The Sludge Report: The End Is Nigh For Balboa Boulevard Youth Sports Complex Location

It's official: the lease extension has expired, and the kids' baseball and soccer teams that use the Balboa Boulevard Youth Sports Complex must vacate the premises by November 1, 2010.

On that date, Metropolitan Water District, the property owner, will reclaim the land for use as a sludge spreading field.

At present, arrangements for a new Youth Sports Complex location have not been finalized. Mitch Englander, Chief of Staff for Councilman Greig Smith, told GigaGranadaHills, "I haven't heard that they have a signed lease yet, and it will be a long term lease at that. Basically, we brought everybody to the dance, identified property, and now we're moving. Everything's still in process."

Englander said that funds to cover relocation expenses have already been set aside, to cover costs for infrastructure, landscaping, and other necessary improvements to the new location.

The youth groups' lease on the Balboa Boulevard property expired in 2004, but an extension has allowed them to continue using the current location as they continued the search for a new one.

Englander declined to specify the exact location of the new ballfields, but multiple sources have reported that the new Youth Sports Complex location currently in lease negotiations is in Sylmar. Englander would only say that the new location is "in the same vicinity, not far from there... but it is not in Granada Hills."

For Geno DeVandry, that's just the problem.

DeVandry is a former volunteer soccer coach who still serves as an advisor to local soccer teams, and his wife is a member of the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council.

"DWP has worked with us and tried to be very helpful and suggested some alternative sites which are not in Granada Hills, which is not a good thing. We're losing a recreation center for our community, and there's precious few of them around."

DeVandry says of the proposed Sylmar site, "The location is workable, but do you know what the traffic's like at 5:00? It's really tough. A lot of us snake through side routes to get where we're at now, much less get to Sylmar. We're losing this precious facility... and every piece of land in this city goes to housing or something. It never goes to the kids. My biggest disappointment is that we haven't maintained facilities for our children to play in. I think we need something for our kids; these facilities are needed to keep our kids active and involved and out of trouble."

Others, however, might welcome the relocation to Sylmar. Once source knowledgeable about the proceedings who declined to be identified by name said, "Keep in mind that a good percentage of players at the fields are from the Sylmar/San Fernando area, which doesn't have their own AYSO soccer/PONY baseball league. The new location would have lights and is much bigger, so it's not such a bad thing."

But DeVandry feels that it's important to keep the athletic fields in Granada Hills, if not at the current location, then at another location in town.

"There's a possibility we could get something in Granada Hills -- we've looked at a site -- but it would be a big undertaking, it would take some money to move a lot of earth around to make it work for us, and we'd have to talk to the community in the neighborhood to make sure they'd be happy with it. We haven't even talked to the owner yet, but we know it's available." DeVandry declined to specify the hoped-for location. "If I did and the neighbors found out before we could present it to them properly, it could be disastrous to the program."

There is disagreement as to what would be ideal in a new location, but everyone seems to agree that the current location, which the teams have used for about twenty years, will be sorely missed.

“I'm really proud of how we've affected a lot of young kids, who probably would have been in real trouble if they hadn't had this facility. We've kept them busy and active and actually gotten involved with their lives in many ways. You just get to know them, encourage them to go to college -- I'm real proud of what we've accomplished up there and I just hate to lose it,” DeVandry says.

Jeff Tobias, a parent of two young ballplayers and former North Valley Youth Baseball executive board member, also feels that the relocation would be a great loss to the community. "I may be taking my son down to Encino to play, because there's not going to be anywhere left to play in the North Valley. Sylmar is on the other side of the freeway -- it's not even my neighborhood."

Says DeVandry, “I don't want to make MWD out to be the bad guy, because we all know that water is a priority to our city. You've gotta have it. The question is, could they do it a different way? They're already putting sludge somewhere else, on DWP property, but apparently it costs more money to do that. The question is: is the money a priority over the children and the community that has to have sludge behind their homes? And who's going to make that decision?” Tobias expresses a similar sentiment: "They shouldn't put the sludge there. It's more important to have the kids there."

Residents have expressed concern that the sludge fields will produce odors or be an unsightly addition to the neighborhood. Some background research reveals that there also may be health concerns for residents of nearby homes:

Khuder, Milz, Bisesi, Vincent, McNulty, and Czajkowski (as cited by Harrison and McBride of the Cornell Waste Management Institute in Case for Caution Revisited: Health and Environmental Impacts of Application of Sewage Sludges to Agricultural Land) conducted a health survey of persons living in close proximity to sludged land. A sample of 437 people exposed to sludge (living within 1 mile of sludged land) - and using a control group of 176 people not exposed to sludge (not living within 1 mile of sludged land) reported the following:

"Results revealed that some reported health-related symptoms were statistically significantly elevated among the exposed residents, including excessive secretion of tears, abdominal bloating, jaundice, skin ulcer, dehydration, weight loss, and general weakness. The frequency of reported occurrence of bronchitis, upper respiratory infection, and giardiasis were also statistically significantly elevated. The findings suggest an increased risk for certain respiratory, gastrointestinal, and other diseases among residents living near farm fields on which the use of biosolids was permitted."
—Khuder, et al., Health Survey of Residents Living near Farm Fields Permitted to Receive Biosolids
The article says, "Although correlation does not imply causation, such extensive correlations may lead reasonable people to conclude that precaution is necessary in dealing with sludge and sludged farmlands."

It is difficult to know how close the sludge will be to nearby homes, what class of sludge will be spread on the fields, or what form of treatment the sludge will undergo prior to spreading, as Metropolitan Water District did not answer multiple requests for comment.

Councilman Greig Smith was involved in the effort to retain the Balboa Boulevard location, but opinions vary as to the value of his contribution. Once source who declined to be named said, "We're all disappointed in Greig Smith. He promised us he would take care of this and he hasn't. He pushed us off into another facility that is not in our community. Has he worked hard at it? I think he has. But he hasn't been successful, because he did promise, and he came to our board meetings, he came to our soccer fields opening day, and said we will take care of you. But the results are that he hasn't done the job."

GigaGranadaHills contacted Greig Smith’s office, but the councilman declined to respond to the charge that he failed to keep a promise. Yet Tobias, who has taken an active role in protesting the move since it was first proposed, had nothing but praise for the Councilman's efforts to keep the Balboa location, even if ultimately, they were unsuccessful.

"Councilman Smith is one of those few people who really cares about his constituents," Tobias says, "but he can only do so much. He gets opposed by council people who are crooked, so what can he do? Look at all the council people and how they have special interests in their pocket. Councilman Smith's special interests are his constituents. That's who he cares about. He fought the big housing project by the 14 and the 5, he fought the dump, he fought the Kohl's, and he successfully delayed the sludge fields for four years."

After talking to a number of people who use the athletic fields, it becomes clear that the complex doesn’t function just as a ballfield, but also as a community gathering place, where neighbors meet and long-term friendships are forged.

Says DeVandry, “That facility is almost like a church because we've all become so close. How would you feel about your church being taken away and you don't have anything else? My two closest friends, I met them from those fields. That's just the way it is. I'm not the only one. There's a lot of us like that. You go to their kids' graduations, you go to their weddings, you're involved with their lives, because you grew up with them.
"My first choice is I'd love to stay there. It's a very family-oriented place, and everybody knows everybody. But my second choice, if we have to move, is to keep it in Granada Hills.”

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  1. It will be so sad to see the fields relocated. I've spent much of my childhood playing sports there or watching my siblings' games and practices. I'm proud of my parents, Geno and Sue, and the rest of the volunteers for the soccer and baseball regions. They've put thousands of hours into those facilities, and it's a shame that the City can't provide a park for the children to play in.

  2. Soccer Not Sludge. It's really sad how few places we have in the valley to play relative to the population.

  3. Soccer Not Sludge! - It is sad how few places we have in the valley for kids to spread out and play relative the size of the population. Watching these kids make life-long friendships at these fields is something special. Could it happen as easily somewhere else, I don't know. All I know is that the community has come to rely on this facility, which is well used, for the last 20 years. What has changed so radically that cannot be accommodated in some other way than removing a vital part of the community?


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