Golden Gate Park’s Beach Chalet soccer fields spur turf tiff
UPDATE 4:15 p.m. May 25 – The San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission has approved a controversial plan to install artificial turf and lights in a renovation of the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park.
The Bay City News wire service reports in the SF Appeal that in a joint meeting Thursday, the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to certify an environmental report on the plan and the Rec and Park Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan itself.
SF Gate’s City Insider blog reports that Thursday’s meeting on the $14 million poroposal represented a clash of cultures and competing ideas about the purpose of San Francisco’s parks:
While opponents of the plan insisted it wasn’t a case of kids versus birds, that’s not what it looked like Thursday evening. For nearly four-and-a-half hours, two very different groups of speakers tried to sway the commissions.
Uniformed soccer players and their parents and coaches argued that the current grass field at Beach Chalet was a muddy, gopher-ridden danger that was closed as often as it was open, while the mostly older neighbors and environmentalists said that if new artificial turf fields are needed, it should be built somewhere else.
But concerns about the lights, the turf and the undeniable effect the changes will have on Golden Gate Park and its wildlife weren’t enough to convince the commissioners to reject the chance to boost the use of Beach Chalet.
Bay City News also reports that Chief of Police Greg Suhr told commissioners that the plan, with its nighttime lighting, could help reduce chronic problems with drug use and prostitution in the heavily vegetated areas near the fields.
Opponents of the plan can appeal the commissions’ decisions to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
SF Ocean Edge, a group that has opposed the plan for artificial turf and lights, posted a message on its website stating that it would meet with a lawyer to decide what to do. “It is a sad day for Golden Gate Park, when the departments charged with stewardship of our parks decide to destroy our crown jewel,” the group stated.
One of the city supervisors who may end up voting on the proposal is Supervisor Eric Mar of District 1, which consists largely of the Richmond District. The Chinese-language World Journal reports [based on an online translation] that although Mar says he hasn’t made up his mind about the field proposal, he did take time Thursday afternoon to play soccer with children on a temporary pitch set up in Civic Center across from City Hall.
The Beach Chalet soccer fields at Golden Gate Park’s west end often are a muddy, torn-up mess unusable by soccer players — but they’re also a hunting ground for hawks and herons, and a rare patch of simple green grass in a densely populated city.
Two City commissions will meet today to discuss a plan to renovate the fields by installing artificial turf, lights for nighttime play and other amenities. The San Francisco Planning Commission and the Recreation and Park Commission will meet jointly Thursday at 3 p.m. in Room 400 at City Hall.
Artificial turf at other municipal soccer fields has enabled children and adults to play virtually continuously throughout the year, regardless of how much rain has fallen or how many other feet have trod the pitch. The Recreation and Park Department and other advocates say this is critically important because there just aren’t enough fields available for everyone who wants to use them, and fields that require less maintenance are fields that can serve more San Franciscans.
But these renovated fields come with bright lights to illuminate the fields well into the evening, and bird and bees are seldom seen. It’s not that San Francisco doesn’t need sports fields, say opponents — it’s that the City shouldn’t replace grass areas with plastic and shouldn’t be installing stadium-style lights so close to the beach, where the light could annoy neighbors and interfere with migrating birds.
At Thursday’s meeting, the Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to certify the environmental-impact report the City has already produced about the Beach Chalet plan. Commissioners also will decide whether the Beach Chalet plan meets state environmental regulations and whether it’s in line with the overall direction of City’s development plans.
If planning commissioners decide that the EIR addressed all the right issues, studied them completely and reached the correct conclusions, then the Recreation and Park Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the soccer field project.
The public comment period on the EIR ended in late 2011.
Thursday’s meeting is scheduled to be webcast on San Francisco Government Television Channel 2.