Soccer players can’t seem to stay away from the artificial turf field at the Mar Vista Recreation Center.
More than two years after the soccer field, located at the west end of Mar Vista Park on Woodbine Street, first opened, it remains a hot spot for competitive soccer players from throughout Los Angeles. Games and practices are held on the synthetic turf surface throughout the day and into the night.
The field is so popular that people continue to stay there even after the games have ended and the park has closed, leading to heightened noise, trash and alcohol and drug use, some residents say.
The excessive usage and late-night gatherings on the field have reemphasized the need for a fence to be placed around the field, according to the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The heavily used field appears to be “falling apart,” with people playing throughout the day, said Debby Rolland, superintendent of the Recreation and Parks Department west region.
Fences are installed at each of the department’s other artificial turf fields for security and protection of the surface, as well as to help prevent usage when the parks are closed, Rolland said.
“Anytime we put up an artificial field, it’s fenced,” she said.
The Mar Vista Park soccer field, which is the only synthetic turf field of the Recreation and Parks Department that does not have a locked fence, was enclosed when it first opened. The chain-link fence was later removed after residents complained that the fence divided the open space area.
The Department of Recreation and Parks is now planning to bring a fence back to the Mar Vista field and Rolland was on hand at a community meeting Monday, December 3rd, to unveil the latest plan to the community.
With the department’s new proposal, it’s not the need for the fence but the location of the enclosure that has many park users up in arms.
The department has proposed installing a ten-foot-high chain-link fence along the existing mow strip, 15 feet from the soccer field, around the north, west and east sides of the field, according to Rolland. Along the south side, the fence would be pushed back to 56 feet, creating a practice area for the field. New bleachers would also be installed outside the fence.
Rolland said fences for artificial turf fields are designed to go up on the existing mow strip, but some soccer proponents claim that the proposal is unsafe and does not create enough room for players and spectators by being only 15 feet from the field.
“Fifteen feet is insufficient,” Mar Vista Community Council member and youth soccer advocate Sharon Commins told the department representatives. “We’re all working for a common goal — to make the field safe and playable.”
Brent Wittlesey, an area director for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) who is familiar with other fields in the city, also objected to the location of the fence, saying that it needed to be farther from the field.
“You don’t have to put the fence up right against the field,” Wittlesey told the department representatives. “You can’t operate a soccer field with this kind of restricted area.”
Commins said the fence plan does not take into account the parents and spectators who need enough room near the sidelines to watch the games. The fence should be at least 20 feet from the field to allow for room and prevent players from sliding into the barrier, she said.
Other parents expressed similar concerns with players running into the fence, but Rolland proclaimed that the structure “meets industry safety standards.”
If the Department of Recreation and Parks were to push the fence back to 20 feet from the field on the north, west and east sides, the move would be too costly for the department, Rolland said.
Several park users expressed frustration with the department’s plan, saying that they were not informed of the proposal and did not have a chance to offer input.
Rolland countered that there were a number of community meetings held on the plan, which was developed with input from park users and residents.
“We had multiple community meetings regarding the park process,” she said.
The recreation department superintendent also noted that the plan had to consider the concerns of neighbors living near the park who want to keep soccer balls from flying onto their property and prevent noise coming from the field at night.
“We believe that this is a workable compromise between the field users and residents,” Rolland said.
In an effort to settle concerns regarding noise and security, the Mar Vista Community Council supported a “Blueprint for a Better Mar Vista Park” earlier this year, which offered a number of recommendations, including that a perimeter fence be constructed 20 feet from the turf field.
But some Mar Vista park proponents claim that the recreation department’s plan ignores the issues addressed in the blueprint.
“We have a blueprint that the community has bought into,” Mar Vista Park Advisory Board chair Jerry Hornof said, referring to the plan supported by the Community Council. “But that’s not the vision that Recreation and Parks has decided to move forward with.”
Some residents at the December 3rd meeting said they would be willing to support a plan that moved the fence 20 feet from the field and behind the bleachers on the east and west sides, while keeping the proposed practice area on the south side.
Rolland, who said she will discuss the community recommendations with department officials, added that they will look into the potential costs of moving the fence and determine if any changes should be made.