Synthetic turf OKd for 2 sports fields at Newport's Bonita Creek Park February 06 2015

Bonita Creek Park will soon be home to Newport Beach's first synthetic turf fields.

The city Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission voted 4 to 1 on Tuesday night to sign off on the $2-million project at the park's combined football and soccer field, as well as the outfield of the adjacent softball field. Construction is expected to begin in May and be completed by fall.

In 2008, the city contracted with Arizona-based CMX Sports Engineers to conduct a feasibility study for converting grass sports fields to more-durable synthetic turf to increase the fields' availability.

After reviewing criteria such as the number of sports played on a field, lighting, parking and irrigation utilities, the two Bonita Creek fields ranked first in priority for synthetic turf, said Sean Levin, the city's deputy director of recreation and senior services.

"Synthetic turf only makes sense when you have lights on the field," he said. "Without lights, you don't get enough use of the field to justify paying for it."

Parks Commissioner Tom Anderson voted against the project, saying he believes the commission should explore adding another soccer field to the park because it is so widely used.

"There are not going to be more lit fields in this city," Anderson said. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to see if we can add another field."

Vice Chairman Roy Englebrecht abstained from the vote, and Commissioner Kathy Hamilton was absent.

The city receives nearly year-round requests to use the fields at Bonita Creek, 3010 La Vida, from youth and adult soccer, baseball, football and softball leagues. However, the current natural turf fields are unavailable for one-third of every year because the grass needs renovation and recovery between seasons, according to a city staff report.

"Completion of this project will increase the use of the converted fields by approximately 30% annually, which creates greater capacity for the sports community as a whole," the staff report states.

Synthetic fields, which typically last 10 to 13 years, also can have environmental benefits. Unlike grass, the turf doesn't need to be watered, which is important because of the state's drought conditions, Levin said.

However, making a switch from grass to synthetic turf isn't without controversy.

Some activists say the materials used in artificial-grass fields contain high levels of zinc, lead, benzene and other toxins that could be harmful to athletes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not come out with a firm position on the safety of the materials.

Newport Beach reviewed more than 60 studies from state governments including those of California, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, as well as from school districts that have examined and debunked safety concerns about synthetic turf, the staff report states.

Levin said his research makes him confident that the turf will be safe.

"Study after study shows that it's safe," he said. "You just have to dig into the science."

CdM pocket park

Construction of a 1,300-square-foot pocket park in Corona del Mar is expected to begin in April.

The Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission approved the wording of a plaque to be placed at the park honoring Myrtle Cox, who donated the land to Newport Beach in 2012.

The patch of land is on a sloping lot behind the Hobie Surf Shop mural at 3140 E. Coast Hwy.

Cox, who lived in El Cajon but owned several commercial properties in Newport Beach, died in December 2013, resulting in delays with the transfer of the property.

Now that the transfer is complete, the city can move forward with the park, which is expected to cost about $90,000, according to city staff.

The park will feature a bench, planters and low-maintenance plants.

"The overall theme of the pocket park will be simple, clean and contemporary," the staff report states.

The project is expected to be completed in the fall.