Cricket players and fans in Pleasanton will soon be able to compete and practice on a new field set to be constructed at Ken Mercer Sports Park following the City Council's decision on the location last week.
The council on Sept. 6 unanimously approved city staff's recommendation to go with the second out of three options for the cricket field location and size logistics. It will be an oval cricket field with a radius of 195 feet parallel with the pitch and 180 feet perpendicular to the pitch.
According to city staff, the overall design for the now-approved Option 2 was based on input from local sports organizations, the community and talks with city planners from San Ramon and Dublin, which have their own cricket fields.
"I think we have come up with a very viable good option for our community," Vice Mayor Valerie Arkin said. "It's great that we have a diverse range of sports options for community members, and I'm very happy to be going forward with this."
The field will allow for both youth and adult play and will safely accommodate a cricket match while simultaneous use of soccer fields four and five to the west are being utilized. However, because the cricket field will overlay on soccer field six, that soccer field will not be accessible while cricket is using the field.
Michele Crose, assistant director of library and recreation for the city, also told the council that the softball complex would need to be utilized to accommodate other sport groups that usually use the space where the cricket field will be constructed.
She added that the Parks and Recreation Commission stated that they wanted staff to find a way to continue to offer the adult softball program while also sharing the adult softball complex.
"Plans were developed to provide equal space for leagues while offering a limited softball adult softball program," Crose said. "So the softball complex can still be utilized by both adult softball and shared with youth sports organizations … we just need to reconfigure how we're running our adult softball league."
Another challenge staff will have to work around with the approved location is the required complete removal of the hardball B field including the fencing, the backstop and the bleachers.
The location of the cricket pitch would also require grading and drainage modifications, and because the perimeter is close to a walking pass, staff will test play in this location and determine if any other safety features are needed like netting.
"I do understand that it's on the two walking paths, but there already are backstop fields for different sports out there for hardball," Councilmember Jack Balch said. "So I will trust that staff will work to address the challenges that would arise from any of those issues to make sure we can obviously have this field be available for all."
Matt Gruber, a landscape architect for the city, said the next steps to actually build the field will be working with landscape architect firms to develop a design for the field before beginning construction.
He said the design process could take anywhere from six to 12 months, and construction could be another three to four months.
The idea to bring a cricket field to Pleasanton started in 2014 when the Parks and Recreation Master Plan highlighted the need to cooperate with youth programs and identify their needs for more programs.
Mayor Karla Brown also said when the council was looking at the city's priorities two years ago, lines of kids came forward saying that they want to learn how to play cricket and want a pitch to do that.
Then, on April 28, 2021, the City Council unanimously supported locating and constructing a cricket field in Pleasanton.
City staff then assessed various potential sites including other parks such as Muirwood Community Park, which was initially poised to be presented to the council but was then disregarded after the council asked staff to look at Ken Mercer Sports Park instead this April.
Other locations, such as the Bernal Community Park or Staples Ranch Neighborhood Park, were considered but were put on a backburner for future construction of a more permanent cricket field due to higher construction costs.
"We've talked about; it's raw land versus possibly just this reconfiguration," Balch said regarding going with the option at Ken Mercer rather than building a whole new field somewhere else. "So we're talking several million dollars more than any of this."
"I do look forward to a more permanent option sometime in the future when the funding allows either at Staples or Bernal, but in the meantime, I think this will really fulfill the need of a lot of cricket players in our community," Arkin said.
That sentiment was also expressed by various residents who submitted community responses to the city. Most of them were asking to not consider Ken Mercer and to look at Bernal because of several reasons, including the safety aspect of the cricket ball -- which tends to be a harder ball similar to baseball.
"It's definitely something we would be working with a consultant on as we're developing plans," Crose said. "We've heard that there are definitely different types of balls that fly further and some that fly less, we would be talking with consultants about netting other safety factors that we may not know or realize."
Others were siding with the first option to place the cricket field over the 9-versus-9 soccer fields four and five. While that option was the most popular among survey respondents, Crose explained that sports organizations did not agree with the location because it would impede on the only 9v9 soccer fields -- which are used for youth games and are not available anywhere else in the city.
But a portion of the respondents had other issues with the cricket field entirely different from safety and other sport group displacement.
"I want to mention that it does concern me when I read the survey results, there was a comment in the survey that was a thread that said 'why do they need a cricket field?' That's all it said," Balch said. "We in Pleasanton need to be willing to adjust our community amenities to provide for all in our community. We in Pleasanton must stand for the values of diversity, equity and inclusion."
The comment was included in the April 12 council meeting staff report and summed up what other council members and residents felt as a general opposition to different, diverse sports in Pleasanton.
"There has been resistance from local residents based on the survey feedback that you heard about earlier," said Sandeep Kolte, a resident who belongs to a group of about 50 young and old cricket players, during public comment.
"Cricket is played as an after school program at a couple of elementary schools. It has been part of PE at middle schools in the past but due to lack of facilities in the city, it has been challenging for our young kids to play, train and enjoy the game here at home. Sometimes they have to travel to other cities just to play or train," Kolte said.
Councilmember Kathy Narum also commented on the survey responses saying that she saw some that read "please move out of the city" and "no cricket field would be the best option."
"We want our kids away from computer screens and out playing and getting exercise and here we're offering something to, you know, a portion of our population and I just, I'm disappointed," Narum said regarding the comments.
But Brown said she wanted to also focus on the positive responses the council received and emphasized that even though it has been hard to advocate for the cricket field over the years, she is proud to see the sport coming to Pleasanton.
The city had already set aside $500,000 to go toward the construction of the cricket field in 2014, which will go toward any design and construction costs.
Narum asked if that would be enough to which city staff said they had previously spoken with a contractor who said it would be about $400,000 to remove the existing infield, adjust the irrigation and remove the backstop. However, because of additional improvements included in the approved option and the market having changed since staff last spoke with the consultant, the project could be more expensive than originally planned.