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Airport Soccer Complex Heads to City Council

After eight years of deliberation, the San Rafael Airport's soccer complex will go before City Council.

After several public meetings and eight years of deliberation, the ’s proposal to build a soccer complex on their grounds will be heading to the City Council for final approval.

The , with Commissioner Dan Sonnet opposed, in special meeting held Wednesday evening.

Robert Herbst, the airport’s manager, was smiling as he left Wednesday night’s meeting.  “It’s been a long haul and it’s taken a lot of perseverance,” he said.

The planned recreational building, which was first proposed in 2004, will house indoor soccer fields and courts with spectator seating, offices, food and beverage service and meetings rooms. There will also be two outdoor soccer fields with parking and exterior lighting.

Airport officials will be cutting back on the size of one of the outdoor fields and the parking lot that is closest to the airport’s runway, at the recommendation of Commissioner Jack Robertson. They also agreed to start Saturday games no earlier than 9 a.m., except during November to May when games could start at 8 a.m. Airport officials will also voluntarily restrict the sale of alcohol to later in the day and maintenance of the levee that borders their location will be their responsibility.

The proposed 38-foot tall recreational building stirred lots of controversy in the past months among neighbors worried about the possible effects the facility would have on the Santa Venetia area.

Accidents Happen

Many challengers worry that the outdoor soccer fields are at a dangerous proximity to the airport's runway.  Gina Hagen lives on the far side of Santa Venetia on Adrian Way. “I'm definitely pro-soccer," she said, but she believes that the proposed project is too close to the active runway to be safe for her kids.

“Accidents happen. And it’s hard to know where the accident is going to happen,” said Sonnet, the only commissioner who opposed the project.

“Joyful Noise” and the Clapper Rail

Others are concerned about the increased traffic, noise and lights that could create a nuisance to the surrounding neighborhoods. However, Commissioner Maribeth Bushey-Lang said she didn’t think this “joyful noise” would be too problematic for the community.

The challengers also raised questions about the environmental impacts the project would impose upon Gallinas Creek. At the May 29 meeting, many mentioned the potential impacts the endangered clapper rail that live in the nearby wetlands and the potential of sea level rise in the future.

"Regional agencies are saying pull back from the bay because sea level is rising," said Judy Schriebman, representing the

Build it for the Kids

Despite the resistance, Herbst said the support for the project outweighs the criticism.  “Those families who live closest to the facility will actually benefit the most because they would be using the facility the most,” he said after the Planning Commission approved the project.

Supporters told the commission on May 29 that the sports complex would fill a need for many local soccer teams, whose players sometimes have to spend more time in their cars driving to distant soccer fields than playing. 

“We have difficult time getting to use facilities,” Central Marin Soccer President Rick Williams said. “If we aren't going to [build] it here, where else in our community are we going to do it?"

Commission Chair Viktoriya Wise said safety was the major issue for her when deciding if she should approve the project.  "I have a kid and if there's a soccer facility next to this airport, would I take my kid to play there?" Wise said. "And the answer is yes."

For Commissioner Charles Pick, saying no to this facility would be saying no to this type of facility in the entire city because of the lack other locations to build soccer fields.  If this plan is not built, "we are basically telling our kids that we are building a community that is not for them," he said.

Next Stop, City Council

The project’s opponents are not giving up yet. Santa Venetia resident Robert Dobrin, who produced several videos critiquing the airport’s stance on the facility’s safety, will be making an appearance at the City Council’s meeting on the issue.

“We’re looking forward to the City Council meeting and hope they will make the right decision,” he said.

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