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Millbrae enacting temporary ban on new artificial turf | Local News
Artificial turf is now illegal to install in Millbrae after the City Council approved a temporary ban on the landscaping material often seen as a low maintenance and low water use alternative to real grass.
The ban will last at least 45 days and potentially up to two years as the city works to establish permanent rules aiming to address environmental concerns ranging from increased heat, toxic plastic runoff, harm to insects and a reduced ability for the ground to absorb stormwater.
“We are taking a breather with this temporary ordinance and offering ourselves an opportunity to study and come back to the council with recommendations,” said City Attorney Joan Cassman.
The move comes amid a statewide drought leading many residents to seek alternate yard treatments that require less water. But according to some experts, the environmental drawbacks of artificial turf likely outweigh the upsides.
“We have to collect all the information, see what’s real, what isn’t real, what can be proved,” said Mayor Ann Schneider.
According to the city, numerous studies show artificial turf contains a “wide range of chemicals” that can do irreparable damage to the city’s ecosystem and watershed, and some turf contains known carcinogens.
Additionally, artificial turf becomes warmer than real grass on sunny days, which can contribute to the “heat island effect” in which urban areas become warmer than their surroundings.
Groundwater absorption, an ever-important part of conserving water, is also a concern. Artificial turf, depending on the installation method, can cause water to drain into the street instead of replenishing ground moisture. In many instances, the city has found artificial turf being installed on top of concrete, said City Manager Tom Williams.
Potential future rules could include those governing proper installation, percentage of yards that can be covered and bans on certain types or brands considered more harmful than others.
The city’s meeting to discuss the matter this week drew several comments from the public in support of the ban.
“Using native plants is a much better solution to save water than covering the ground with plastic,” said John Bottorff, a board member with advocacy group cleanearth4kids.org. “Plastic grass is a source of microplastic pollution and is not recyclable.”
Multiple comments were from local high school students, some who cited concerns surrounding the increasing use of artificial turf to coat playing fields. Though the city’s moratorium is aimed only at residential uses and would not affect high schools, councilmembers have expressed interest in broader legislation.
Council member Anders Fung, who previously expressed he was unsure about the idea, voted in favor of the ban after the urging of his colleagues. He questioned how the ban would be enforced, and emphasized the need to educate the public on the rule and its purpose.
Williams responded that the city would not take a heavy-handed approach, and enforcement would be carried out the same as with any other code violation.
“We’re not going to have a big heavy stick,” said Williams. “I think that this is an educational opportunity for us as a city to inform and to improve and to educate.”