Dismissed suit clears way for Beach Chalet turf plan

Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner File photoThe controversial issue of installing artificial turf athletic fields at Golden Gate Park’s Beach Chalet could be up to voters who may face dueling ballot measures in November.

Recreation and Park Department officials hope the final of seemingly countless hurdles to renovate The City’s Beach Chalet Athletic Fields has been cleared, after a judge dismissed a lawsuit against the project.

“In the world of soccer, we won a big match,” department General Manager Phil Ginsburg said of California Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson’s decision on Tuesday. “Kids had a big win.”

Since 2006, city and community members have pushed for a new synthetic turf and adding light poles at the field, which is closed for half the year due to wet conditions. Opponents, including the Sierra Club, argued the artificial turf would sacrifice the “natural” character of the field at the western edge of Golden Gate Park.

Two of seven arguments in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, the San Francisco Coalition for Children’s Outdoor Play, Education and the Environment and two individuals were thrown out by the judge in the summer, and the rest — including one challenging the safety of the artificial turf — was dismissed Tuesday. Jackson found The City’s environmental impact report adequately reviewed the project under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“It’s a very clear decision that the judge issued,” Ginsburg said. “We’re moving forward and our goal is to have this field open in 2015.”

Construction is expected to begin as early as winter 2014, though opponents have 60 days from the judge’s decision to appeal.

Arthur Feinstein, chair of the San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the judge’s decision and is “definitely considering an appeal.”

“We believe the judgment was in error,” Feinstein said. “There’s no doubt in our minds that the turf material proposed to be used by The City can have a wide range of chemicals and they failed to consider them.”

Patrick Hannan, spokesman for City Fields Foundation, which will help pay for the $14 million renovation, said: “We love the public process, but at some point you have to ask, ‘Is it worth the cost, the opportunity to play, the private and tax dollars?’”

The Beach Chalet Athletic Fields is “the crown jewel of all the projects” up for renovation, said Colin Schmidt, executive director of America SCORES Bay Area.

Playtime on the fields would triple to more than 14,000 hours of use per year and 5.7 million gallons of water would be saved annually, according to the department.

“It’s going to relieve the pressure on the rest of The City,” Schmidt said.

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