grass.jpgThe headline gods appeared to have smiled on us today: the public relations team working for City Fields Foundation, which has for several years now been working to convert the sleepy natural grass-surfaced Beach Chalet soccer fields into an artificial-turfed, well-lit sports complex, stands accused by project opponents of attempting to pack a Richmond District public meeting Monday night with project supporters from Marin County and beyond.

An e-mail written by Barbary Coast Consulting‘s Allie Herson appears to have been distributed to youth soccer teams all over the Bay Area, asking parents and youth to attend tonight’s Planning Association for the Richmond mayoral forum — in uniform, “so we can easily be recognized as one unified athletic community!”

Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Friends of City Fields:
“Apologies for the mass email but time is of the essence. “

“We need you to join us at the next mayoral debate in the Richmond on Monday, Sept. 19.

Now is the time to help! Please join us before the meeting so we can discuss our strategy. “

“Please, spread this message to your friends, teammates, coaches, teachers, coworkers, family – post on your Facebook page, forward this email, and make phone calls. If we can each bring two or three people with us, imagine the impact we can make.”

It’s unclear exactly how far the net was cast in seeking attendees to tonight’s hearing — Herson did not respond to an email and phone call seeking comment — but youth soccer teams from as far north as Novato received the e-mail blast, according to one coach, speaking on condition of anonymity in order not to anger the Recreation and Park Department, “because it’s hard enough to get a field,” said the coach, who added that field rentals in SF have increased from $20 an hour in 2002 to $65 an hour today.

For those unfamiliar with the project, the Fisher family-founded City Fields Foundation would replace the three grass fields at Beach Chalet with four turf fields, erect light towers and upgrade the parking lot.

Supporters say the upgrades would turn an often gopher-ridden, under-utilized and hard to maintain facility into state of the art athletic space; opponents blast the project cost and environmental damage, from the light pollution to the chemicals in the field turf. A full environmental impact report is scheduled to be completed sometime this fall.

While balking at the double-entendre opportunity to question why artificial turf backers would employ Astroturfing tactics, several West side residents and activists cried foul.

“We are appalled at this brazen attempt by Bob Fisher to bring in hired guns and outside agitators to hijack what should be a thoughtful democratic process,” wrote Carol Antone, a Richmond resident and member of the Francisco Heights Civic Association (that’d be the area around USF, pilgrim).

Similarly turned off were longtime City Fields Foundation opponents SF Ocean Edge. “The invitation from City Fields has gone out to people all over the Bay Area,” a message on the group’s Facebook wall reads. “This is inappropriate for a neighborhood meeting about a local election.”

That’s pure poppycock — and a double-standard to boot — in the eyes of Patrick Hannan, director of communications for the City Fields Foundation.

“What I don’t understand is why when we send out messages to kids, suddenly we get calls from reporters asking why,” he said. “I’m sure [SF Ocean Edge] didn’t stay purely in the district [when trying to mobilize attendees] — they reached out to their whole database.”

“All too often the best interests of the city get hijacked by a narrow group of people,” Hannan added “We don’t think that should happen with Golden Gate Park.”

Hannan said he was unsure exactly what turnout City Fields expects at tonight’s debate, although the clarion call for cleated kids to attend what is ostensibly a local neighborhood forum rubbed at least one mayoral candidate the wrong way.

“I saw the email encouraging soccer enthusiasts from around the Bay Area to pack the forum, and as a candidate for mayor, I wonder how they expect me to listen more to them than our own homegrown voters and San Francisco-based park advocates,” said Supervisor John Avalos, who was quick to add that he lives near the Crocker-Amazon fields, also redone by City Fields, and is supportive of that effort as well as the artificial turf fields going in at Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreation Center in the Ingleside District.

Though for one field supporter, it’s much ado about typical policy. “Isn’t that what lobbyists do? Isn’t that like a multi-million dollar industry?” asked Toby Rappolt, owner of Sunset Soccer Supply on Irving Street. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard that hiring a PR agency is a bad thing or unfair.”

Tonight’s forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Richmond Recreation Center, 251 18th Avenue at Clement Street.

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