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Leo Mullen turf, lights up for discussion at council meeting

ENCINITAS — A large youth soccer organization in Encinitas is expected to lobby the City Council Wednesday for lights and artificial turf at one of the city’s sports parks.

The council on Wednesday is scheduled to discuss maintenance at the Leo Mullen Sports Park in Encinitas Ranch, which is the home field home for Encinitas Soccer Club, more popularly known as the Encinitas Express.

The club’s leadership sent out a missive to its 1,700 members to come to Wednesday’s City Council meeting and lobby the council to install artificial turf and field lights at the sports park.

Currently, the city of Encinitas does not have lights or turf on any of its city-owned fields, and one of the larger fields in the city — the Magdalena Ecke YMCA fields — are potentially in jeopardy due to the YMCA’s future expansion plans.

Those fields have been at the center of a controversy between the city, YMCA and Encinitas Little League — the primary users of the ball fields — involving a poison-pill 30-day termination clause that was inserted into the most recent iteration of the field lease arrangement between the entities.

Encinitas Soccer League uses the Magdalena fields, which are lit, for Saturday games and night practices. Losing one or all of the Magdalena fields would significantly hurt the organization, interim President Rick Lochner said.

Having lights and field turf at Leo Mullen would be one way to limit the impact of losing those fields, he said.

According to a city staff report, replacing the grass fields with artificial turf would cost the city $750,000, which includes 10 years of maintenance, compared to $570,000 it costs the city over the same period with grass.

But the annual maintenance costs associated with artificial turf are significantly cheaper than grass — $5,000 annually with turf compared to $20,000 with grass — and artificial turf would eliminate the need for the city to shut the fields down 60 to 90 days a year, as it currently does, to accommodate maintenance.

Field lights, however, would be tougher to accomplish in Encinitas due to Proposition A, the voter-approved zoning and land-use initiative, which requires a public vote for the installation of any structures 30 feet or taller — including lights.