A conceptual, overhead rendering of the four renovated fields at Beach Chalet
Just before Christmas, I met with Patrick Hannan, the Director of Communications, Planning and Programs for City Fields Foundation (CFF) to check in on the status of the plans to renovate the Beach Chalet soccer fields.
Started by the Fisher family in 2006, CFF’s goal is to improve existing, public athletic facilities in and around San Francisco with upgrades like artificial turf and lighting. CFF works in conjunction with the San Francisco Rec & Parks Department and to date, they have sponsored and led the renovation of five athletic facilities including Crocker Amazon, Garfield and Silver Terrace.
After CFF’s success with their initial pilot programs, Beach Chalet was identified as the next, logical recipient of a makeover. Just during the fall season, more than 1,550 children and 600 adults use the fields on a weekly basis. And that’s just three fields they’re using, since one of the four playing fields at Beach Chalet is always closed for rest and regrowth. Not to mention the legions of gopher holes and other nasty ankle traps that litter the fields.
CFF’s plans to renovate Beach Chalet include converting the existing playing fields to artificial turf, adding lighting, renovating the restrooms, adding a small playground, repaving the parking area, and erecting new fencing and seating areas for spectators. The improvements would bring all four fields into use year-round and provide expanded hours into the early evening for more play.
Currently, the Beach Chalet fields can host 4,738 hours of annual play. The proposed renovations will add 9,582 hours of new play each year for soccer and lacrosse players.
An overhead view showing the renovated parking, playground and seating area.
From the start, Hannan says, there were important guidelines for the project because of its unique status. The first was that Beach Chalet is first and foremost athletic fields; not something that should be turned into a soccer megaplex. Secondly was that it’s located in Golden Gate Park so it needs to be in keeping with park standards – nothing like a sound system or flashing lights could be involved. “It has to fit in,” Hannan said.
The project was off to a good start. Back in April, the renovation was greenlighted by the Rec & Park Commission after nearly three hours of public comments from both sides of the issue. But this is San Francisco after all, so by May, Rec & Park bowed to the pressure of community groups and required CFF to provide a full environmental impact report.
The EIR process will cost the project $600,000 – that’s $200,000 in city fees plus $400,000 for a consultant. Hannan says the EIR decision was disappointing as it’s money that could be put towards other field renovations in the city, and it will delay the project by nearly two years when it’s all said and done.
The EIR is being worked on now. The first step will be a community meeting in early 2011 where interested parties can give input about what they think should be included in the study. The lighting towers have been one point of contention in the project, with opponents going so far as to claim that they will disrupt migrating birds that fly overhead, provide too much ambients light, and ruin sunset viewing at Ocean Beach.
In reality, the lighting towers will be 60 feet high, lower than the usual 70 to 80 foot towers that have been used in other CFF park renovations. At the 60 foot height, the light towers would barely be visible from outside the park.
Instead of tall bleachers, an 18-inch raised walkway featuring built-in spectator
benches runs across the center of the fields.
Other groups are concerned about the plans to remove some trees around the fields and the parking area. Hannan says two trees would be removed in the parking lot to accomodate 50% more parking. He says with the addition of a fourth field for play, Rec & Park felt the tree removal was warranted to prevent even more cars from parking up and down JFK Drive which adjoins the fields.
One of the biggest points of contention has been around the marquee item in the renovation, the artificial turf fields, which are made with old tires ground into small pellets and plastic blades that mimic real grass. Environmentalists voiced concerns about their effect on the wildlife around the fields, and nationally, there’s been outcry about the potential health hazards the turf presents for athletes.
Just this week, the SF Chronicle published results from a national study, concluding that there was no more risk with artificial turf than with natural:
The state’s study concluded that there are actually fewer bacteria on artificial turf fields compared with natural grass. State researchers did find some “volatile organic compounds” – such as lead and other heavy metals – in the air near the fields, but the presence of these toxins was so low that no public health concern was identified. And, because there was no relation between the surface temperature and the concentrations of those chemicals, the study’s author said there is no reason to recommend that field usage be limited when it’s hot. Read the full turf study here
However as the article points out, “Opponents of the Golden Gate Park plan are unlikely to be swayed by the study, because they are focusing their opposition more on the environmental impacts of replacing natural grass with plastic and rubber fields, and of installing lights in the open space.” One of those opponents is a group called Ocean’s Edge.
They’ll have to wait for the conclusions from the EIR, the first draft of which should be completed by mid-2011. That’s when the public will get its first look and anyone can comment; project organizers are required to address any comments or questions that are submitted. It’s expected that it will take until February 2012 to certify the final EIR. That’s not including time to deal with any appeals that might be filed by neighborhood groups.
With the new timeline, CFF anticipates construction on the new fields would begin in August 2012, wth the new Beach Chalet fields re-opening in July 2013.