Pols Cheer, Taxpayers Push Back

By: 
Bill Pearl

The largest sports field in Long Beach, 210 feet by 315 feet, and built using artificial turf, opened on Oct. 2 to cheers from Councilwoman Stacy Mungo who voted for it despite its total budgeted costs toping $3.1 million. Neighborhood and taxpayer advocates pushed back, supported by former councilwoman Gerrie Schipske who seeks to unseat Mungo in 2022.

Controversial from its inception, the artificial turf field pitted El Dorado Park protection advocates, neighborhood residents and taxpayers against city staff, the leadership of some soccer teams and Councilwoman Mungo.

At the Oct. 2 event Mayor Robert Garcia praised the project and commended Mungo for steadily advancing it. Both the mayor and Mungo spoke about the importance of parks to the city but avoided uttering the words “artificial turf” or acknowledging the council’s $3.1 million budgeted full cost, which became flash points on the project.

Former 5th District Councilwoman (2006-2014) Schipske said the council’s conduct displayed seriously misplaced priorities while other city needs – including infrastructure at El Dorado Park – went unmet. Corliss Lee, president of the Eastside Voice, and Ann Cantrell of Citizens About Responsible Planning brought homemade signs saying “Public Input Didn’t Matter” and “Mungo Must Go.”

Lee said throughout the process residents voiced opposition to the artificial turf field, including a December 2020 survey posted on Nextdoor indicating 85% of respondents didn’t support the artificial turf field.

The artificial turf field was opposed by The Eastside Voice and El Dorado Park South Neighborhood Association. Veteran El Dorado Park advocate Ann Cantrell favored a new soccer field using natural, not artificial turf.

The artificial turf field was supported by the leadership of some organized soccer teams. Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D, LB-San Pedro) and 8th District Councilman Al Austin attended the Oct. 2 event to show support but didn’t speak.

Final Council approval of the project came after midnight, Dec. 9, on a 7-1 council vote (Supernaw dissenting, Andrews exiting early). City management acknowledged fiscal impacts including budgeting $2.35 million from the Measure A (“blank check”) sales tax measure plus $761,644 in one-time City Council District Priority Funds (budgeted total of $3.1 million).

The city’s bidder/contractors managed to deliver the project for $2.7 million, not attributable council taxpayer savings but to the performance of the city’s chosen bidders/contracting parties.

At $2.7 million, the expense remains roughly twice what the public was initially told. $3.6 million was originally supposed to cover installing artificial turf fields at Admiral Kidd Park (WLB), Seaside Park (Central LB) and El Dorado Park (ELB) but that didn’t happen. The money allocated for Admiral Kidd and Seaside fields consumed sums that were supposed to be used for the El Dorado Park field. On city staff’s recommendation, LB’s mayor-chosen Parks and Recreation Commission voted in November 2019 to recommend spending roughly $1.4 million for the El Dorado Park artificial turf field, using $850,000 from the Measure A sales tax plus $617,478 from City Council one-time funds budgeted in the Public Works Capital Projects Fund. But that didn’t happen either.

When that sum fell short, in early 2020 then-Acting City Manager Tom Modica added roughly $850,000 to the El Dorado Park field’s proposed budgeted cost, tapping Measure A for $2.35 million. In a 2020 public vote, the council (including Mungo) approved this. Combined with $761,644 using one-time City Council District Priority Funds, the council-majority approved a budgeting a full cost topping $3.1 million

In her Sept. 28 “Neighborly News” newsletter, Councilwoman Mungo called the project an “all weather soccer field” and said “parents, kids and coaches (had} led this initiative” and “should be proud... This field provides a safer surface for kids to play,requires very little down time for maintenance and inclement weather [and] builds the capacity of our youth soccer leagues without having to seek additional field space.”

In a Sept. 24 release, city staff said synthetic turf fields “have lower maintenance costs, are more accessible year-round than grass and have been shown to improve usability, safety and performance for athletes. Replacing natural grass with synthetic turf reduces water use and allows better storm water runoff management through subsurface drainage systems. The field does not require regular irrigation and has heat dissipating properties,” it said.

But opponents said there’s ample evidence that artificial turf fields are hotter than natural grass, especially difficult for players on hot days in the summer sun.

A city sign posted outside the new field also listed a number of artificial turf “rules”: No dogs, no pets, no food, gum, seed or tobacco of any kind, no flavored drinks, no metal cleats or plastic cleats longer than 3/4” and no equipment (sunshades, chairs) with sharp or narrow legs.

Ann Cantrell argued the artificial turf field will consume costly potable water instead of reclaimed water. Councilwoman Mungo countered in an Oct. 1 “Neighborly News” that reclaimed water “will never be used” in activated park spaces and “is only designated for passive landscaped areas with ample signage stating its use.”

Long Beach Water Department. rules allow reclaimed water for uses “that may include, but aren’t limited to” landscape irrigation with each use approved on a case-by-case basis. 

After working with the Health Department (which contacted the State Water Board and L.A County Environmental Health) the design consultant submitted a field design using potable rather than recycled water.

Artificial turf fields have now been installed at four other LB parks: Seaside Park, Admiral Kidd Park, the Drake-Chavez Park greeenbelt and Molina Park.

Bill Pearl is the publisher of lbreport.com, a local, online news source since August 2000.

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