Artificial Turf At Gallagher Square: A Reason To Do A CEQA Study?

Noise mitigation and new turf are two reasons downtown San Diego residents say the Padres renovation plan needs to slow down
A rendering of the proposed renovation, including an artificial turf amphitheater, of Gallagher Square. (San Diego Padres)

Some downtown San Diego residents hope artificial turf is one of the impact item that puts on the brakes and shines light on the San Diego Padres’ proposal to fast track a $20-million renovation of Gallagher Square. 

Those residents have recently become vocal about what they say is unmitigated noise from loud concerts at the East Village public park.

Noise and turf issues are two key components in a letter the East Village Residents Group says it will deliver to the City of San Diego as city staff assesses the renovation approval process. 

(Read The San Diego Sun’s initial story about those noise complaints.)  

Gallagher Square, a public green space located just outside the outfield of Petco Park, is owned by the City of San Diego and managed by the Padres.

Both share non-baseball revenue in a 70% to 30% split. The city gets the smaller share (reportedly nearly $4 million in the last fiscal year).

The team announced a redevelopment plan for the 2.7-acre Gallagher Square (formerly called the Park at the Park) on May 28, 2023. The city is considering the proposal and could rule on it as early as June 12.

Note: During that same time frame, the downtown political world will be abuzz over a proposed city ordinance aiming to ban public tent encampments by people experiencing homelessness.

The Gallagher Square renovation reimagines the park as an amphitheater that could pack in 10,000 people for concerts on a north-facing Sycuan Stage. A grassy hill would be replaced with artificial turf.

Other proposed features of the new park would include: an updated children’s playground; a fenced, off-leash dog area; a new miniature baseball field; temporary Pickleball courts; public art displays; a Tony Gwynn Terrace fan viewing deck; an updated entry gate; and enhanced noise mitigation.

Noise mitigation is the prime concern for downtown residents who live within blocks of the park.

Some residents say loud, bass-heavy Electronic Dance Music and hard rock concerts cause severe late-night disturbances. Children can’t sleep, residents say. Physical, emotional and mental health is jeopardized. Windows and ducts rattle. Paintings have reportedly vibrated off homeowners’ walls.

Padres Vice President of Public Affairs Diana Puetz says the team is in compliance with city noise codes and the original ballpark EIR (Environmental Impact Report).

She also says the revamped park will include “new directional speakers and repeaters that will create a surround sound experience. This will have a mitigating effect on sound from concerts and games in the stadium and at Gallagher Square.”

Joseph Sims, spokesperson for the Residents Concerned About Noise From Gallagher Square, says the Padres do violate city noise codes and the city has disregarded complaints for years.

Sims is skeptical about follow-through on noise mitigation. “Why don’t they go ahead and do that now?” he asks.

The Sycuan Stage at Gallagher Square on a recent Padres game day.

The East Village Residents Group says the Padres are attempting to rush its plan through the approval process. And the EVRG believes installing artificial turf at Gallagher Square would be a significant change to the original ballpark EIR. 

Major usage changes from the EIR would call for public scrutiny and a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study.

“We hope to come to a compromise between residents and the Padres through the discretionary process,” EVRG vice president Robyn Spencer. “Even after the way this plan was presented to us.” 

Spencer says these primary points were not covered in the original 1999 ballpark EIR:

  • Gallagher Square now holds concerts on a new stage that was fortified in 2019 to hold nearly 100,000 pounds of concert amplification devices. 
  • An updated sound study hasn’t been done in more than 20 years. 
  • The presence of artificial turf was never studied. 
  • Various reports about turf show that it gets hotter than real grass, can contain toxic elements, comes with drainage issues and calls for different cleaning procedures.

It’s unclear if the proposed artificial turf contains toxic flame retardants or other chemicals not conducive to a family-friendly park to be used by children and pets.

Padres executives do not believe the turf issue requires further public scrutiny or a CEQA review.

“The Padres continue to believe this is a ministerial decision and we are reviewing all community feedback and input, as we always do,” says Craig Hughner, vice president of communications for the team. 

If the Padres get the ministerial permit they requested, the renovation moves forward. If it’s determined the plan calls for discretionary action, the CEQA review would likely occur.

The approval process is currently being overseen by San Diego Deputy Chief Operating Officer Casey Smith. It’s in the hands of a multi-discipline team of reviewers from the Urban Division of the City’s Development Services Department.

According to the city’s communications department, the city “conducts a thorough review of proposed plans based on applicable regulations and land-use governing documents.”

It’s possible the mayor and city council members could weigh in. Or not.

“It depends on the review process level,” according to a statement from the City. “The development application for Gallagher Square was submitted as a Process One Construction Permit. If staff determines that the proposed project is consistent with the approved land use documents, then it is strictly a staff-level review process and there is no required input from the Planning Commission, Mayor or City Council.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria recently told The San Diego Union-Tribune he supports a timely renovation of the park: “The Gallagher Square renovation will further activate and invigorate the East Village, and I will be working closely with the Padres to help ensure these exciting new amenities are ready for the community to enjoy in time for the 20th Anniversary of Petco Park.”

The Padres hope to complete the Gallagher Square renovation in the upcoming baseball offseason. The 2024 season will mark the 20th anniversary of Petco Park. SDSun


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