Whose park? - Page 2

Proposal to build a large artificial turf soccer complex in Golden Gate Park sparks controversy

A rendering of the proposed soccer complex

"It's been referred to as the mothership landing," said Nature Trip tour guide and bird watcher Eddie Bartley, discussing the impact of the proposed lighting fixtures.

Environmentalists are seeking a greener alternative to this project.

"We feel that there's a compromise alternative that should really satisfy the concerns that everyone has," said Katherine Howard of the Ocean Edge Steering Committee. She said her group's goal is "to renovate the athletic fields, but to do it with real grass. They need a good drainage system, a state of the art irrigation system, gopher control barriers, and top notch grass."

Howard has spent a significant amount of time approaching people at Golden Gate Park to inform them of the upcoming plans. She believes that not enough park users have been notified about the proposal to install the synthetic turf.

"I had no idea that they were going to do that," native San Francisco resident Rick Rivero said in response to Howard's description of the plans. "I played soccer in this field myself and I don't want to see them changed."

Rivero said that he hadn't seen any flyers around the park mentioning plans to change the soccer fields.

RPD originally tried to do the project with conducting an EIR to study alternatives and environmental impacts, but groups like the Golden Gate Audubon Society and Ocean Edge objected. The resulting DEIR stated that, after a few alterations and formal recommendations, the project will have a "less than significant impact" on the biological resources of the area. But environmentalists are dissatisfied with the report.

Among their objections was the report labeling some trees as "tall shrubs" in order to allow for their removal. Studies cited in the DEIR state that water toxicity from the runoff of synthetic turf fields — which can contains plastic and other waste products — "decreased over time" and should have no effect on those using them.

But there have been conflicting studies of that issue, the subject of controversy through the country. Environmentalists noted that water used in natural fields filters down into the underground aquifer where it can be reused, whereas runoff from the turf will be need to be treated as wastewater, a fact given short shrift in the DEIR.

"In our opinion, the EIR is inadequate and incomplete," Howard said. "And we will be submitting letters to that effect before Dec. 12th, as well as testifying to that on Dec. 1st."

But the DEIR doesn't wholly endorse the project. For example, it also states that the project's impact on cultural resources, referring to the original intent of Golden Gate Park, will be "significant and unavoidable."

Some parents and sports enthusiasts are disappointed with this backlash and argue that the turf fields will provide an important asset to the city.

"I'm 60, but a few decades ago I played soccer on the Beach Chalet Fields. They were in crappy condition [then] and they're still in crappy condition," said Tim Colen, a "soccer parent" we were referred to by Hannan. Colen is also executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and someone who regularly testifies at City Hall in favor of large development projects.

"It surprises me that a small minority of people has been able to obstruct this project," Colen said, noting that many parents support the project because the shortage of fields is forcing families out of the city and toward the readily available fields in the suburbs.

Community meetings and even mayoral forums have addressed the proposed Beach Chalet fields. As reported by the RichmondSF blog, mayoral candidate Joanna Rees showed up to a debate wearing her daughter's soccer jersey and voiced opposition to the artificial turf. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu also reminisced about the joy of playing soccer on grass fields.