City kids need good, safe ball fields in Golden Gate Park
Opinion By Phil Ginsburg and Susan Hirsch
Seven hours. That’s how long it took for Little League’s registration to fill up this year because there aren’t enough ball fields in San Francisco for all the kids who want to play.
For city parents, this is unfortunate but not unusual; many know that youth sports in San Francisco are entirely constrained by a lack of sports fields. Up to 4,000 kids use the City’s ball fields for several hours every day after school, and we simply can’t accommodate them all. The grass sports fields we do have are quickly overwhelmed because they can’t handle that amount of play. As a result, the fields are often closed
For example, on Nov. 1, with two weeks left in the youth sports season, one of the city’s main ball-field areas – the Beach Chalet Athletic Fields – was closed for the year. Just as it is forced to do every year to prepare for the spring season, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department locked the facility to give the worn-down grass several months to rest and regrow.
This isn’t right. We can do a better job for our kids and our city. But it’s going to be a balancing act and will require a little flexibility from everyone.
Last month, a draft environmental report was released for a proposal to renovate the Beach Chalet Athletic Fields with synthetic turf, field lights and other improvements to rejuvenate the entire area. This report found the project will have practically no impact on the environment, the park, local wildlife or city residents.
In fact, the only “unavoidable significant impact” is that the soccer fields would no longer be one of the 137 contributors to the Golden Gate Park National Historic District. But given that there are so many other historic features in the park, the overall historic designation of the park won’t change.
You read that right, the big impact from the Beach Chalet Athletic Field renovation will be that the fields will no longer be on a list. The lights won’t be seen by park neighbors, traffic increases are so minimal that they will be undetectable, birds and bees have plenty of foraging area throughout the park, and the synthetic turf itself is perfectly safe according to dozens of studies.
On the other hand, by renovating these fields with synthetic turf and lights we will add more than 9,000 hours of new annual play — tripling the amount of playtime on these fields. We’ll save more than 6 million gallons of water a year, we’ll eliminate the use of herbicides and pesticides at this location (yes, they are still used), and we’ll add numerous amenities to make this area of the park more family-friendly and welcoming to all.
Among the site’s improvements will be a new plaza, a rehabilitated restroom, bike racks, on-field seating, a small playground, a picnic area, barbecues, and walking trails that will allow people to easily travel between the park and Ocean Beach.
Best of all, this project is jointly funded by Rec-Park and the City Fields Foundation as part of our multiyear, citywide effort to provide after-school sports fields for kids. Our partnership has already fixed up a dozen sports fields in six different parks, adding thousands of hours of new playtime for local kids. In fact, due to these field renovations, 1,800 more kids are playing soccer each year on 148 new teams. Our efforts are working.
We only renovated high-use fields that are in poor condition and are only doing a selectnumber of synthetic-turf-and-light renovations. Nearly all grass ball fields in San Francisco will remain grass. But to keep the grass fields in good shape, Recreation and Parks relies on the synthetic-turf fields to absorb much of the heavy play.
Some have asked why it’s not possible to renovate the field with new drainage and grass. The fact is, over the years, Rec-Park has renovated dozens and dozens of city sports fields with grass, only to see the fields quickly degrade into poor and often unsafe condition. This not only wastes tax dollars, it doesn’t provide safe places for kids and athletes to play.
Given the amount of play on San Francisco’s sports fields, there is simply no way to keep grass fields in safe, playable condition without closing the fields for long periods. As a result, the Beach Chalet fields are available only by reservation and only during certain times of the year. That’s not right – Golden Gate Park deserves quality ball fields and San Franciscans should be able to safely enjoy a ball game in the City’s largest and most popular park.
Think about it. What would happen if you and a couple hundred of your closest friends ran over one spot of your living room rug for several hours each day? It sounds like a silly question, but that’s exactly what happens every day on San Francisco’s sports fields, and why the proposal to renovate Golden Gate Park’s Beach Chalet Athletic Fields is the right thing to do.
Phil Ginsburg is the general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department and a father of two youth soccer players. Susan Hirsch is the project director of the City Fields Foundation and raised two children in San Francisco.
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