Soccer field project would change Golden Gate Park for the worse

The west end of Golden Gate Park as seen from Ocean Beach. What will be the impact of 150,000 watts of artificial light on our experience of sunset at Ocean Beach?

Opinion By Katherine Howard

In case you hadn’t heard, Golden Gate Park is about to change — and not for the better. If you care about the park’s future, you need to tell the Planning Department and the Planning Commission now.

Golden Gate Park was designed as a relief from urban stress, a place where San Franciscans can enjoy nature and leave the city behind. While the eastern end of the park was intended to contain various attractions, the western end was planned to be primarily wooded, with groves and meadows. (See the visionary 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan. ) When you think of the park, you probably think of the winding paths, the lakes, the meadows and the groves of trees that surround them. This is the iconic Golden Gate Park, the park that San Franciscans know and love.

The proposed Beach Chalet Athletic Fields project will change this forever for the western end of the park. According to the draft environmental-impact report, the proposed soccer complex will turn the grass playing field into a hard-edged, artificial, urban environment.

It will replace more than seven acres of natural grass and topsoil with more than seven acres of gravel, plastic grass and tire waste. This is an area larger than Candlestick Park. It will install 150,000 watts of 60-foot-tall stadium lights. It will cut down 55 trees. It will replace parkland with parking. It will add even more paving and lots more lights and bleachers.

The pastoral feeling will cease to exist, and suburban development will have taken its place.

This project will impact wildlife habitat. On any day, songbirds feed on the fields and raptors circle above. But there are no worms in artificial turf. At the Commonwealth Club panel “Golden Gate Park Under Siege,” Mike Lynes, the conservation director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, described the artificial turf as the environmental equivalent of paving seven acres of Golden Gate Park with an asphalt parking lot.

Ocean Beach will be negatively affected. The bright sports lights will be lighted from sunset until 10 p.m., 365 days a year. Visiting Ocean Beach to watch the sunset, gaze at the stars or sit by a fire ring will be a very different experience. The view from Sutro Heights will change. Instead of a dark and mysterious swatch of land, the park will look like, well, what it will have become: a sports stadium.

Beach Chalet Athletic Fields today – nature, history, and recreation in a beautiful, naturalistic setting. This is Golden Gate Park as envisioned by its founders and as enjoyed today by residents of all backgrounds – rich and poor, young and old, healthy and infirm. This is what must be preserved for future generations.

The night lighting is primarily for the adult soccer leagues. Adult soccer is fine, but many leagues come from all over the Bay Area. Why are they deciding what happens to Golden Gate Park?

You may hear pseudo-environmental arguments in favor of artificial turf. Artificial turf uses somewhat less water than natural grass, but does that mean that we should pave over Golden Gate Park to save water? Should we also plant plastic trees? In fact, the water used to irrigate Golden Gate Park comes from underneath the park and goes right back into the aquifer. And living grass sequesters enormous amounts of carbon.

Many of our supporters are concerned about the chemical content of the ground-up tires in the artificial turf – this issue is hotly debated all over the United States. Do we really want to introduce this into our park habitat, and so close to Ocean Beach?

We know that the Beach Chalet fields need fixing up — the fields haven’t been renovated for 14 years. Yes, there are gopher hole — Rec and Park has done a poor job of maintaining these fields. But obliterating the western end of Golden Gate Park because of poor maintenance is like blowing up a building because it hasn’t been painted. It just does not make sense.

We support youth soccer. We also support teaching children to value and respect nature.

We therefore suggest a compromise. The budget for the proposed Beach Chalet project is a whopping $10 million to $12 million. The Polo Field was renovated with real grass for $1.4 million. Beach Chalet is smaller. So, let’s fix up the Beach Chalet fields with real grass, and let’s use the rest of the money to fix up other playing fields in San Francisco.

This is a win-win solution that protects parkland and gives kids more places to play and a terrific grass field in a beautiful setting: Golden Gate Park.

Now is the time to speak out. Come to the Dec. 1 Planning Commission hearing. Read the draft environmental-impact report. Support our compromise. Weigh in with your written comments before Dec. 12. Contact SF Ocean Edge for more information.

Without your help, this part of Golden Gate Park will be lost forever.

Katherine Howard, ASLA is a member of the steering committee of SF Ocean Edge.

Images and captions via SF Ocean Edge.

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Publisher’s Note: This opinion article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Ocean Beach Bulletin. It represents the opinion of its authors, who are responsible for the veracity of statements made in it. The Ocean Beach Bulletin accepts submissions of opinion articles, but does not guarantee publication. For more information, please email Tom Prete.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi – I refuse to join facebook to be able to post my “likes,” but this is by far the best article to appear on the subject.

    All San Franciscans and all lovers of Golden Gate Park should be very concerned about this proposed development.

    There is a move a-foot to “disneyfy” Golden Gate Park. This is one of many such offensive measures.

  2. “We therefore suggest a compromise. The budget for the proposed Beach Chalet project is a whopping $10 million to $12 million.”

    This project needs to be exposed as the fiasco it is by the news or someone important.

    I have lived by Ocean Beach for 20 years. Over the course of the last few years the height of the beach has risen by what feels like 10 feet. The original stairs from the parking lot down to the beach that were built 10 or 15 years ago are now half buried in sand. There are maybe 6 steps from the parking lot at Ocean Beach down to the beach.

    What does that have to do with this project you ask? Last year during the big windstorm the winds were so strong the sand was blowing up from the now higher beach onto the parking lot, onto Great Highway, and into Golden Gate park exactly where the soccer fields are.

    If the beach height continues to change at the rate it has been changing, the soccer fields are going to be under the sand in about 10 years.

    What forward thinking city officials actually believe it is a good idea to spend 12 million dollars rennovating a soccer field that is going to be buried in sand in 10 more years?

    Why doesn’t a news organization go out to Ocean Beach and document what has been said? A TV camera crew can point their TV cameras from the parking lot down the beach steps to the sand and show there are only 6 or 8 steps left. Then they can get archival footage of the steps when they were first built to give young people an idea of just how high the sand has risen.

    Wouldn’t it be smarter to spend that 12 million on a project somewhere closer in to the city center so people will get their full money’s worth out of it? Instead of literally burying that 12 million under the beach sand from Ocean Beach?

    I thought the economy was bad and the city was on a budget? How can they afford to throw away 12 million dollars?

  3. The lights must go……

  4. GOLDEN GATE PARKing lot

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