Thursday, September 3, 2009

Newport Hills Park Astroturf update

This just in thanks to Carolyn Pastoriza:

A meeting is planned for next Tuesday, September 8 at 6pm to discuss astroturf at Newport Hills park. As far as I can tell there has been no formal announcement or publicity from City of Bellevue Parks Dept regarding this.
Keep reading for a synopsis of earlier posts on this subject, or scroll to the bottom for links to some of the many articles available on the subject of synthetic turf's health concerns

The dark green is synthetic turf; the lighter green is the baseball outfield which will be natural grass. Currently the park is all natural grass. The usefully flexible but frequently muddy nature of natural grass is what has the organized soccer community in Bellevue circling our neighborhood park like bald eagles above Lake Washington.

These photos taken at the annual 4th of July picnic are a gentle reminder that none of these activities will be allowed at Newport Hills Park next summer. See below and click on the Robinswood signboard for the rules there. They will apply here as well.

We have a little park with a tiny playground and a lot of grassy space. In the summer that grassy space is filled with kids doing soccer camp. Dogs are walked, kites are flown and frisbees are thrown. Families picnic and babies take their first wobbly steps.

The younger kids have always been in the majority. It's what you call a "pocket park" with a baseball diamond. Definitely a neighborhood attraction. At this point it is the only public place where people can gather outside in this neighborhood. Always immaculately clean and wholesome. The neighbors love it and have never thought it needed changing, as far as I know.

As I wrote back in July after the City Parks Department mailed the following postcard to Newport Hills residents:

"Join us as we share sportsfield improvements plans for Newport Hills Community Park as part of the voter approved Parks levy."

Seems innocuous, but the important words here are Community Park. Not a neighborhood park but a community park. A definition is in order here: a community park serves the needs of the community at large; in this case, the eastside soccer community. By any definition, this is a neighborhood park. It's tiny--just big enough for a grassy field and a cramped little playground.

What is missing in this invitation are the words "synthetic turf." Because that is all that got talked about at the ensuing meeting.

The thing is that the City, with 1.8 million dollars in their pocket to spend on Newport Hills park improvements, chose to spend it on the installation of synthetic turf. This was presented as a "done deal" because the City has no other options for siting a community soccer field in existing neighborhoods. Guess why not. People don't want them in their neighborhood.

Now at Surrey Downs and Eastgate neighborhoods, when this levy was approved, expansions at Surrey Downs include open lawns, picnic spots and a skateboarding area. A "development zone" has been reserved to allow for a community center. The process takes about 18 months, according to "Bellevue: It's Your City June 2009". Over at Eastgate, an off-leash dog area, picnic facilities and trails will be on offer in addition to the possibility of lighted sportsfields and an indoor recreation building. The City purchased properties from the Boeing Co and the BSD, which is interesting because we were told at the meeting that The City isn't in the business of land acquisition.

Understandably, the meeting was heated. After all, Newport Hills is practically dying on the vine and all the City can offer for their 1.8 mil is some astroturf and a guarantee of late bedtimes for the neighborhood kids who can't get to sleep because of the year-round usage of the park til 10:30 at night, fully lit and noisy.

Apparently you can't walk your dog on the stuff, eat on it, put stakes in it for fairs, etc., and, according to recent studies, it's not good for your kids' health (see below).

When will the City Parks Department involve neighbors in a meaningful way? When will the Park Department talk to the Bellevue City Manager and Neighborhood Planner as well as the Economic Development Director and/or Bellevue School District, not to mention retail property owners sitting on empty buildings to come up with a plan for Newport Hills' survival? Astroturf is not the answer.

Aesthetically, it smells like the inside of Les Schwab's and looks terribly unnatural. Like painted asphalt. Leaves lie on top of it in a very surreal way. There's no way they could be raked off--of course they're blown--I can only imagine what a McFlurry looks like spilled on this stuff. Click on the photo to identify litter: mainly leaves and an orange peel.

And then there are the rules. At Robinswood, the public can be asked to take their dogs to the dogpark, their children to the playground, the frisbee players and kiteflyers to the grassy field, and for anything else you do besides soccer there seems to be ample room. This is not the case with Newport Hills park. To ask us to compare Newport Hills' tiny but well-used neighborhood park with the massive expanse that is Robinswood's is ludicrous, to put it mildly.

Come on City of Bellevue--you know we're underserved in this department. You've said so yourselves. It's time to ask the people of our community what they want.

A ten-minute google survey reveals there is a lot to be concerned about from a health standpoint:
Center for Environmental Health here
and LATimes here
and SF Gate here
and USA Today here
and NPR here
and here
and Consumer Reports here
and NYTimes here

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