The showdown over proposed renovations to the Beach Chalet soccer fields is expected to heat up Thursday.
The Recreation and Park Commission is scheduled to make a decision on whether to approve planned improvements to the 7-acre fields at the west end of Golden Gate Park at its meeting Thursday. If approved, the fields could be open by September of next year.
But nearly every aspect of the controversial plan — including night lighting that could affect bird migration and obscure views of the sky, and the potential hazards of groundwater runoff from synthetic turf — have drawn the ire of city politicians, preservationists and astronomers.
“I am convinced that the public health concerns are outweighed by the benefits of a much better field,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who has followed the design’s progression since a synthetic-turf task force was established in 2008. “But it’s one of these issues where many environmental and neighborhood groups are key opponents.”
Proponents of the plan say the major facility improvements — which call for improved walkways, new bathrooms, bike racks, night lighting to extend usage hours and synthetic turf — could triple use, save millions of gallons of water and add a number of amenities to the grasslands that cover 1 percent of the historic 140-year-old open space.
The project started with the Playground Initiative in 2006, a $45 million partnership between the Recreation and Park Department and the City Fields Foundation, a nonprofit founded by three sons of Gap Inc. founder Donald Fisher.
The Beach Chalet soccer fields would be the sixth set of fields, including Crocker Amazon, benefiting from the initiative and could be the finishing touch on Rec and Park’s goal to increase the number of play hours by 62,000.
However, before commissioners can make a decision they must pore over more than 80 pages of documents dating back to 2008 that outline the condition of the project space, including details such as soil content and shrubbery health.
“I don’t like to prejudge these things,” commission President Mark Buell said. “I am a fan of the idea, but I think there’s an awful lot to take in and I don’t have a closed mind.”
On Friday, the Planning Department decided for a second time that the renovation complies with state regulations and does not require an environmental impact report.
That decision, which has been opposed by several groups, will likely be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, Mar said, despite the board already approving the $5 million gift from the City Fields Foundation for the renovation.
Kicking up a debate
Proposed upgrades to the Beach Chalet soccer fields
Now: Fields are not lit at night
After: 60-foot light poles, shining up to 103-feet high
- 42 shrubs rated in poor condition
- 2 shrubs in moderate condition
- 14 trees, half in near-dead condition
- Spectator plaza with picnic area, play area and/or barbecue pits
- Racks for 60 bicycles
- Drinking fountains
- Parking lot expansion from 50 to 70 spots
Proposed project timeline
April: 2010 Recreation and Park Commission review and approval of project (pending)
April: Begin construction documents
July: Complete construction documents and solicit bids
October: Award contract
November: Construction begins
September 2011: Fields open
City Fields Foundation: $5 million
City funding: $7.5 million
Total: $12.5 million
Soft costs: $2.9 million
Construction costs: $9.6 million
Source: Recreation and Park and Planning departments