a_soccer_ball.pngSupporters of San Francisco’s plan to convert the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park from grass to artificial turf today asked a judge to allow them to join the city in fighting a lawsuit filed by opponents seeking to block the project.

Attorneys for the City Fields Foundation, a nonprofit working with San Francisco to renovate fields around the city, asked San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson today to allow them to intervene as another defendant in a lawsuit filed last month by opponents of the project.

The plan to overhaul the 7-acre site on the western end of the park with turf and lighting was approved by several city agencies, including the Board of Supervisors in July, but groups including the San Francisco Coalition for Children’s Outdoor Play filed a lawsuit in October to try to block the project.

The groups argue that the city did not adequately review the environmental impacts of the project as required by the California Environmental Quality Act, and said the turf could be toxic to children playing on it.

But Scott Emblidge, an attorney representing City Fields Foundation, said today that the project “has been studied more than you can imagine … and been approved by every city agency that has looked at it.”

Emblidge said the argument over the turf is a red herring, noting that the opponents have proposed an alternative to replace the current Beach Chalet fields with grass and replace fields at the nearby West Sunset Playground with synthetic turf and lighting.

“Why are they saying to move these ‘toxic’ fields to a different park?” he said.

Richard Drury, attorney for the project’s opponents, said that safety is their main concern and that they have proposed non-toxic artificial alternatives, such as turf with sand or cork underneath it.

Drury said the city has chosen “the most toxic kind available” and “refused to consider any of the alternatives at all.”

Emblidge said City Fields Foundation wants to join the city in fighting the lawsuit to “have our voice heard on that side to explain to the court why there is no problem” with the project.

However, Drury accused the foundation of trying to buy its way into the lawsuit and said it should not be able to intervene in the case.

The judge is expected to rule within the next week on the motion to intervene and both sides are next scheduled to return to court on Jan. 16 for a case management conference.

Barring a delay as a result of the lawsuit, construction on the new fields is expected to begin next summer or fall, and will last about 10 months.

City officials say the project will add about 9,500 hours of play time annually and increase safety since the current fields at Beach Chalet are often closed for maintenance and are pockmarked with gopher holes and other hazards.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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