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Neighbors Fight (Astro) Turf War With SD Parks

This park on Montezuma Road is covered with artificial turf, which may be the way of future for small joint-use parks in San Diego.
Tom Fudge
This park on Montezuma Road is covered with artificial turf, which may be the way of future for small joint-use parks in San Diego.
Neighbors Fight (Astro) Turf War With SD Parks
City policy that favors artificial turf for new joint-use parks is rubbing College Area residents the wrong way.

Troy Murphree is a homeowner in the College Area who's been working for years to create a city park on the playgrounds of Harriet Tubman School. One Friday morning she unlocked a gate to show me the grounds; about an acre of land covered with ground granite.

If plans go ahead, the locked gate will eventually go away and this would become a joint-use park for both residents and school kids. Money for the park's design is finally in the city budget. Full funding for park development is expected from impact fees, coming from the development of Alvarado Apartments.

But there’s one thing the neighbors don’t like about this scenario. Park officials tell them the park surface will be synthetic turf. There are a few reasons locals don’t want that. They argue replacing it every dozen years would be as expensive and troublesome as maintaining grass.

But the biggest reason may be their belief that "astroturf" will make the park too hot.

"With all the concrete, rooftops and asphalt around here we have an urban heat island. And this is going to make it worse if we have artificial turf here," said Murphree.

Synthetic turf is already being used in some San Diego parks. The same Friday I visited the Tubman school, I saw the new synthetic turf on the grounds of the Language Academy, just a mile away. This place is already seeing joint use between the city and the school district. That day, kids were having a softball practice on the impeccably green surface.

Park system assistant director Scott Reese confirms city policy favors artificial turf for joint-use parks, which are less than an acre and a half. Astroturf does have some drawbacks, and heat absorption is one of them. Studies show mid-summer weather can make the surface of synthetic turf dramatically hotter than a natural surface -- so hot some sports programs hose down the surface to cool it down before use.

But Reese said the grass on small joint-use parks gets too beat up.

"There's just an intensity of use, right in the middle of these sites,” he said. “There's just no way that we or the school district can maintain a natural turf on them ... the kind of natural turf the community would expect."

Neighbors said this grass fight isn't over, and Reese said the park system typically prefers natural turf. But he adds synthetic turf would surely be better than the decomposed granite that now covers the Tubman school grounds.