.

(5)   Some that oppose synthetic turf question the financing of the field.  The expected cost is roughly 1.7 million dollars.  Many feel that even if the money could be found, they wonder if the money is better spent elsewhere in the San Carlos park system.

(6)   Finally, some feel that a concerted effort to find additional field “space” rather than spending our limited resources on turning an existing natural field to synthetic is more sensible.

In 2004, the city asked a mediator to help find common ground between the neighborhood groups and the goals of the city with regard to the possible installation of synthetic turf.  Later, a citizens’ advisory group was formed with members of the Park and Recreation Commission, residents of the Highlands and Heather neighborhoods, members of the user groups and council members.  This advisory committee was charged with (1) calculating the true “need” for more field space in San Carlos, and (2) if additional space was needed, provide a majority and minority opinion on alternatives for the city to consider, including the possibility of the use of synthetic turf.

The majority opinion (by a vote of 16-6) of the citizens’ advisory committee stated (I am summarizing) that the need was in fact real and recommended the installation of synthetic turf at a current field in San Carlos.  Their order of preference was (1) Highlands, (2) Heather, and (3) Tierra Linda.

In 2005, the majority and minority opinions were presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission, along with numerous comments from the public, both for and against the installation of synthetic turf.  The commission voted against following the recommendations of the citizens’ advisory committee and the matter was set to go before the city council.

Numerous commission and council meetings later, the city council agreed to refocus their effort on working out a deal with the San Carlos School District and pursue the possibility of turning the field at Heather to synthetic turf.  Talks broke down and synthetic turf at Heather was all but taken off the table, along with Tierra Linda.  With this in mind, the Park and Recreation Department started to once again examine the possibility of turning Highlands field, synthetic, and communicated their thoughts to the San Carlos City Council on April 14, 2008.  The city council voted by a 3-2 margin to move forward with plans to install synthetic turf at Highlands Park.

There is currently an effort underway to try and change the positions of council members as well as make other residents of San Carlos aware of the possible implications of the installation of synthetic turf at Highlands Park.  For more information you can visit  At the same time, proponents of installing the synthetic turf at Highlands Park, including the San Carlos Park and Recreation Department, remain focused on the installation of synthetic turf at Highlands Park.  A link to watch the arguments presented at the April 14, 2008 meeting, as well as the minutes of that meeting can be found by clicking 

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