Soccer, conservation fans battle it out with home turf in balance

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Mike Koozmin/2012 Examiner file photo
The outcome of the votes on Props. H and I will determine if an already approved plan to install artificial turf on the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park will go through.
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Po Bronson said he bears scars from tripping and falling on the uneven soccer fields behind the Beach Chalet. And he once threw out his hip after stepping into a gopher hole there.

With the popularity of soccer increasing in San Francisco, demand for even less-than-ideal playing fields far exceeds their availability. So Bronson, president of the San Francisco Vikings Youth Soccer League, favors their overhaul.

“We have 6,000 kids, coming from every elementary school in The City, and they all want to play more soccer,” Bronson said. “Turf will triple the amount of playing time for them.”

A controversial proposal to replace the grass pitches at Ocean Beach with artificial turf will face a series of
crucial votes of approval this week.

Pitting soccer supporters against conservationists, the plan calls for artificial turf at four fields, plus the installation of field lighting, seating amenities and an expanded parking lot at the site, which sits on the western edge of Golden Gate Park.

Soccer aficionados and youth sports organizations love the idea, since the artificial turf will allow for significantly increased playing time at the fields. The soggy conditions at Golden Gate Park leave the grass fields in frail condition and prone to disrepair, forcing the closure of the pitches for at least 50 percent of their usable time during the course of the year, according to the Recreation and Park Department.

On Thursday in a special joint meeting, the Planning Commission will vote to approve environmental and planning studies regarding the project, and the Recreation and Park Commission will vote on the general plan of the renovation.

But while both city agencies have recommended approval of the project, the plan has drawn significant opposition from neighbors and environmental groups.

Arthur Feinstein, a conservationist with the San Francisco Sierra Club, said the field lighting at the new site would be a blight on the landscape, disturb foraging habits of local animals and put some creatures at heightened risk from predators. Feinstein also suspects the parks department’s motivation, since the increased playing time will lead to greater revenue for The City’s coffers.

“This looks very much like a cash grab,” Feinstein said.

As part of its master plan, the western portion of Golden Gate Park is intended to be more natural and wild, far removed from the bustle of its eastern segment, said Katherine Howard of SF Ocean Edge, a group opposing the renovation project.

“We do support youth soccer, and understand the needs to renovate fields, but we feel that Golden Gate Park is the wrong site for the project,” Howard said. “This will take a meadow in Golden Gate Park and turn it into a suburban parking lot.”

Thursday’s votes are crucial hurdles for the project, but even if there is approval from the two committees, the fight over Beach Chalet will likely continue. Feinstein said he’d be shocked if an appeal wasn’t filed if the Planning Commission approves the project.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com


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