Council OKs Nearly $1M More Than Taxpayers Were Told for Soccer Field Turf

By: 
Bill Pearl

On Sept. 8, the City Council voted 9-0 to approve a FY 21 City Hall spending budget that quietly allocates $2.35 million – an increase of 56% from $1.5 million city management proposed in February and March 2020 – to install an artificial turf soccer field in El Dorado Park West along Studebaker Rd. north of Willow St.

City staff recently put the El Dorado Park artificial turf field project out to bid and set an Oct. 2 due date for responses. City staff will evaluate the bids received and bring staff’s decision on the best bid to the City Council for voted approval in the coming weeks or months.

What accounts for the $850.000 (56%) taxpayer cost increase? “The additional budget need was discovered once we had a detailed design and updated cost estimates to go along with it. In addition, a combination of escalation and ADA design requirements contributed to the cost increases,” says Nancy Villasenor, the City’s Capital Projects Coordinator.

Villasenor says the artificial turf field’s FY21 budgeted cost increased despite eliminating items from the project scope These include eliminating “electrical conduit and panel upgrades for future sports field lighting, elimination of one goal stop (the one nearest to the parking lot remains), eliminating concrete pads for the decorative boulders, and reducing a 6’ fence to a 4’ fence. There were also plans to plant shrubs around some of the boulder clusters and that was removed as well.”

The artificial turf field, controversial from its inception, has pitted park protection advocates, neighborhood residents and taxpayers against city staff, some soccer advocates and Councilwoman Mungo. (To date, Councilwoman Mungo hasn’t mentioned the El Dorado Park artificial turf soccer field cost increase from $1.5 million to $2.35 million in her “Neighborly News” newsletters.)

Shortly after the Council budget vote, this writer made a request under the CA Public Records Act for various records related to the cost increase. As of our publication date, the City of Long Beach hasn’t produced records requested that would shed light on the process.”

Parks/Rec staff contends replacing natural grass turf with synthetic turf on soccer fields has several benefits, including providing a playing surface that addresses field safety issues and enhances playability to meet demand” and would mean less “down time” for soccer fields.

On a Feb. 18, 2020 Council agenda item on FY19 budget performance – when management proposed allocating $1.5 million for artificial turf soccer – opponents included veteran park protection advocate Ann Cantrell.

Cantrell supported a new soccer field but said it should be natural, not artificial turf.  She cited a playability issue -- that artificial turf fields get much hotter for players -- and added that the plastic grass can’t be cooled using reclaimed water.

Eastside Voice president (and former 5th  District  Council candidate) Corliss Lee said the $1.5 million could be better used for repairs needed elsewhere in El Dorado Park.

Jon Schultz supported plans for the artificial turf field.

The city has installed artificial turf fields at four other LB parks: Seaside Park, AdmiralKidd Park, the Drake-Chavez Park greeenbelt and Molina Park. Like those fields, the El Dorado Park artificial turf soccer field will use cork and sand fill, not “crumb rubber” (the latter prompted public pushback and led to a 2015 Parks/Recreation Commission majority vote to recommend cork/sand fill.)

On March 17, 2020, city staff cited emerging COVID-19 economic impacts in seeking to delay a Council vote on over a hundred management planned budget adjustments. Among them was a line item proposing to spend $1.5 million from FY19 Measure A sales tax “surplus” (sums City Hall collected beyond what it expected) to fund the El Dorado Park artificial turf field.  The council agreed and voted 9-0 to lay the entire agenda item over to a future council meeting.

In August 2020, the $2.35 million cost figure quietly surfaced in management’s proposed FY21 budget.

The budget proposed a number of cuts to taxpayer services, but no councilmember(s) publicly opposed the $850,000 taxpayer cost increase to the already costly $1.5 million El Dorado Park artificial turf soccer field.

The council debated, amended and tweaked other aspects of the management/mayor proposed FY21 budget, but not the $2.35 million El Dorado Park artificial turf item.

Unless changed by a council majority, a forthcoming council vote can now approve a management-recommended bid to install the artificial turf field.

Bill Pearl publishes lbreport.com, an online local news source since August 2000.

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