New Delays Raised by Opponents of Youth Soccer

by Andrew Szeto on April 8, 2014

The renovation of the Beach Chalet soccer fields may see further delays as opposition groups begin signature gathering to place the project for vote in November’s elections. Despite a severe lack of athletic fields in the city, the planned initiative places another obstacle to making the renovations necessary to provide year round access for youth and adults alike.

The renovation would replace the natural grass fields at the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park with a synthetic turf that is already currently used other city parks. The City Fields Foundation donated $14 million to the Recreation and Parks Commission for the renovation. The usage of the space primarily exists for soccer games, and the renovation will drastically increase the usable hours of the field, which would no longer have to be closed because of weather. In addition the replacing the grass, lights will be added to increase the hours of play.

The soccer field’s renovation has been on the table since 2011, and has gathered strong support from residents. The Board of Supervisors approved the project 10-1 last year, and the Mayor has also expressed support.

“We have a dramatic shortage in soccer fields,” Supervisor Scott Wiener told BeyondChron. He cited the constant usage at Mission Playground and the need for more sports fields in the city.

“There’s been incredibly deep support in the community,” Wiener said.

The project has faced continual challenges since being proposed in 2011, but has won every appeal process brought against it. Opponents from groups like Coalition for Children’s Outdoor Play and the Sierra Club have challenged the environmental impacts on displaced wildlife and the usage of allegedly toxic materials in the turf. They also oppose the installation of high wattage lights, which they say will disturb naturalistic purpose of Golden Gate Park.

Last year, the California Coastal Commission approved the project in spite of claims from opposition that the synthetic turf was more toxic than official reports suggested. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson also dismissed a lawsuit challenging the project based on California Environmental Quality Act violations, which is currently being appealed.

Loraine Woodriff-Long, Executive Director of the Police Activities League, which sponsors sports leagues for 5,000 youth annually, said that the renovations are necessary for providing the necessary space for the amount of youth wanting to play.

“We’re turning away hundreds of kids every year because there is simply not enough places for them to play,” Woodriff-Long told BeyondChron.

The Beach Chalet soccer fields have historically been used primarily for athletics, and the renovations are only keeping up with its intended purpose, she continued.

Jean Barish of the Coalition to Protect Golden Gate Park said that opposition is not about limiting children’s access to soccer fields but about their safety. “This is an effort to provide kids with safe, wholesome soccer fields,” she told BeyondChron.

The proposed ballot measure will seek voter approval to require athletic fields in Golden Gate Park to have natural grass only and to ban nighttime sports lighting. Barish believes that the ballot initiative has strong chance to pass and said that they have already collected over 15,000 signatures in opposition to the renovation.

But such optimism is belied by the overwhelming support for the project before every political body that considered the issue. And with widespread concern over the exodus of families with children from San Francisco, the initiative faces an uphill battle.

The California Coastal Commission will vote on revised findings today in Santa Barbara and the Recreation and Park Commission will vote on the construction contract on Thursday, April 17th.

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