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Soccer league to push for field lights

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Soccer League is working to get an initiative on the November ballot that would allow field lights to be placed at the Leo Mullen Sports Park, providing yet another test of Proposition A on the 2016 ballot.

The city and soccer club had been working over the past year on a plan to replace the grass fields with artificial turf and install permanent field lights that would be shorter than 30 feet, so as to avoid an election. Proposition A would require voters to approve the installation of any structure taller than 30 feet.

City officials recently learned, however, that the Encinitas Ranch Specific Plan, the document approved 22 years ago that has guided the development of 852-acre Encinitas Ranch area, prohibits field lights of any kind at Leo Mullen. Proposition A, which voters approved in 2013, requires that any change to the plan that would result in an intensification of an existing use has to go before voters.

Field lights means longer hours of play, thus qualifying as intensification, city planners revealed.

Encinitas Soccer League president Rick Lochner said at the Jan. 13 council meeting that his organization is pursuing a ballot initiative that would make it possible to have lights on the field.

“We are working on a citizens initiative to get lights at Leo Mullen, and we expect to get it on the November ballot and passed,” Lochner said.

If the initiative were to make the ballot, it would be potentially one of two “Prop. A” items before voters. The other is the proposed housing element, which is also expected to be on the ballot.

The council applauded the soccer league for taking the step.

“I think (the ballot measure) is going to have broad appeal,” Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear said at the Jan. 13 council meeting, which saw the council vote 4-1 in favor of proceeding with the $1.2 million artificial turf installation at the park. “I am really happy to hear that and thank you for sharing that information.”

Mayor Kristin Gaspar, in voicing her support of the renovation, said the city isn’t in the financial position of neighboring cities such as Carlsbad to install a number of these synthetic turf fields, but the city should see the million dollars going toward the fields as a prudent expenditure.

“It is harder to achieve this quality of a field (in Encinitas), but I am telling you it is a great investment,” she said.

Lisa Shaffer voted against the project, calling the price tag and the lack of money set aside for future turf replacement “difficult to justify.”

“While I’m all for youth sports, I just can’t justify $1.2 million for one field that serves only one group of residents, in advance of our Parks Master Plan that is intended to identify where we need additional investment and what our priorities should be,” Shaffer said in her newsletter to supporters. “I also objected to the absence of any financial plan that would set aside funding every year toward the cost of the $500,000 needed to replace the turf in 8-10 years.”