The adults have had their say, and sometime soon the children will at long last play.
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s controversial plan to overhaul the Beach Chalet soccer fields at the western edge of Golden Gate Park appeared to clear its final hurdle Thursday when the field replacement project — which was approved by the Board of Supervisors nearly a year ago — received unanimous approval from the California Coastal Commission.
Following approvals from five city agencies, opponents of the plan, including the Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon Society, filed an appeal with the Coastal Commission, which under state law has jurisdiction over development on land near the Pacific Ocean. The plan calls for replacing the fields’ 7-acre grass surface, which is closed for almost half the year due to wet weather, with artificial turf and adding 10 60-foot light poles.
The appeal argued that transforming the grass, which some migratory birds use as habitat, into a soccer complex with artificial turf and lighting on until 10 p.m. did not fit with the park’s “naturalistic” — the definition of which became contentious during Thursday’s five-hour hearing — and pastoral identity.
A commission staff report had recommended that the lighting plans be reduced and the artificial turf scrapped in favor of grass. That would have reduced the fields’ availability — increasing playing hours was always a main goal — and effectively killed the project, Rec and Park chief Phil Ginsburg said.
Proponents and several commissioners noted that the area has been used for playing fields since 1933, and there are multiple other examples of recreational facilities, including an equestrian center and a golf course, in the western end of the park — the natural state of which is sand dunes.
After the unanimous vote was cast, a visibly relieved Ginsburg hugged Rec and Park staff members who accompanied him to the hearing at the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael, as the project’s few dozen opponents trudged out of the hearing room.
“It’s been a long journey,” Ginsburg said. “But this is a win for kids. Honestly, this is not bulls***. This is what it was always about — it was always about the kids.”
Rec and Park money, along with a sizable grant from the City Fields Foundation, will pay for the field’s rehabilitation. It’s uncertain when construction will start.
The fight over the fields isn’t quite done. A separate lawsuit alleging California Environmental Quality Act violations is still pending. A hearing was scheduled for Thursday, but construction can begin regardless of the suit, according to Rec and Park spokeswoman Sarah Ballard.