Soccer field project would change Golden Gate Park for the worse
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.
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.
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.