Debate begins over fate of Beach Chalet Fields

May 24, 2012 11:46:42 PM PDT
A debate is underway at San Francisco City Hall that is expected to go late into the night. It pits kids and parents who love soccer, against people who love the natural habitat of Golden Gate Park.

Groups of kids have been outside City Hall playing soccer all afternoon on a makeshift course, while their parents testify upstairs at a joint hearing of the Planning Commission and Rec and Park.

It's estimated 10,000 kids play soccer every year on the Beach Chalet Athletic Fields in Golden Gate Park. Built more than 75 years ago, the four fields were renovated in 1998. But even with the renovation, the drainage system is still poor and there are gopher holes and muddy patches. Rec and Park admits players regularly hurt themselves. Now there's a new plan on the table.

"The key here is creating enough field space for our kids to play ball. We can't buy... there's no new land in San Francisco," said Phil Ginsburg, the San Francisco Recreation and Park director.

The city is proposing a $14 million renovation with half the tab picked up by the non-profit City Fields Foundation. The grass would be replaced with artificial turf and lights would be installed for nighttime games.

"Artificial turf can be played on in any weather. Half our games this season were cancelled due to rain," said Maureen Carew, a soccer coach.

But as excited as some parents and coaches are, there is vocal opposition. From those who see the project as a desecration of Golden Gate Park.

"We think it should be kept as natural as possible, artificial turf in a park-like environment like Golden Gate Park is just not appropriate," said Jean Barish, a project opponent.

"When you have plastic grass, a whole bunch of concrete, when you have increased parking, then you have 60 foot lights, 150,000 watts that are on until 10 every night, that's not parkland anymore," said Katherine Howard, a project opponent.

Both sides weighed in Thursday night at a hearing that was expected to go on for hours. While that debate took place inside City Hall, outside kids showed off their moves. The goal for the young players is more playing time.

"It should be turf because when it's raining, it gets all muddy and we have to cancel it," said Kaitlin Killian, a young soccer player.

The plan was tentatively approved, but it's not a done deal. The Board of Supervisors has to weigh in on it and one of the opposition groups had a lawyer, so litigation could be in the future.


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