Coastal Commission should allow city’s plan for soccer fields to proceed

A recent report by staff members of the state agency that controls development along California’s coastline argues against a plan for new playing fields near the Beach Chalet in Golden Gate Park. But the document is flawed in its reasoning and its recommendations should be rejected.

When the California Coastal Commission takes up the issue of the Beach Chalet soccer fields during its Thursday meeting, the members of the agency will have before them a document based on a false understanding of what this portion of the park was, is and should be.

The 9.4-acre playing fields sit on the western side of Golden Gate Park, where athletic fields of some sort have existed for more than 75 years. The fields are among the most used in The City, but poor drainage and wear forces them to be closed roughly half of the time, according to the Recreation and Park Department. One of the four fields is typically closed at all times to allow the grass to regrow.

To extend the playing time at the fields, the parks department has entered into a public-private funding proposal with the City Fields Foundation that would pay to replace the grass with artificial turf. The site would also receive new lights to illuminate the fields for more hours, a new children’s playground, new seating and revamped restrooms. These improvements would add more than 9,500 hours of playing time at the fields, which are much needed in a city where field space and time are both at a premium.

The plan has been approved locally, but an appeal to the Coastal Commission prompted the report. In that document, agency staff members erroneously refer to the existing fields as “pastoral landscape,” arguing that features of the playing field, including the lines that mark the athletic fields, could be harmful to wildlife.

Opponents of this plan and now the Coastal Commission’s staff make it appear as though the Recreation and Park Department is clear-cutting virgin forest in an isolated area to make way for a mega development. The truth is that the site, which comprises less than 1 percent of the total space in Golden Gate Park, is already a playing field with marked lines. The arguments against lighting range from the light pollution it could cause to the impacts the lights would have on migrating birds. The report even objects to the sideline seating from which parents would be able to watch their children play sports. Oh, yes, and the new soccer fields are too rectangular!

The report’s main is that the area should remain natural, as is called for in a Golden Gate Park master plan. But, of course, a truly natural Golden Gate Park would consist of the sand dunes that used to dominate the area before the park was created. Others argue that the area should consist of trees and walking paths. However the Coastal Commission staff argues that nine acres of mowed grass — but not artificial turf — would be natural.

This paper has argued before that if there were not already playing fields at this location, this project would be an inappropriate one. But given the history of the past 75 years, this project wisely upgrades the existing use to make it more usable for the children and adults who need more space for sports in The City. The remaining 99 percent of Golden Gate Park is there for everything else.

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