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Portola Valley council rejects artificial grass for soccer field at Woodside Priory School

Original post made on May 9, 2013

The forces of a plastic modernity were politely shown the door Wednesday night in Portola Valley. After more than two hours of testimony by residents for and against an artificial grass soccer field at the Woodside Priory School, a slim majority on the Town Council told Priory officials that they must use real grass.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 9, 2013, 9:29 AM

Comments (18)

Posted by member, a resident of Portola Valley: other
on May 9, 2013 at 11:58 am

My only hope is that some good will come out of this.
In particular I hope all the parents who send their kids to this expensive private school will stop feeling that their kids are being deprived and adopt Tim Maluk's grace and understanding.

It's not productive to see so many acting maliciously, attacking anyone who disagrees with them.

I wish the Priory well with their new athletic field.
Perhaps they will help all of us in Town learn new methods to reduce our outdoor water use.

Go Priory!


Posted by High Sprain, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on May 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Who's going to count the torn and twisted ankles over the next ten years (the life of a turf field)?

Nah, no worries, just elevate the legs. You can rest them on the bags of pesticides and fertilizers that will be needed.

So green!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 9, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Anyone who attended the council meetings on this matter will see this for what it is. Though the matter had been decided in favor of the turf field and the Priory by the Planning Commission (having fully considered a complete environmental review that showed the benefits of a turf field clearly in favor of the environment), the council agreed to review the project's appropriateness to the town's general plan limited to "aesthetics".You can see the hypocrisy of the outcome based on acceptance of the commission's decision on the environmental benefit but denial based on looks. Why? Appearances mean everything. Despite anything that was said, it is now clear that the council majority was less concerned with the look of turf than they were with the look of approving turf! With conviction like this, PVers should now know who talks about preserving the environment and who really cares!


Posted by huh?, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 9, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I was at the meeting last night and I have to respectfully disagree with the person who said it was the "look of the turf" that made the final decision. It was the reality that no one knows what chemicals are in the plastic turf. No one knows. And there have been too many instances in the history of chemicals that the wrong choice was made and serious health concerns have been the result. The choice of the last council member to agree about the conservation and not accept plastic was that less water would be used to maintain it and this was a vote toward conservation. As one of our long time members of the community said "there is a third way. grow grass with alternate organic substances to make it work". In fact, most professional teams are going back to that. The fact that professional teams are going back to grass also has to do with fewer injuries. I do think most of the Priory parents were very honest and concerned about their children's ability to play sports all year round. I would ask those same parents, don't you feed your children mostly organic foods/liquids when you can? I wonder why you would want them to play on plastic made of something that we don't know what it's made of, but we sure know it's not made of something real. Certainly not organic. And now grass can be grown organically as well. Using less resources and no chemicals. Just a thought.

On a different note, I so appreciated how everyone last night was respectful of one another even with disappointment in the outcome for many. As a speaker near the beginning said "we can disagree but we don't have to be mean to each other, this is a small town." Also on the forum today Ronny Crawford wrote: "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend." Thomas Jefferson
Let's all remember this in this tiny and beautiful town. And I agree with folks last night who said the Town itself should look at the lawns it maintains....is this green? This was the democratic process at work.


Posted by john, a resident of Woodside: other
on May 9, 2013 at 2:54 pm

1) Thank you to the Priory. They loan their fields to elem girls softball, to local AYSO soccer and CY soccer teams, to local little league teams, and I think to local lacrosse teams. We are fortunate that they treat their sports fields not merely as a private school field, but as sports fields for the region, shared by residents of PV, Woodside, MP, Atherton, etc. The anonymous person who posted something the comment about the "expensive private school" should get his/her facts straight. My guess is that about 40% of the available time goes to teams not affiliated with the Priory. Those teams will likely be the first to suffer, as the fields need closure time to heal. The artificial Turf field could extend the time of use of this field, to all community members. Of well, not now.

2)Anybody who has studied the now two decades of data knows that grass fields produce far more injuries than do turf fields (twisted ankles, blown out knees, etc), and that grass fields require large amounts of water/fertilizer/pesticides which in turn produce significant run off. Oh well, the PV Town Council has made it's decision. It's unfortunate for the Steelhead, for the frogs, for Jasper Ridge, etc. That's where the polluting run-off goes. I didn't attend the meeting, but would have loved to hear the Town of PV explain the costs associated with Rossotti's field maintenance over the last decade, and the issues that they have had with runoff into the adjoining creek.

I understand both sides of the issue, but it's hard to imagine that in the next 20 years, that irrigation water will become more plentiful and cheaper in our semi-arid environment - as the effects of global warming accelerate.


Posted by Bay Area Water Conservation Advocate, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 9, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Hey, what happened to water conservation?!! I thought the Bay Area Water Conservation Agency put it into code that new construction had to be water conservative. Isn't the Portola Valley Town Counsel ignoring a state mandated conservation code?


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 9, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Why have golf course architects not switched to artificial turf?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Here's a guess: golfers want the challenges of the idiosyncrasies of the natural world. How many golfers would make the argument for artificial grass on their children's playing fields while reserving the real stuff for their own recreation?

This question of dealing with the ups and down of living and playing in the real world, of making sacrifices and doing something else when the weather is uncooperative, of living with the cycles of nature in the company of nature, this is a fundamental question, perhaps the fundamental question on this particular issue.

Who wants to live in a perfect world?


Posted by Wil E., a resident of Portola Valley: other
on May 9, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Thanks to Jon Silver and all the others that lead this effort and to the 3 Council members voting against artificial turf. Without even being able to find out what chemicals were in the proposed artificial turf (despite requests from the turf manufacturer) this was the right decision.

Who would buy and eat, or wear, a product that the manufacturer wouldn't let you see what it was made from, saying it was "top secret"?? That's crazy.


Posted by plastic golf course, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on May 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Why would the world's most stick-in-the-mud, traditionalists to the Nth degree stick with grass golf courses?

- A full course would likely cost 20 million, maybe more as the original investment to replace existing grass
- golf courses get maybe 100-150 golfers walking on it on an average day? maybe 300? doing a 1 way walk. Hardly a need for a 'cast iron' playing surface that can handle 5 soccer games during the day and a football game at night, rain or shine
- a golf ball will bounce a lot farther, i imagine, on a turf field

That's just off the top of my head.

Ever go around the back of the typical course and looked at all the poisons stored for course maintenance?


Posted by john, a resident of Woodside: other
on May 9, 2013 at 5:12 pm

To Jack:
Golf courses have reduced their use of water/fertilizer/pesticides by almost a factor of 100x in the last 20 years, through different species of grass, through different maintenance methods, etc. Many golf courses today have thriving wildland habitats incorporated into them. It's similar to how zoos changed over the last few decades, from merely caging/displaying live animals, to becoming caretakers of endangered species. The game of golf on turf is nothing like the game of golf on natural grass; that's the primary reason golf course architects don't use it. Golf course managers have adapted.

To Wil E-
I was directly involved with the Turf decision at WES. Wierdly, the plant manager back in Ohio for the company that provided the fill material was a guy that I had previously worked with. We initially got stonewalled too, then I called that guy, and he opened up to us. The supplier agreed to use a slightly different formula for us, rather than the standard formula, since our WES field also drains into an environmentally sensitive watershed. Their slight change appeased several specific environmental concerns. I don't know who worked this for Priory/PV, but my guess is with substantial push back, or selection of a different supplier, Priory/PV could have a much better/more open partner of a Turf supplier.

Looking forward, this decision highlights a broad regional issue. Overflowing school enrollments in Menlo Park are dramatically impacting demand of playing fields regionally, and they don't have space to make more fields. My guess is that this decision is not permanent; it will be revisited every year or two, especially as the price of water rises (as the Ca population grows from today some 30M to a projected 50M in the next few decades). The water we do have will be increasingly dear, and our home and public landscapes will increasingly reflect the climate that we live in, rather than ones with lush non native grasses year round. Expect similar debates over PVTC, over Rossotti's, over Corte Madera fields, over Ormondale fields, over Ford field (baseball), etc over the coming decade. We've got a significant population bulge in the number of kids, as well as more adults who want to play sports, while the trend is that fresh water availability will become increasingly expensive/scarce. Those trends, I don't think, are in question. The open question is how best to respond to those macro trends, while keeping with the General Plan of PV. It's a difficult balancing act.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 10, 2013 at 8:20 am

john, mine was a rhetorical question. Your thorough response reminded me of a friend of mine, the late Dave Collins. See:Web Link


Posted by PVer, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I was at the meetings and did not witness the "attacks" that folks are talking about. Disagreement, yes, but not attacks. Largely, it appears those who found it uncomfortable to listen to dissenting opinions imagined that they were "attacked". I can't speak to what went on privately or elsewhere. But the meetings I attended were civil as is most of the discourse I read on the PV Town Forum. Lively debate is characteristic of a vibrant democracy.
As far as the decision on the turf field is concerned, it did not seem to be a rational one as volumes of environmental review were ignored and the action taken was based on imagined and unsubstantiated concerns. The trade-off was a lack of viable playing field for student athletes and the community. Not very good.


Posted by Dana, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Simply amazing. It is alleged by huh? that the ultimate factor that decided the playing surface decision was the significantly greater safety of grass: unknown and POSSIBLE dangerous chemicals in artificial grass. Is this true? No proof or evidence? Simply an undocumented suspicion? This sounds a lot like our partisan politics >>> fear-based conspiracy theory. Thousands of humans have played sports on artificial playing fields for many years. What does OBJECTIVE peer-reviewed scientific analysis indicate about relative safety including mysterious chemicals? Has anyone looked into the chemicals used in our smartphones? Are you 100% sure you are safe in the long term? Surely, a well-educated community like Portola Valley can do better than this. What was the REAL reason artificial grass was not chosen?


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 10, 2013 at 8:45 pm

"What was the REAL reason artificial grass was not chosen?"

The fact it was artificial. The scientifically illiterate fear mongers struck again. "If it's not "natural" (define natural) it couldn't possibly be good." That's what happened.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm

does this mean the town council can be overturned every step of the way when they make a decision? Sounds like it would deter anyone from wanting to be part of such a committee that their decision won't hold !!!


Posted by John, a resident of Woodside: other
on May 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm

When I studied the problem a few years ago for WES, one problem that arose was the fear of Benzene and other aromatics being released from the ground up tires that were part of the "fill". Benzene is a known carcinogen. Parents were upset that it would be present on an Elem school playing field. A pair of Stanford PhDs in chemical engineering worked it out for me, and explained that the Benzene molecule could not be released from the recycled tires at temps below 600 deg F. We then measured the temps on turf playing fields, and found a couple of interesting observations. 1) the turf temp rose to some 35 deg F hotter than the hottest ambient temp of the day. (so on a 110 deg F day, the turf might get to 145 deg F, startlingly hot, but far below the activation temp required to release the Benzene from recycled tires). 2) the exact color of the synthetic grass played a huge role in the surface temp of the artificial turn. Particular wavelengths of green absorbed the sun's energy and heated up fast and high. Other wavelengths reflected the sun's energy, and didn't heat up fast at all. So with some smart science (i.e. pick a wavelength/shade of green that was not a primary color of sunlight), you could select a color of artificial turf that was pretty much the same temp as natural grass, at a cost of not looking exactly like natural grass (shade of green was a little more blue) from a distance. But natural grass shouldn't be bright green in NorCal from May to November anyway. Also, we put a sprinkler system in the turf field, both to help "clean it" (after a kid sheds blood, a dog poops on it, a kid drops ice cream/food on it, etc.) and with 10 mins of watering, you can drop the temp by 30 deg F (the swamp cooler effect, i.e Boyle's law). At WES, we also got the supplier to not mix tires into our base rubber mixture; ours was made of 100% ground up worn out/recycled running shoes - thus avoiding the Benzene issue entirely.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 13, 2013 at 9:05 am

I don't think that this fake turf will cover every inch of play space, but yes fields are getting more and more use. Yes look at better options that are more friendly, figure out ways to make it safer for play.

We just can't make water or space for fields, might have to add,playing fields on school buildings, might have to use water to grow food and wine. Not to mention water your lawn, flowers and so you drink.


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