After nearly two hours of public appeals both for and against the proposed renovations for the soccer fields at Beach Chalet, the Recreation & Parks Commission unanimously approved the project on Thursday.
The City Fields Foundation, in partnership with the Rec & Park Department, are proposing that the current fields be replaced with new, artificial turf. In addition, their plan calls for renovating the restrooms, adding lighting to allow for play up until 10pm, resurfacing and repainting the parking lots, adding a small children’s play area, a spectator area, and the planting of over 100 trees and other landscaping.
Project organizers estimate that the new fields will triple the amount of playing time at Beach Chalet since the current fields are closed on Mondays and often more frequently due to rain and drainage issues. In addition, Beach Chalet is completely closed for four months out of the year during the rainiest season. With the new turf in place, games can be played year-round and into the evening hours.
The funding for the project will come via a $5 million gift from the City Fields Foundation, plus $7.5 million from the city and bond measure funds.
An estimated 200 people showed up to the Commission meeting on Thursday afternoon. So many that City Hall had to set up an overflow room on the ground floor for spectators to watch a televised simulcast of the meeting. Originally the issue had been further down the agenda, but due to the large turnout, it was bumped to the first item after some regular Commission business.
Some of the overflow crowd watching the Rec & Park Commission meeting on a TV.
After a presentation from the Beach Chalet project organizers and questions from the Commission, the public was given a chance to speak. Nearly 100 people spoke in front of the Commission. Due to the large turnout, speakers were only alloted 1 minute to speak instead of the usual 2 minutes.
Those against the project cited concerns about the effect of the artificial turf on the natural environment of Golden Gate Park, and the effect that the 60 foot lighting towers would have on the wildlife and the neighboring residents. One woman testified that she had moved to Sutro Heights specifically for the quiet and to “see the nighttime moon and stars.”
Other opponents argued that the installation of artifical turf went against the spirit of Golden Gate Park and the founders’ original intentions to keep the western end more rural. Some speakers also lamented the lack of public notification about the project, with one neighbor saying that the “process is a little shady so far.”
The primary request from opponents to the project was for an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) which last week, the Planning Department had deemed unnecessary. Similar renovations with artifical turf have been installed at a few fields in San Francisco including Crocker Amazon and the Sunset.
However, one woman, echoing the concerns of most that spoke against the project, told the Commission that “to push forward without an EIR would be to shirk your responsibility.” Several opponents chastized the Commission for rushing to approve the project before the state is due to release their report on artificial turf in a few months.
Another woman questioned the potential impact that the runoff from the turf would have on the groundwater, since there are plans in the works for the city to combine water from ungerground wells on the West side with the Hetch Hetchy drinking water.
Questions were also raised about the long term cost to the Rec & Park Department for maintaining artificial turf fields. While they save millions of gallons of water and offer reduced maintenance costs, artificial turf fields typically only last 8 to 10 years and then need replacing.
While the turf material can be recycled once it’s removed, there is a potential cost of several million dollars to replace the fields. Neither the project sponsors nor the Commission made any effort to address this concern at the meeting.
There was no shortage of support for the project at the meeting. Soccer enthusiasts, parents, players and league organizers showed up in large numbers to urge the commission to support the project.
Those in favor spoke about the safety issues posed by the current fields, which are known for their random potholes and burgeoning gopher population. Both parents and players spoke about broken or twisted ankles after playing at Beach Chalet.
One man, who said he had coached at every field in the city, called the current state of the city’s soccer fields “an embarassment” and said when he saw the renovated fields at Crocker Amazon for the first time, he cried.
Others that testified said that the improvements at Crocker Amazon are benefitting not only soccer players, but the community at large, claiming that crime has dropped around the park and more residents are using it than ever before. One man told the Commission, “Crocker Amazon is one of the most beautiful things in the city right now.”
Braden Edwards is a lacrosse coach at University High School in Pacific Heights. He spoke about having to shuttle his team to Hunter’s Point for late afternoon practices because the Beach Chalet fields were so often closed.
Young players approached the podium to speak on their own, many with their fellow teammates. One group of six middle school girls told the Commission that they need more good fields to play on in the city, closing with a heart-tugging reminder to the panel, “We are just kids but we have big dreams.” After they left the podium, one Commissioner joked to the next speaker, “Follow that!”
Teammates testify in front of the Commission
Adult soccer players also showed up to support the project, pointing out that the adult leagues usually look outside the city for better, safer playing fields where artificial turf is more common. They also were in favor of the lights which would give them more evening hours to play.
After public testimony, the Commissioners spoke briefly about their position on the project. Commissioner Meagan Levitan, who is also a Richmond District resident, said she felt the issue was more about “the resistance to change” and that ultimately, their job as Commissioners is to “increase access to our facilities”.
Other Commissioners spoke about responding to the changing needs of the community, one in which soccer and lacrosse are fast growing sports. Only Commission Gloria Bonilla expressed any real regret about voting in favor, saying that her naturalist family and friends had strongly urged her to vote against the project.
Before the final vote, Commission President Mark Buell spoke about the difficult choice they were making between environmental concerns and the pressing needs of the recreation community. But he pointed out that ultimately, they are the Recreation & Parks Commission and not an environmental organization. To that end, the Commission took the recommendation of the Planning Department to not require an EIR.
The project sponsors expect to begin the renovations in November or December of this year, with work being completed in September, 2011. For more information on the Beach Chalet soccer fields renovation project, visit the City Fields Foundation website.
11:00 pm | Posted under Golden Gate Park
| 12 comments