Irvine Considers Coir-Based Artificial Turf for Some Great Park Sports Fields: The Process

This is the first article in a five-part series focusing on an Irvine Staff proposal to use a new coir-based artificial turf product on some Great Park Sports fields. The series highlights the artificial turf discussion that occurred at the May 8th Sustainability Commission meeting. The May 8th discussion included the pros and cons of using the coir-based artificial turf product. It also included the pros and cons of artificial turf in general for sports fields. The Great Park board and Irvine City Council will decide this issue, likely in July.

Staff Process and Proposal

Irvine Staff has proposed that the City of Irvine use a new artificial turf product for some sports fields in the Great Park.

This product is coir-based (a coconut fiber base that is referred to as Geofill), not crumb-rubber based. Currently, crumb-rubber based artificial turf is more widely used than coir-based for artificial turf sports fields. Staff worked with an artificial turf company, a designer, and the Irvine Sports Committee to formulate their proposal. This process that was used to formulate Staff’s proposal has been a long-term process.

Staff proposal is to use coir-based artificial turf in the following areas of the Great Park:

  • Convert two natural grass sports fields to the coir-based artificial turf
  • Replace the artificial turf on two sports fields with the coir-based artificial turf
  • Convert four all-purpose natural grass fields to artificial turf soccer fields

Recently, Staff presented their proposal to the Irvine Community Services and Sustainability Commission. This was in April and May of this year, respectively. Both presentations were receive and file. Next, Staff will present their proposal to the Great Park board and Irvine city council. The board and city council have the final say on this. They will  approve, modify, or completely reject the proposal. This is likely to happen in July.

The May 8th Sustainability Commission Meeting

Speakers made pro and con statements at the May 8th Sustainability Commission meeting.

Speaking in Favor

“The reason we are here this afternoon is because we are excited. We are excited to introduce two synthetic turf projects at the Great Park….
—Irvine Staff at the May 8th Sustainability

The above quote is a statement that Irvine Staff made at the May 8th Sustainability Commission meeting. It was Staff’s opening remark on  its proposal to use a new  artificial turf product for some sports fields at the Great Park.

The new artificial turf product is coir-based, instead of crumb rubber based. In addition to praising this new artificial turf product for sports fields, they also emphasized the benefits of artificial turf in general for sports fields.

Staff also pointed out that the Irvine city council already approved the use of artificial turf for four Great Park sports fields (see the first two bullet points above). This approval occurred on June 13, 2023 as part of the fiscal years 2023-2025 budget approval process. The approval was for artificial turf in general for the four fields, but not the coir-based product.

The following staff members spoke in favor of using the coir-based artificial turf for some fields in the Great Park.

  • Alex Salazar, Manager of Project Deliver, Public Works and Sustainability Department
  • Joe Dillman, Manager of Public Services, Public Works & Sustainability Department
  • Cory Hilderbrand, Manager of Community Services

Ryan Bertoni, Chair of the Irvine Sports Committee, also spoke in favor of Staff’s proposal.

Note: Upcoming articles in this series will provide more details on  Bertoni’s comments as well as Staff’s favorable comments and opponents’ comments.

Also, the city council has not currently approved the conversion of the four all purpose Great Park fields to artificial grass soccer fields.  Instead, this is a proposal that the Irvine Community Services Department is asking the Public Works and Sustainability Department to undertake.

Speaking in Opposition

As shown by Staff’s opening statement (see the above quote), Staff’s presentation on using the coir-based turf product as well as on using artificial turf in general for sports fields was favorable. However, many speakers at the May 8th Sustainability meeting spoke against Staff’s proposal.

They were as follows:

  • Dianne Woelke, Board Member with Safe Healthy Playing Fields
  • Chris McGuire PhD, Earth Systems Science UCI
  • Rika Gopinath, Beyond Pesticides, Parks for a Sustainable Future Program
  • John E. Bischoff, Kids.Org
  • Hoiyin Ip, Sierra Club
  • Two Irvine Residents

Staff Process Questioned

The public commenters listed above criticized the process that Staff used to come to its conclusions. Greenwashing and an insider’s gift were two terms that some commenters used to describe Staff’s proposal.

These commenters criticized Staff’s presentation as one-sided. The commenters gave the artificial turf approval at the June 2023 budget approval process as an example. As mentioned above, the Irvine city council approved the use of artificial turf on the four Great park sports fields as part of the 2023 budget approval process. However, Hoiyun Ip of the Sierra Club pointed out that the budget packet provided to the city council did not include any information on Staff’s proposal to use artificial turf for these four fields. What Staff did provide was one line on one slide in Staff’s June 2023 budget presentation. The criticism is that this allowed this item to slip through the process without adequate attention. Opponents also gave another example: Staff talked about the benefits of artificial turf but did not adequately talk about health and safety issues.

An additional criticism was that Staff did not attach written reports for this agenda item when they presented it at the Irvine Commission meetings in April and May. This made it difficult for Commissioners and the public to adequately prepare to ask  relevant questions.

Irvine resident Michelle Johnson made an additional point: The artificial turf company that Staff seemed to base much of their information on has installed this coir-based turf on relatively few sports fields. She suggested that Staff reach out to organizations that have installed this company’s coir-based turf for their sports fields and get feedback on their experience.

Lack of Adequate Outreach to All Stakeholders Claimed

Opponents also made the following comments: As was appropriate, Staff  collaborated on this with the Irvine Sports Committee over a long period. However, other stakeholders were not given equal access to provide input on the decision making process. For example, even those Staff had worked on formulating this proposal for a long period, the proposal to use the coir-based artificial turf on Great Park fields was only presented in the last few months to the Community Services and Sustainability Commissions as a receive-and-file item. Receive and file means that the commissioners could take no direct action on what they heard in the presentation.

Also, Hoiyin Ip of the Sierra Club pointed out that the OC Soccer Club asked that natural grass be used for its playing fields.

Up Next

https://i0.wp.com/www.cityofirvine.org/sites/default/files/styles/department_feature/public/homepage-feature/HeaderCrop%20Sports%20BG%20only%201440x400.jpg?resize=800%2C222&ssl=1
The Irvine Great Park Sports Complex

This article highlights the process that Staff used to formula a proposal for a new coir-based artificial turf product for some Great Park sports fields.

Upcoming articles in this series will focus on the discussion at the May 8th Sustainability Commission meeting regarding some factors that are often associated with artificial turf. They are the following: PFAS (Forever Chemicals), other toxins, health issues, injury risks, field temperatures, water use, maintenance required, playing times, costs, and recycling. In addition, the last article in this series lists the feedback that the Sustainability Commissioners directed Staff to provide to the Irivne city council. By providing this feedback, Staff will enable the Irvine city council to consider the Sustainability Commission assessment of Staff’s proposal.

The next article in this series will focus on the following: PFAS (Forever Chemicals), other toxins and health issues associated with artificial turf, including coir-based artificial turf.