After studying the pros and cons, city staff recommended artificial turf for Crittenden Middle School, McKelvey Park and a new ball field facility slated for Shoreline Park.
"My gut response would be that I would prefer grass," said council member Ronit Bryant. "However, I tried to both ask staff lots of questions and Googled the subject myself. I didn't find flags that were of concern to me. Artificial turf seems like an acceptable solution."
Council member Margaret Abe-Koga had the only disagreement, saying that only McKelvey Park needed further consideration because neighbors who use the ball fields as a neighborhood park have opposed the use of synthetic turf there. No one else spoke against artificial turf during the meeting.
Craig Goldman, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, said the artificial turf installed a few years ago at Graham Middle School has been a "great success" which should be matched at the city's other middle school, Crittenden, where a 2.7-acre portion used for softball and soccer would receive artificial turf.
"It is important to provide equitable facilities on both sides of the expressway," Goldman said. Some people "feel that sometimes they don't get what the other side gets." This will "send a message that they are equally valuable to the community."
Because it resists trampling and doesn't get muddy in the winter, city staff said artificial turf would allow increased playability of the three fields.
"We're putting a lot of money into those fields so they should be able to be played on as much as possible, Bryant said.
The Graham field was used for 2,740 hours of playing time last year, more than double the 1,248-hour average for Whisman and other elementary schools which use natural turf. If lights were added, Graham could host 3,200 hours of field time.
Even while school is in session, "There's just a lot of people walking on that space," said Scott McGee, teacher and field coordinator at Graham. "It looks like nobody has been there. It is really amazing." Natural turf would get "muddy and squishy" from rain, but McGee noted that the synthetic turf is well used even on rainy days.
While it requires unusual cleanup costs — dog poop won't decompose as easily, and there's the daily pickup of gum, sunflower seeds and other debris at Graham — the maintenance costs of synthetic turf are $22 per hour versus $25 per hour for grass. And there are significant water savings, council members noted. The initial cost is higher for synthetic turf, adding $675,000 to the price of the Shoreline ball fields and $1 million every 10 years to replace it. City staff noted that old artificial turf can be recycled, and the "crumb rubber" underneath is made from recycled tires.
City staff reported conflicting study results about injury rates on synthetic turf. One study of 13-19 year olds found no difference in injury rates, while another study of college age users found rates of skin abrasions were three times higher. A study also showed that bacterial infections were no more likely on artificial turf and that volatile organic compounds from artificial turf were well below hazardous limits.
While synthetic turf can retain more heat during the summer, as much as 40 degrees more than grass, Community Services Director Dave Muela said it wasn't an issue because of the area's moderate climate.
"In other places the game is affected by it," McGee said, adding that the heat can be seen coming off the turf in late summer, and players prepare by bringing extra water to those games.
"The upside (of synthetic turf) is really much better than the downside," said Mayor Jac Siegel, although he added, "I wouldn't want to picnic on synthetic turf."
Some council members indicated that the use of synthetic turf should be limited to the three ball fields.