For North Sunnyvale residents near Lakewood Park, the grass is literally greener on the other side of town.
Residents who live in a historically underserved, low-income community fought to add more green spaces in their neighborhood at Tuesday’s Sunnyvale City Council meeting. They convinced councilmembers to switch plans from installing artificial turf to grass on the Lakewood Park athletic fields. Residents voiced concerns including increased injuries caused by artificial turf, damage to the environment and increased generated heat. Lakewood Park is the next park of the city’s 26 slated for renovations.
“If you drive through our neighborhood, you will notice that, unlike neighborhoods in richer parts of Sunnyvale, our neighborhoods don’t have a lot of nice green lawns. Most of our front yards are cement or rocks, or brown grass, or even artificial lawn,” resident Shailaja Domala said.
Councilmembers unanimously approved the park renovations, though Councilmember Alysa Cisneros was absent.The city council also asked staff to look into removing fencing from certain parts of the design and research drought resistant natural grasses for the fields.
Marcelo Arias, a Lakewood resident and middle school soccer coach, spoke about the poor field quality and lack of working lights, which makes teams less competitive.
“We don’t have the same tools other kids have,” Arias told San José Spotlight.
More than 40 people spoke in favor of natural grass, many from the Lakewood neighborhood, emphasizing the lack of green space in the community. Others shared concerns about environmental impacts, pointing out the challenges in recycling artificial turf plastics and possible microplastics in the water.
“Please do not take away my children’s and their classmates’ ability to run free on the grass (and) fly kites,” Lakewood resident Richard Lesher said.
Representatives from athletic groups in the city supported the artificial turf. Sunnyvale Little League President Mike Lee said artificial turf would improve field quality and increase the amount of use, because it does not have to be rehabilitated like natural grass.
Other athletic representatives talked about the recently renovated Fair Oaks Park, which has experienced high demand from the city’s various sports groups since getting an artificial turf field. They also brought up the quality of the city’s athletic fields, calling out gopher holes and dry patches in the natural grass.
“Aside from the coaches and referees, the biggest resource we need is fields,” Sunnyvale Alliance Soccer Club Vice President Haruko Matsuda said of the high demand.
Councilmembers discussed the environmental concerns and lack of a budget difference between artificial turf and natural grass.
“For me, artificial turf is plastic. Plastic is plastic,” Councilmember Murali Srinivasan said. “On one side, we want to be LEED platinum and use natural energy sources, but on the other side, we’d be using fossil fuels.”
While the decision to use natural grass was unanimous, councilmembers were divided over other aspects of the park, such as how to add cricket batting cages. Councilmember Richard Mehlinger proposed creating a policy to ban artificial turf from future city projects, but that was shot down in a 2-4 vote, with Mehlinger and Councilmember Linda Sell supporting it.
Vice Mayor Omar Din, who represents the park in District 6, said the neighborhood has historically received fewer resources and that the park serves as an important community space. The city has future plans to build its first branch library adjacent to Lakewood Park, which will include a community resource room, and Din said this will better support the communities who use the park space.
“It’s important to consider that when we look at really luscious beautiful natural grass fields across the city, the best ones that we’ve seen have not been in North Sunnyvale,” Din told San José Spotlight. “Down the line, we can figure out what works best, what doesn’t work best, in the city. But I think right now, North Sunnyvale deserves not to be the guinea pig.”