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Finally! Lincoln Park Playground open for business

Thanks to RichmondSFBlog reader Casey for the tip. Lincoln Park Playground is now open. Stop by to check out the new play structures, seat walls, tables, swings and more.

An official ribbon cutting ceremony will take place next Friday, April 23 at 4pm. Enjoy!

Sarah B.

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 3:10 pm | Posted under Kids, Parks | 17 comments

The ins & outs of social networking, April 21

Next Wednesday, yours truly will be at the Richmond Branch Library to talk about the ins and outs of social networking services like Facebook and Twitter.

If you’ve ever heard “Oh I saw that on Facebook” or keep receiving invitations from Facebook friends but haven’t taken the plunge, here’s your chance to find out what the service is about, how it works, and how you can benefit.

I’ll also talk about Twitter – what it is, how you use it, and why it’s a pretty useful tool for keeping up with trends and interesting people. Plus we’ll discuss how you can use social networking services to market and promote your business or organization.

The event is free and starts at 7pm at the Richmond District Branch of the SF Public Library, 351 9th Avenue. See you there!

Sarah B.

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 10:30 am | Posted under Events | 2 comments

Rec & Park Commission approves Beach Chalet soccer fields renovation

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.

Sarah B.

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 11:00 pm | Posted under Golden Gate Park, Kids, Sports | 12 comments

Grateful Dead concert experience at the Balboa, April 19 & 20

Next Monday and Tuesday night, the Balboa Theater will screen a classic concert movie, The Grateful Dead: Crimson, White & Indigo.

The film documents their July 7, 1989 show at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. 95,000 fans were on hand to watch the 3 hour concert. To make the screening even more special, the Balboa is having a special sound system installed by Meyer Sound of Berkeley.

Here’s the Dead performing “Let it Grow” from the film:

Some more about the concert from the Balboa Theater’s website:

The Philadelphia concert offers a snapshot of the Dead’s 1989 tour, where the band played to some of its biggest audiences ever, a result of the group’s only Top 40 hit, “Touch Of Grey” from 1987’s In The Dark. During this tour, the band was recording the follow-up to that album, Built To Last, which is an important reason why the jamming heard here is particularly fluid and concise. In fact, the band played a pair of songs from the upcoming album, the aching ballad “Standing On The Moon” and the poignant “Blow Away,” a song cowritten by keyboardist Brent Mydland, who sadly died a year later.

The band helped raze the aging stadium, thundering through “Hell In A Bucket,” “Little Red Rooster,” and Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” Many sitting at the north end of the open-air stadium recall the concrete bleachers trembling during Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann’s drum duet in the second set. The show closed with another Dylan cover, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” the last song ever performed at JFK.

When this show was recorded, the band included guitarist Jerry Garcia, drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh, keyboardist Brent Mydland, and guitarist Bob Weir.

The concert begins at 8pm each night and tickets are $10. They’re selling quickly, so advance tickets are recommended.

Sarah B.

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 3:10 pm | Posted under Movies, Music | Comments Off

First look at the Alexandria Theater project plans

Supervisor Mar and his staff hosted a public meeting tonight at the Richmond District YMCA about the proposed development for the Alexandria Theater property at 18th Avenue and Geary. The property has been unused, with the exception of two retail stores on the Geary side, since the theater closed in February 2004.

About 30 residents attended the meeting. Representing the city were Supervisor Eric Mar, Planning Commission President Ron Miguel, and Planning Department Project Manager Mary Woods. There were also two representatives from the development team including Project Consultant Drake Gardener.

The development consists of two parts – 1) remodeling the existing theater building and 2) New construction on the back lock behind the theater (which is currently a parking lot).

The theater building’s facade will be left as is with cosmetic improvements. Inside they will refurbish the lobby area and build in spaces for retail businesses that will face out on both 18th Avenue and Geary Boulevard. The ground floor retail spaces are flexible in that they can be configured for several retailers, or combined for one larger retailer.

The original art deco staircase inside the lobby will be left intact and on the second level will be a 245-seat theater suitable for movies or performances (stage included). No theater chain has signed on yet for the space, but the 4-Star Theater here in the Richmond has expressed interest according to Supervisor Mar.

Inside the building, they will restore the original art deco ceiling, murals and other decoration. On the second level with the theater will be additional retail space, possibly for a restaurant but suitable for any retail operation.

We did not see the interior plans in detail, so it was a little confusing how they plan to have the theater on the second level as well as some retail space. They described the theater as being at the balcony level of the original single-screen theater, and that it would be free-standing in the middle of the building with hallways and retail space around the theater.

For the new construction portion of the project, they will erect a 4 story building on what is now the back parking lot. They will excavate beneath the lot for a two level underground parking lot which will serve both the commercial theater building and the residential complex.

The ground floor of the new building accomodates 20,000 square feet of retail space. Like the theater building, this space is flexible and can accomodate multiple, small retailers or be used for one or two larger businesses. The Richmond District YMCA, which currently sits across the street, may consider taking over the entire ground floor of this new building as it would effectively double their space.

Above the ground floor would be three floors of condominiums, 46 units in total, of which 7 will be priced below market value for affordable housing. The building will also include an interior courtyard, a rear yard, as well as a rooftop deck.

The Egyptian style decor of the theater building will not be carried over into the new building, but a patio will sit between them on 18th Avenue, tying the two structures together. The patio will be public space and plans include moveable tables and chairs, concrete seat walls, bike racks and landscaping. New trees and landscaping will be installed around both buildings along 18th Avenue and Geary.

One resident suggested that the developers consider landscaping with palm trees in keeping with the Alexandria’s Egyptian theme. Project Consultant Drake Gardener responded that their original plans included palm trees but the Planning Department nixed it.

Mary Woods, Project Manager for the Planning Department, explained that it was not approved because they felt palm trees were out of scale for the surrounding sidewalks, especially along 18th Avenue. This caused a burst of chatter in the room as attendees pointed out there is more than just one type of palm tree.

One question that came up repeatedly, but was never really answered: Why did this project take 5 years to come together? Gardener said there were delays in the environmental review in the Planning Department; Mary Woods of the Planning Department then stood up and said the delay was due to changes in department staff, changes in the proposed development (e.g. the developer’s fault), a transportation study and more.

The project is currently awaiting environmental review and approval from the Planning Department. The Planning Department expects to give the project a Mitigated Negative Declaration, signaling that there are only small changes necessary to overcome any environmental impacts of the project. Usually this signifies that the project is OK under California Environmental Qualities Act (CEQA) provided minor changes are made to the project to mitigate relatively small environmental issues.

Assuming there are no hiccups in the planning approval process, Gardener estimated that construction would begin in spring 2011.

There were several architectural and historical theater advocates at the meeting. One of them suggested that the developers open up the property one last time to allow residents to take a historical tour. When the theater was renovated in the 1940s, much of the original architecture built by the Reid Brothers was covered up, but not destroyed. From certain vantage points inside the building, like the attic, you can still see the old papyrus columns and other Egyptian details.

It’s expected that there will be another, larger public meeting about the project where Gardener will share more detailed plans for the development. When we hear about it, we’ll be sure to let you know here on the blog.

In the meantime, to help battle the blight, developers are working on a plan to fence off the theater’s corner cutover area that has become a homeless hangout and informal neighborhood urinal. They are also actively searching for a new tenant to fill the retail space on Geary that was last occupied by a wedding store. Much to the relief of young girls in the Richmond, there are no plans for the Hello Kitty store in the other retail space to close.

Sarah B.

All drawings by Tanaka Design Group.

The patio that will sit between the two buildings.

The back lot behind the Alexandria Theater. The YMCA sits across the street.

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 9:13 pm | Posted under History, Real Estate | 13 comments

Objects in the mirror

Photo by SF à gogo.

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 1:20 pm | Posted under Photos | 3 comments

Up close with the Argonne Community Garden

Last Saturday, I headed to the Argonne Community Garden for a garden party that was hosted by the Community Living Campaign, whose Seeds of Hope campaign is partnering with Community Gardens to reach out to seniors or disabled residents living nearby who may be isolated or lonely.

The Argonne Community Garden, located on 16th Avenue between Cabrillo and Fulton, started in 1975 when the San Francisco Unified School District issued a permit to use vacant land surrounding the Argonne Children’s Center for a garden.

Today it is the only community garden in the Richmond district where as many as fifty families maintain plots to grow flowers, vegetables and plants for the community.

While the garden party socialized among themselves and with special visitor Supervisor Eric Mar, I wandered the gardens for the first time, firing off photos. The garden is large, spanning an L-shaped piece of property that wraps around the Argonne Children’s Center next door.

Every plot in the garden has its own personality. Some are well manicured, others look more wild. And some plots feel like miniature gardens all their own.

Small statues are nestled among the flowers and vegetables, and a pod greenhouse overlooks the grounds. I was amazed at the variety of greenery – leafy vegetables, sturdy succulents, beautiful spring flowers, strawberries, artichokes, and blooming apple trees just to name a few.

The garden is open to members of the community with plot fees running $35 per year. Garden members are required to reasonably maintain their plots (at least monthly). If they don’t, their plots may be relinquished.

Membership includes access to the tool shed and greenhouse, as well as a healthy supply of manure and water.

For more information, visit the Argonne Community Garden website.

Sarah B.

Attendees of the Community Living Campaign’s Seeds of Hope party at the Argonne Community Garden.
Supervisor Eric Mar in the back, far right. Photo courtesy of Marie Jobling, CLC.

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 6:15 am | Posted under Community, Eric Mar | 6 comments

Healthy Kids Day at the YMCA, April 17

On Saturday, April 17, the Richmond District YMCA will host Healthy Kids Day, the nation’s largest health day for kids and families.

Bring the kids for fun, engaging and creative activities that foster healthy living. Activities will include planting your own garden, Health Obstacle course, Fantasy EYE-land, arts & crafts, and more.

All activities are free and open to the public.The event will be held from 11am to 2pm at the Richmond District YMCA, 360 18th Avenue. Plus free goodie bags!

For more information, call Raquel Espana at 666-9605 or visit the YMCA website.

Sarah B.

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 2:55 pm | Posted under Events, Kids | Comments Off