Fairview Park sports fields study OK’d; citizens panel chairman quits in protest

Before a crowd of about 200 attendees, most of whom argued for keeping Fairview Park untouched, the park’s citizens advisory committee on Wednesday night approved an initial study toward adding sports facilities to the park’s southeast quadrant.

The panel split in its decision, with five members approving studies toward adding baseball/softball facilities, soccer/football fields and multiuse athletic fields to the quadrant.

Four others — Chairman Richard Mehren and members Steve Smith, Anna Vrska and Terry Cummings — dissented.

The 5-4 vote was preceded by more than hour of public comment and dozens of letters sent to the committee, the vast majority of which argued for keeping the 208-acre park “natural” and without new developments.

Others contended that, given the demand for athletic fields in Costa Mesa, particularly for youth sports, Fairview Park’s 45-acre southeast quadrant could be a good spot to meet those needs.

Committee member Brett Eckles, a youth sports advocate and coach, said he seeks a compromise for all users of Fairview Park, from athletes to nature lovers.

Eckles said the sports fields “may never, ever happen,” but that he wants to see them studied.

Member Dennis Popp said the proposals need expert input.

“I would like to see a professional engineer who stands by his opinion,” Popp said.

Mehren said adding sports fields to Fairview would be a “complete about-face” of the park’s master plan toward keeping it undeveloped. Just before the meeting ended, Mehren announced his immediate resignation, calling the panel “the mayor’s Fairview Park committee” that was predestined to approve athletic fields.

Cummings said because the Orange County Model Engineers’ trains already occupy most of the quadrant, athletic facilities aren’t a good fit beside them.

“I think the prudent thing to do will be just to pull the plug and get down to the details of what we can do, realistically, to make the park better for everyone,” he said.

Vrska was critical of the committee’s mission since its inception, calling it a “waste of time and resources.”

“Two years later, I think we’re pretty much in the same place we started,” she said.

City staff and residents noted that any work in the southeast quadrant may be constrained by what’s already there, including three vernal pools — which could host some endangered species — and archaeological remnants of a Native American village beneath the ground.

John Rubright of AYSO Region 120 argued that Fairview Park is already developed, with its man-made ponds, habitats, restrooms, parking lots and grass.

“But it’s not OK for a large community of kids to play sports?” he said. “What happened to the kids of this community?”

Costa Mesa resident Steve Pope said any new sports surfaces, whether hard or soft, are wrong for Fairview Park.

“Both are equally destructive and equally irreversible,” he said.

The sports field proposals face a second committee vote, though city officials said the studies are not likely to be ready by the committee’s next meeting on Feb. 4.

If approved, the athletic field proposals would go onward to the Parks and Recreation Commission and potentially the City Council.