Westwood residents debated adding a new soccer field to Westwood Park at a meeting Thursday.
Hundreds of residents packed the Westwood Recreation Center to discuss a plan to replace a large portion of an open grass field with a fenced, public regulation-size synthetic soccer field named after Tommy Mark, a youth soccer player who died in 2018. Nikki Mark, Tommy Mark’s mother and former executive director to the Los Angeles Football Club Academy, first proposed the plan in 2016 to address the growing shortage of soccer fields in Los Angeles.
The meeting was the second public hearing on the field, which has been in development since 2013. However, the proposal was first made public only around one month ago, and the first hearing was held shortly after May 7.
The proposal has drawn polarized responses from members of the Westwood community.
Community members have created competing petitions on Change.org for and against the park. The supporting petition has about 2,700 signatures while the opposing petition has 1,500.
Ted Stickney, a Westwood resident, said he does not support the new soccer field because he thinks the field will primarily benefit private soccer clubs instead of the general public.
“For us, it’s taking Westwood’s beautiful public park and turning it into a private soccer field,” Stickney said. “Some people said, ‘Well, it’s only $500 (to join a club),’ but for some of us, only $500 to be a part of the soccer club is something I can’t afford.”
Opponents to the proposal said they think Mark has worked with LAFC to secure the space in Westwood Park since 2016. However, Mark said the city already had plans to build a second turf field in the park since at least 2013.
“My only desire to go to Westwood Park was because it was so empty,” Mark said.
Alternative sites for the field, such as Cheviot Hills Recreation Center, were ruled out due to logistical reasons, said Tom Gibson, the city landscape architect.
Proponents of the soccer field said they think the area is currently underutilized and a new field would better serve the community. They also said they prefer turf over grass because a grass field will face the same problems as the current area, which they think is poorly maintained.
Mark said she discovered animals burrowing holes in the grass, which she thinks pose safety risks for park goers. David Ambrose, the regional commissioner for American Youth Soccer Organization Region 70, said he thinks a new grass field will also have these holes and patches of dirt without proper maintenance.
“That looks okay, but if we go walk around there, you’re going to step in some holes, and if you’re running and you step in holes, you’re going to twist or possibly break your ankle,” Ambrose said.
Ambrose, whose teams practice on a smaller turf field in the area, said although he probably won’t be able to use a new field because he will be outcompeted for permits, he welcomes any new soccer field in the city.
“While there is a level of self-interest for anyone in the soccer community, most of the people who have kids, who play club or play with us, they just want fields because they know how hard it is to find good ones,” Ambrose said.
Soccer clubs such as the LAFC Academy and the AYSO compete for usage permits to fields for games and practices and would benefit from a new field, Ambrose said.
Many residents and some soccer clubs were surprised when they heard about the plans for the new soccer field last month.
“I got an email from the park saying, ‘Hey, we’re having this meeting about a turf field in Westwood,’” Ambrose said. “Like a soccer field in Westwood? How is this the first time I’m hearing this?”
Stickney said he thinks the Park Advisory Board did not notify the public of the soccer field early enough.
“If they had sent out an email six months ago to the community saying there’s a proposal coming in to turn this grass field into a synthetic field,” Stickney said. “I think at that point would have been a great time for people to have some input.”
The late notice of the proposal caused some residents to speculate that city officials tried to minimize the public’s involvement by giving the public less time to provide input, Stickney said.
David Bartholomew, a resident of five years, said he had not previously heard of the proposal and that he does not support adding a synthetic field.
Several Westwood community members expressed differing opinions about the field.
Rick Johnson, a resident who first moved to Westwood in 1994, said he thinks the proposed field could bring fresh activity to Westwood.
“My honest opinion, I think it’s a good thing … for kids to be active, different people at different ages to play soccer,” Johnson said.
His wife Daina Johnson disagreed.
“I do like the open space,” Daina Johnson said. “(Our daughter) likes to run, so that’s gonna be gone.”
Both Mark and Ambrose said the soccer field is a donation to the community, but many residents remained unconvinced.
“If you really want to make a gift to the park, why not invest in making that the nicest grass area that you possibly can?” Stickney asked.
Ambrose said he thinks Westwood simply does not have the infrastructure to maintain a grass soccer field, so the neighborhood must develop a synthetic field instead.
The proposal is not final, and the input from the meeting will be processed by the Department of Recreation and Parks for further review, Gibson said.