Drought Pushes Council to Consider Artificial Turf

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“Ten years ago I don’t think any of us would have had a burning desire to discuss this issue,” said a stern faced Mayor Ara J. Najarian during Tuesday night’s Glendale City Council meeting. “But [we are] now because of this severe drought and the requirement by Gov. Brown to reduce our water usage by 25%.”

The issue at hand was a new chapter in the ongoing debate over artificial turf in Glendale. In 2011 the city refused to allow the expansion of artificial turf on private property, with some councilmembers citing concerns over toxicity and safety.

Currently artificial turf is only permitted out of sight from public right-of-ways. Front lots must consist of no less than 50% of “living plant material.”

But things have changed in the face of California’s historic drought.

On the same day that the city was to debate the idea of exploring loosening restrictions on artificial turf, Assemblymember Mike Gatto introduced an amendment to bill AB-1164 that would prohibit local governments from banning its use.

Glendale has several choices, including moving forward with a number of options previously presented in 2011, which city staff said would make for a faster process. However, if the city intends to devise new amendments to its ordinances on artificial turf, city staff would have to organize new public outreach.

According to City Atty. Michael J. Garcia, staff could return to the Council with options by late August or early September.

Though the Council on Tuesday only directed staff to explore the issue further, the issue already provoked sharply diverging and passionate opinions from the public.

“[Artificial turf] is attractive and exceptional,” Louise Peebles said. “The world we’re going into is very dry. We need to be looking in those directions and not [opposing turf] because one doesn’t like it.”

But North Glendale resident Sharon Wiseman countered by saying that artificial turf comes with its own problems, including how to dispose of pet waste and runoff water that carries toxins from the turf.

“I urge you to not to allow any more fake grass,” she said. “Glendale should not go backward.”

But Pam Donaldson, who said that she and her husband have resided in the city for over 28 years, said that the city needs to consider the idea with an open mind. At the very least, she continued, the city should look to diminishing the amount of live plant materials required.

Even among the Council there was disagreement.

“Let’s even assume that it saves water,” said Councilmember Laura Friedman. “[Artificial turf] has just as bad reflectivity as asphalt, creating a heat island effect. One of the challenges as we move forward is going to be heat. Artificial turf increases that problem.”

She also said that plans to capture as much water runoff as possible could be stymied by artificial turf, thereby “losing this precious resource.”

“These products are made out of plastic,” she continued. “Plastics do leech into water. We could be looking at problems down the road.”

Councilmember Vartan Gharpetian said that while he shared some of his colleague’s concerns, he feels safe to have his own family use it.

He did have concerns, though, regarding how it would be installed on hillside properties, saying that he didn’t want the areas to look like “carpet.” Gharpetian also urged people on both sides of the debate to keep cool heads.

“Sometimes a hot topic comes about and everybody’s jumping the gun on issues that may not be issues,” he said. “I hope we can at least enforce quality [use] of quality [turf].”

But Mayor Najarian was adamant on his support for artificial turf.

“It saves water,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”

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