ENCINITAS — City Council cleared the way for construction of five lighted sports fields at the Hall property during a packed meeting Oct. 22. The 3-2 vote reverses the Planning Commission’s denial of the project.
Councilwomen Teresa Barth and Maggie Houlihan opposed the motion to set aside the commission’s concerns about the impacts of traffic and lighting at the proposed park site on the surrounding neighborhood. Barth said she was unable to approve the appeal, brought by the Parks and Recreation Department, because of the inclusion of 90-foot light poles in the plan. Houlihan agreed, adding that traffic issues had not been properly mitigated.
The meeting was the second day of public testimony that brought out approximately 70 speakers. Both opponents and supporters of the plan agreed that the park was a benefit to the community and should be built.
Stacy Cruchner, a Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident, said that the council should have denied the appeal. “They (City Council) effectively said that the Planning Commission shouldn’t have even bothered meeting about the park,” she said. “I think the park is so politicized right now that the Planning Commission’s decision should have been given more weight.”
The inability to design a park to fit the needs and desires of the entire community has plagued the council since purchasing the 43-acre property south of Santa Fe Drive and west of Interstate 5 in 2001. “We have surveys and workshops that show what the public wanted out of this park,” Houlihan said.
The first phase of the plan calls for five dedicated, multi-use sports fields, two baseball overlays, a dog park, children’s play structures and walking trails.
The council also voted to certify the environmental impact report in a motion set forth by Councilman Dan Dalager. However, some residents feared that the land that was used for flower growing is too toxic to be used as a park. The document analyzed the potential health hazards during the construction phase of the development.
During the initial removal of debris in 2003, the city was sued by a local group called the Citizens for Quality of Life for failing to conduct an environmental review of the land that had been the site of a nursery for decades. The court ruled in the group’s favor, saying that the California Environmental Quality Act required the analysis.
The report found that workers and neighbors could be exposed to potentially harmful contaminants that are present in the soil during the grading activities. These include pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, asbestos and lead-based paint present in the wooden structures that must be excavated. However, the report offers mitigation measures to control airborne particulates below a level of significance. The state’s Department of Environmental Health said in a letter to the city that it would review precautionary measures before they were implemented to ensure the safety of workers and those in the surrounding neighborhoods.
While some residents hailed the decision as a win for sports enthusiasts, others warned that it may be short-lived. Jerry Sodomka, a member of Citizens for Quality of Life, said it may appeal the City Council’s decision to the state Coastal Commission.