The long-awaited and much-debated plan to change the shabby grass of the Beach Chalet soccer fields into artificial turf could be derailed by a state agency that oversees development along the coastline.
Playing fields are in short supply in San Francisco, and wet weather often closes the 9.4 acres of playing fields at the western edge of Golden Gate Park. Gopher holes also threaten children’s ankles, according to the Recreation and Park Department, which has a plan to add 60-foot light poles and replace the grass with artificial turf, both of which would increase the amount of playing time on the fields.
Fields at Crocker-Amazon Playground, Silver Terrace and elsewhere in San Francisco have had similar upgrades.
The endeavor — paid for by $20 million from The City and $28 million from the City Fields Foundation, a nonprofit funded by the Fisher family of Gap Inc. fame — was approved last year by The City’s Planning Commission.
Opponents, including the Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit against The City in October, alleging that the bright lights and added traffic at the west end of the park violates city development rules that emphasize natural landscapes and a link between park and the ocean.
An appeal was also filed with the California Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over development projects near ocean areas, and the plan could be altered drastically if commission members agree with recommendations from commission staff members.
Field replacement should go forward only if the playing surface remains natural grass and the field’s lights are eliminated or drastically reduced in size and “integrated with the perimeter vegetation,” according to an April 26 report from the Coastal Commission staff.
Any renovations must “emphasize the naturalistic pastoral landscape” of the area, wrote staffers, who also said that existing fencing should be removed and plans for spectator seating for up to 1,000 people be reduced to “intermittent benches.”
A hearing on the recommendations — at which point the Coastal Commission could vote to force the fixes, or allow the project to go forward as approved by city leaders — is scheduled for May 9.
Supporters of the field renovations “fundamentally disagree” with the Coastal Commission staff findings, according to Patrick Hannan, a spokesman for City Fields.
Far from a “pastoral area,” the Beach Chalet fields have been a “major recreation area” for 80 years, he said.
“The kids of San Francisco deserve a safe athletic field to play on,” added Hannan, who would not comment on the possibility of a scaled-back plan.
In a statement, Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg noted that the field plan with artificial turf and lighting was approved “by four city bodies and has the support of the city family.”