Image from Councilwoman Gonzalez Facebook page
(Nov. 19, 2017, 9:10 a.m., with material added Nov. 20) -- In our opinion, the most important part of City Hall's press release announcing the Nov. 18 opening of Seaside Park's (14th/Chestnut Ave.) artificial turf sports field was this phrase:
"The new turf field uses a natural, renewable blend of cork and sand infill..."
Those few words implicitly acknowledge -- but merit explicit discussion of and gratitude to -- LB residents whose efforts resulted in the City, to its credit, using a synthetic turf blending natural materials instead of recycled-tire "crumb rubber." The residents overcame initial resistance from one City Council incumbent (Mungo) and prevailed without publicly audible or visible support from other Council incumbents and LB's incumbent Mayor.
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"I've been excited for this project since I was on the City Council representing the area," said Mayor Robert Garcia quoted in City Hall's Nov. 18 press release, after he failed to take a public position on the "crumb rubber" issue for the entire period. His successor, 1st district Council incumbent Lena Gonzalez, was to our knowledge likewise silent on the issue although it would directly affect the sports field she now touts in her district.
LBREPORT.com opens our "Amnesia File" to revisit what became an intensely fought issue
In Sept. 2013 and Sept. 2014 budget votes, the Council assumed cost savings from installing artificial turf at three locations -- El Dorado Park West (ELB), Admiral Kidd Park (WLB) and Seaside Park (14th/Chestnut about a mile due north of LB's Civic Center) -- but didn't specify what type of artificial material to use.
By the latter half of 2014, news stories had appeared in a number of cities nationally questioning the use of synthetic turf made with "crumb rubber," a recycled rubber made from car and truck scrap tires. The news stories came to the attention of veteran LB park advocate Ann Cantrell and El Dorado Park South neighborhood leader Grace Earl. Although the news stories acknowledged and industry interests noted that there was no definitive evidence linking crumb rubber to cancer or other health issues, concerns grew locally, especially in the 5th Council district (with one of the artificial turf sites planned for El Dorado Park.)
By early 2015, the issue had grown too big to ignore. On February 23, 2015, 5th district Councilwoman Stacy Mungo (who took office on July 15, 2014) scheduled a public meeting on the issue that drew over 200 people. But with the exception of exchanges with the audience near the end of the 90+ minute meeting (by which time many had left), Mungo didn't let the public speak affirmatively (pro or con) on the subject of the public meeting.
Instead, after concise staff and City Hall-hired consultant presentations (one of whom opined that roughly 60 studies he'd seen to date hadn't shown a cancer link), Councilwoman Mungo told the audience to disbelieve a grassroots distributed flier (opposed to the synthetic field) that she said contained inaccuracies and much of her presentation focused on budget issues, not health concerns.
Councilwoman Mungo then read a stack of questions/comments written on cards by residents to which she offered all the answers. At one point, Councilwoman Mungo told the audience that if they didn't want their children playing on crumb rubber in El Dorado Park, they could use soccer fields elsewhere in town that would use other materials. That drew a response from Parks & Rec Director George Chapjian (who's since exited, now replaced by Marie Knight) who corrected her publicly, stating that his department wouldn't use different materials in one park and not another, and whatever material was chosen would be used citywide and his Department will treat health concerns seriously.
After about an hour of this when Councilwoman Mungo said she'd read the final card, Ms. Cantrell raised her hand and sought to speak about alleged health issues concerning the use of "crumb rubber" synthetic turf.
To see/hear how Councilwoman Mungo treated Ms. Cantrell (a taxpaying constituent), click this link.
After the meeting, Ms. Cantrell emailed LB Councilmembers and the Mayor with what she had tried to say at the public meeting:
...These proposed fields are made of recycled tires which are ground into "crumb rubber." There are many questions about the safety of this material. In fact, [CA state] Senator Hill has a proposed bill, SB47, in the CA legislature, which calls for "studies analyzing potential adverse health impacts of synthetic turf" and "prohibiting installation of a new field or playground surface made from synthetic turf in schools or public parks."...
On May 28, 2015, State Senator Hill's bill (SB 47) to study the potential health impacts of synthetic turf and in the interim prohibit its installation on new fields or playgrounds in schools or public parks was blocked by Long Beach-area state Senator Ricardo Lara (D., Long Beach-Huntington Park). It came in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Sen. Lara chairs, at which a soccer coach and high school cancer survivor testified in support of the bill, while rubber and recycling industry representatives, labor interests and a group representing school business officials who said they supported a study of crumb rubber's safety but opposed the bill as then-written. [Sen. Lara was re-elected in 2016, immediately announced he's running for State Insurance Commissioner in 2018 and introduced a bill supporting a state government run "single payer" health care system.]
The issue continued to escalate. On June 15, 2015, LB's Parks & Recreation Commission (Mayor chosen/Council approved) held a specially agendized meeting on the issue. Parks & Rec staff recommended using crumb rubber coated with some type of acrylic material, which it said was cooler than uncoated crumb rubber and could "mitigate" health concerns. Staff also offered the Commission a list of various types of materials from which it could choose, including GeoFill/GeoTurf (a natural material composed of coconut husks, rice, etc.) but estimated it would cost more than $50,000 more per field than acrylic coated crumb rubber.
Following intense public testimony, Commissioner Ben Goldberg made a substitute motion to recommend that the City Manager use the natural GeoFill/GeoTurf "coconut husk" material . a type of synthetic soccer field material that didn't include crumb rubber. It carried on a
That still didn't settle the issue, since the City Attorney took the position that the Commission's vote was only a recommendation to management, leaving city staff (in the absence of a City Council voted directive) to decide what to do.
On September 1, 2015, during City Council discussion of the FY16 budget for LB's Parks & Rec Dept., Councilwoman Mungo indicated some behind-the-scenes movement toward using some type of grass, not artificial turf at the Studebaker/Willow soccer field. And Councilman Roberto Uranga asked about the possible use of artificial turf at Admiral Kidd Park in his district, noting health concerns raised about some types of artificial turf. Then-interim Parks & Rec Director Stephen Scott told the Council:
...The lion's share of the fields out there [elsewhere] use an infill product that is made up of recycled crumb rubber, and there had been some health concerns regarding the use of that infill material...Those are...examples of infill materials that we are not looking at. Our Parks & Recreation Commission has recommended that we pursue an organic infill material and some of those examples are ground-up coconut husks or cork, as infill options. And so we are proceeding down the road of an organic infill material, not a crumb rubber or recycled tire or other plastic rubber infill material.
The issue hasn't gone away nationally. The "Safe Fields Alliance" states on the front page of its website that "Synthetic turf is safe. There is no scientific or medical evidence that synthetic turf with or without crumb rubber poses a human health or environmental risk" and continues "Dozens of scientific studies, including peer-reviewed academic analyses and federal and state government reports, have all found no connection between these fields and cancer or other health issues."
That may be fine for some other cities...but in Long Beach, to quote City Hall's press release, "The new turf field uses a natural, renewable blend of cork and sand infill..."
And for that, we believe LB families and taxpayers should thank Ms. Cantrell, Ms. Earl and other residents for their advocacy, and Parks & Rec Commissioner Ben Goldberg for his substitute motion and a slim majority of that Commission for their recommendation, and city staff, now with Marie Knight as Parks and Rec Director, who we believe collectively did the right thing.
Material added Nov. 20: Following publication of our story above, Ms. Cantrell emailed: "I am happy the new field at Seaside is cork and sand, not recycled rubber, but still believe that a well-done, natural grass field is safer and cheaper than artificial turf in the long run. $1.7 Million a field is outrageous! LB could have built 3 or 4, level, gopher-free, long lasting, natural turf fields for this money."
And Better Balance for Long Beach co-founders Dan Pressburg and Annie Greenfield tell us they met with then-Councilman Robert Garcia, urged him to support using natural turf instead of crumb rubber artificial turf, and found him unwilling to commit to do so.
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