a_soccer_ball.pngA proposal to replace the Beach Chalet grass fields in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with synthetic turf and lighting is being considered this evening at a joint hearing of the city’s Planning and Recreation and Park commissions.

The Planning Commission will decide whether to certify the environmental impact report for the project while the Recreation and Park Commission will decide whether to approve the plans.

The meeting, which is expected to last several hours, began this afternoon and was attended by hundreds of people, both supporters who say the changes will increase the amount of play time at the fields and opponents who argue it will hurt the park’s aesthetics and natural resources.

Patrick Hannan, spokesman for the City Fields Foundation, said the current fields, located at the west end of Golden Gate Park, are a “facility that’s in desperate need of renovation.”

Hannan said that replacing the grass fields with synthetic turf and adding lighting will triple the amount of use 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 every Monday for other maintenance.

Hannan said the synthetic turf would also increase safety at the fields by eliminating gopher holes and other hazards.

Police Chief Greg Suhr spoke at today’s meeting, saying increasing the availability of play time at the fields “gives kids positive choices to engage in positive activities” and said the lights will reduce illicit activity such as drug use and prostitution in the area.

Many youth soccer players also spoke in favor of the project at the meeting.

Opponents of the project, including the groups SF Ocean Edge and the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, say it would cause a loss of dozens of trees and natural habitat, decrease night sky darkness in the area and infringe on the historic context of the nearby Beach Chalet and windmills.

Terence Faulkner, one of the opponents, called the project “an abomination” and urged the commissioners to reject it.

However, Hannan said the project has been properly vetted and that it is time to move forward with the plan.

“Whenever you try to do good works in San Francisco, you expect and need to embrace a robust public dialogue,” he said. “This dialogue has been going on for many years and we had a thorough environmental impact report and numerous public meetings. A lot of attention has been given to make sure this project is appropriate for the park.”

If the project is approved, construction would begin in the summer or fall of 2013 and last about 10 months, according to city officials.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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