Council to explore artificial turf at Leo Mullen Sports Park


Parents, players and coaches from Encinitas Soccer League on March 25 packed council chambers to advocate for permanent field lighting and artificial turf at Leo Mullen Sports Park.

“It’s long overdue for the city to provide reliable, safe and year-round fields there,” said league President Rick Lochner.

The Encinitas City Council unanimously directed city staff to bring back more information about potential lighting and turf at the sports park. During upcoming budget meetings, council will consider those projects against other items competing for funding.

Lochner said turf would keep the fields open throughout the year, reduce maintenance costs, save water and put an end to drainage issues.

Because the grass is often beat up, the Leo Mullen soccer field is closed March through June and the baseball field in August for renovations. And the fields easily flood when it rains, meaning games the next few days are then canceled, public speakers said.

It’s estimated that installing artificial turf would cost $1 million. Yet maintaining turf over 10 years would cost $50,000, as opposed to $200,000 for natural grass.

To offset the installation expense, league officials said they’re willing to commit $200,000 over 10 years to put in turf at the sports park.

Speakers stated the new Encinitas Community Park only has one dedicated soccer field, hardly enough to fill the deficit of local fields. And league coach Chad Busick said surrounding cities have turf fields, while Encinitas has none.

“How is it possible that in El Cajon at an elementary school, they can have turf, and we can’t have one turf field here (in Encinitas),” Busick said, adding the lack of quality fields makes it tough to recruit and retain local players.

Youth soccer player T.J. Ponder said turf at the sports park would mean fewer injuries because the field is “all dirt and lots of holes.”

Councilman Mark Muir said he’s tired of driving by and seeing either the soccer or baseball field closed as part of regular maintenance cycles.

“We need to address this issue sooner than later,” Muir said.

He made a motion, which the council approved, for the city to apply for a $272,000 grant from the Metropolitan Water District to convert the field to turf.

For nighttime games, Lochner, the league president, said the league rents portable lights from September to March for $4,500 a month. He stressed that money could be spent improving the league in other ways.

Also, players said the lights are too dim.

Lochner said permanent lights could stay on until 9 p.m. without affecting the surrounding community. The sports park’s proximity to well-lit Target indicates neighbors are unlikely to oppose it, he added.

Permanent lights would have to go to a public vote if they exceeded Proposition A’s 30-foot height cap.

To fulfill council’s motion, parks and recreation staff members will come back with: the costs of lighting; the California Coastal Commission’s approval process for lights; and if lights under 30 feet could be suitable for the park. And they will present various turf alternatives.

Besides soccer, Encinitas National Little League commonly plays at the six-acre sports park, with other leagues playing there less frequently. It’s located at 951 Via Cantebria.