a_soccer_ball.pngA proposal to replace the Beach Chalet grass fields on the western end of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with synthetic turf and lighting was approved Thursday at a joint hearing of the city’s Planning and Recreation and Park commissions.

The Planning Commission voted 4-1 to certify the environmental impact report for the project while the Recreation and Park Commission voted unanimously in favor of approving the plans, according to planning department officials.

The hearing was attended by hundreds of people, including supporters who argued the changes would increase play time and safety at the fields and opponents who said the synthetic turf and lights would hurt the park’s aesthetics and natural resources.

Patrick Hannan, spokesman for the City Fields Foundation, said the current fields are a “facility that’s in desperate need of renovation.”

Hannan said replacing the grass fields with synthetic turf and adding lighting and other amenities will triple the amount of play time at the facility. Currently, one of the four fields is always out of use to allow for grass re-growth, and the fields are all closed on Mondays for other maintenance.

Many youth soccer players spoke in favor of the project, saying that gopher holes and other problems at the rundown fields caused safety hazards for them.

Police Chief Greg Suhr also came to the meeting and said that the changes will not only help kids but the new lighting will also reduce illicit activity such as drug use and prostitution in the nearby bushes.

Opponents of the project, including the groups SF Ocean Edge and the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, argued the changes would cause the loss of dozens of trees and other natural habitat, would decrease night sky darkness in the area and would infringe on the historic context of the park.

A statement posted on the website of SF Ocean Edge following Thursday’s hearing said, “It is a sad day for Golden Gate Park when the departments charged with stewardship of our parks decide to destroy our crown jewel.”

The opponents have the option of appealing the Planning Commission’s certification of the project to the Board of Supervisors.

SF Ocean Edge’s statement said the group would be “discussing our options over the next few days.”

Construction on the new fields is tentatively scheduled to begin in the summer or fall of 2013 and will last about 10 months, according to city officials.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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