Checking in on the Beach Chalet field renovations

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.

For more information on the Beach Chalet project, visit the City Fields Foundation website or view the project plan here (note that the schedule in the presentation has not been updated).

Sarah B.


  1. I love the new step seating plan…as opposed to the prior tall bleachers proposal. The short surrounding fence, proposed play structure and bathroom area improvements are also great! With a shorter fence, it will really create a sense of ‘openness’. The tall (locked) fence that is currently in place gives the fields a prison yard look. Nice work Patrick H & the design team.

  2. Dump the lighting and it looks good. I, too, dislike the current prison-like fence (hated it when it was added about 15 years ago…).

  3. The stepped seating is similar to what they put in at Crocker Amazon. They need the fences to keep the ball in — have you been to a soccer game lately? In fact a trip to visit Crocker might be worthwhile for people to see what a field renovation of this size looks and feels like.

    But my question is why does an environmental review cost $400,000 for a consultant?? What exactly is that consultant doing? Would be interesting to see an itemized bill as this seems very high.

  4. Jill…Yes, I’ve played the game for about 35 years. 🙂 My point is that except for the area behind the goals, there is no need for a TALL fence all the way around the field, unless you want to severely limit access.

    Maybe the EIR is expensive b/c the Audubon Society is opposing the project.

  5. @Eric – I asked Patrick why there would be a fence at all, esp. since they plan to leave it unlocked 24/7 (except on July 4th). The reason is to prevent motorcyles and vehicles from driving on the field, they can severely damage artificial turf (as can fireworks). So the fence is only in for that reason in the new plan. I was really glad to see though that where possible, it will be more like waist height for easy viewing.

  6. Such a project does not belong in Golden Gate Park. I played there as a kid and it worked fine. It’s a park, not a soccer complex. It’s absurd to have lighting there as if it was Kezar Stadium when football games are held there at night. And speaking of football, if they are allowed to put light towers there and large fields of astro-turf, why night high school football games there at night???!!! I can hear the football lobby saying to SF City govt officials and supervisors, “you allow soccer there, why can’t football teams play there too???.”

    Astroturf and light towers do not belong in GG Park. Soccer works fine there now. We don’t need to destroy a good portion of GG Park because some rich people have a foundation that they think gives them the right to radically change GG Park. Join Ocean Edge (http://home.earthlink.net/~sfoceanedge/) in fighting this arrogant display of power to destroy a good part of GG Park! Thanks!

  7. “Good portion of GG Park” is actually only about 1-1.5% of the park. And most of that area is already used by the fields, so I’m not sure what “destruction” you are talking about.
    Common, this is a man-made park, not Yosemite. Only a true NIMBY would oppose this project.

  8. @Admin- Thanks for the info. Installation of a low fence to keep out vehicles makes a lot of sense,.. especially after the damage done to the GG Park golf course recently.

    When this goes through, I can’t wait to walk across the street and play some pick-up soccer with my young kids who can’t scale the 8 foot fence currently in place. Better access to the fields should result in a higher percentage of respectful park-goers in the west end and flush out some of the creepy element that plagues the southwest corner.

  9. Real grass in Golden Gate Park. No lights.

    And to paraphrase the old saw about Nazis, the first person in an argument to use the term NIMBY automatically loses.

  10. I’m pretty sure the great blue heron I saw catching gophers there last week would prefer to have real grass, not artificial turf — the gophers and other food sources for the herons can’t quite digest the fake stuff. I know I would prefer real grass, too. It’s a park. While some improvements to the park (the bathrooms, seating area, and playground, plus the lower fence, all look good) would be nice, fake turf and extra lights are not among the things I’d like to see there.

  11. @ Cath… Irrespective of the blue heron’s dietary preferences (in an artificial environment); I’m pretty sure that soccer fields are NOT supposed to be covered with gopher holes. At least the little girl who broke her ankle in a beach chalet gopher hole last year would probably agree. I would love to have a very well maintained natural grass surface at beach chalet but the SF BOS has other funding priorities …and heaven forbid we contract out lawn maintenance services to a private company.

  12. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not known whether or not synthetic turf fields are safe. CA and SF reports both state more research is needed to conclude these fields do not pose a health risk. e.g. From the San Francisco study: –“Determining if recycled tire infill is a pollution source and health risk in the outdoors requires further research..”

    New York and LA are both putting a halt to new fields pending more research, as are cities all over the country. These fields use tons of ground up rubber tires that contain heavy metals and organic compounds that can be life threatening. The jury is still out regarding the safety of artificial turf, and San Francisco must be very careful before exposing its children to potentially harmful playing fields.

    Let’s not use our kids as guinea pigs in an ongoing experiment.

  13. The field plans look great!!…the grass fields as they are now are horrible!….I have sprained my ankle there plenty times and if your not hurting your ankle, you are constantly worrying about stepping on a area that is not level with the rest of the field. They are trying to make the park look better and allow people to play there more hours than it is being used now. The lights will be lower than most so it should not bother as much, plus this allows for games and free play to go on longer than usual. As much as most people would want grass fields they are hard and expensive to manage year round with multiple games being played everyday. Artificial turf is just easier and makes sense to put in now. I cant wait and hope that these renovations start soon!! I cant wait to play on those fields after they are done. I also hope they leave the fields open all the time for those that want to play anytime.

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