a_soccer_ball.pngThe San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night approved plans to replace the Beach Chalet grass soccer fields in the city’s Golden Gate Park with synthetic turf and lighting–but needed extra time to do it.

Following a meeting that lasted late into the night at City Hall, where scores of people came to speak both for and against the project, the board voted 10-1 to affirm the environmental review of the plans to overhaul the roughly 7-acre site on the western end of the park.

Opponents of the project, including the groups SF Ocean Edge, the Sierra Club, and the Golden Gate Audubon Society, filed an appeal of the project’s environmental impact report last month, arguing that the changes would hurt the park’s aesthetics and natural resources.

However, the supervisors rejected the appeal and certified the project.

“I feel very strongly about protecting Golden Gate Park,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, whose district includes the park. “But I feel we absolutely need to improve the number of hours of play time and address the issue of obesity and other crisis issues with families in the city.”

Christina Olague was the lone supervisor to vote against certifying the environmental review, saying she thought it did not adequately address various issues, including how the new lights would affect the aesthetics of the area during the nighttime.

Proponents of the plan, including dozens of youth soccer players and parents who spoke at Tuesday’s seven-plus-hour meeting, argued that the changes would triple the amount of play time available at the fields and that the synthetic turf would reduce injuries currently caused by the dilapidated conditions of the fields.

One of the four soccer fields at Beach Chalet currently is always out of use to allow for grass re-growth. The fields are also closed every Monday for other maintenance.

“There’s no doubt that Golden Gate Park is one of the city’s greatest treasures,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department.

“It’s a botanical wonder and recreational pasture, and is able to embrace and accommodate the evolving needs” of the city, Ginsburg said. “We feel the (environmental review) is thorough and complete.”

Dozens of the plan’s opponents also attended Tuesday’s hearing, including Richard Drury, the attorney representing the various environmental and neighborhood groups that filed the appeal on June 12.

Drury said he also is a parent whose children play soccer, but said “kids also need natural areas where they can enjoy nature, and in this heavily urbanized city, there are few of those.”

Other opponents who spoke at the hearing argued that the project was an example of further privatization in the city.

“It’s really about more opportunities to sell more permits, to stay open a longer period of time, and allow private entities to use public property,” said city resident Andrea O’Leary.

Drury argued that the environmental impact report should be declared inadequate because it refused to acknowledge a “hybrid alternative” proposed by the opponents.

The plan entails renovating the current Beach Chalet fields with grass and no lighting while replacing the playing fields at nearby West Sunset Playground with synthetic turf and lighting.

“It seems like a no-brainer,” he said.

City staff said they had considered that alternative, but that the current plan was the best option to maximize play time while mitigating other impacts.

The project will create an additional 9,500 hours of play time annually, Ginsburg said.
Construction on the new fields is tentatively set to begin in the summer or fall of 2013 and will last about 10 months.

However, Drury indicated that opponents could seek to have the project blocked by the California Coastal Commission, which he said also has jurisdiction at the site.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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