April 19, 2015

State bill to study health impacts of tire-crumb fields moves forward — Your support needed!

Cancer survivor, soccer player, and soccer coach Casey Sullivan testifies at the March 18, 2015, hearing on SB47.

Cancer survivor, soccer player, and soccer coach Casey Sullivan testifies at the March 18, 2015, hearing on SB47.

Update 4/9/15: Senate Bill 47 (The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015) will be heard at the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday, April 13th, at 10 am in Capitol Room 4203.

On March 18th, members of the State Senate Environmental Quality Committee voted unanimously to support a state-mandated study on the health impacts of the synthetic crumb rubber infill made from tire waste (also known as SBR) that is used on artificial turf playing fields and playgrounds. The study is part of Senate Bill (SB) 47, The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015, introduced by Bay Area State Senator Jerry Hill. The legislation also includes a statewide moratorium on the use of tire crumb in new projects until the completion of the study, unless certain conditions are met. Having secured the approval of the Environmental Quality Committee, SB 47 now goes to the Appropriations Committee, where it will be heard in April.

The Sierra Club strongly supports SB 47. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment have identified long lists of toxins in the tire crumb, including carcinogens. However, the legislation will continue to be fought by the artificial-turf manufacturers and tire-waste recyclers. SB47 needs widespread support from individuals and organizations all over California.  See below for what you can do to support this important legislation!

Senator Hill (D-San Mateo) introduced the legislation after becoming aware of the growing list of athletes who have played on the tire waste fields and subsequently developed cancer. In NBC investigative news reports that aired in October 2014, soccer coach Amy Griffin described taking one of her players in for cancer treatments. The attending nurse said to the ill player, “Don’t tell me you are a goalkeeper. You’re the fourth goalkeeper I’ve hooked up this week.”

“I’ve coached for 26, 27 years,” Coach Griffin has said. “My first 15 years, I never heard anything about this. All of a sudden it seems to be a stream of kids.”

At the March 18th hearing, Senator Hill said that coach Griffin has identified 126 athletes who had contracted cancer, 109 of whom were soccer players. Griffin’s list includes 51 players with lymphomas and 19 with leukemia. Ten players contracted brain cancer, and others developed a variety of other cancers including sarcoma, testicular, and thyroid. Goalies, who spend a lot of their playing time diving into the rubber-crumb-filled turf, seem more prone to developing cancer.

A star witness at the hearing was cancer survivor, soccer player, and soccer coach Casey Sullivan. Sullivan testified that he had been diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he was a 21-year-old college goalkeeper. “I had a tumor in my chest, the size of a soccer ball in diameter,” he said.

Many Bay Area supporters traveled to Sacramento to speak at the March 18th hearing. Testimony in favor of SB47 included soccer moms, soccer grandmothers, coaches, and representatives of environmental and neighborhood groups. Over 35 organizations have come out in support of SB47, including the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, with 44 member organizations.

Opposition to this common-sense legislation will be stiff! SB47 needs widespread support from organizations and individuals all over California.  Ask your family and friends to write in and attend the hearings!


1. Call the following members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and tell them you support SB 47. If anyone in your family plays on tire-crumb fields or playgrounds, let the Senators know about your personal concern:

Ricardo Lara (Chair): 916-651-4033
Jim Beall: 916-651-4015
Connie Leyva: 916-651-4020
Tony Mendoza: 916-651-4032

2. If you are a member of ANY organization, ask them to write a letter of support today! The legislation has the support of environmental groups; what is needed is support from other types of organizations throughout the state.

3. Write a personal letter of support today. If you or anyone in your family plays soccer or other sports, talk about it! Address letters to:

Senator Jerry Hill
Attn: Nate Solov
1303 10th Street, Room 5035
Sacramento, CA 95814

Email your letters to Nate.Solov@sen.ca.gov

4. Attend the next hearing! SB 47 will be heard at the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday, April 13th, at 10 am in Capitol Room 4203. Join us! With questions, email Nate.Solov@sen.ca.gov or call 916-651-4238. To read the amended legislation, click here.

Unfortunately, SB 47 will not stop the Beach Chalet soccer-fields, as construction has already begun on that project; however, it the legislation is bringing attention to the artificial-turf controversy that will help in the battle not only for grass fields and habitat in Golden Gate Park but also for the health of everyone who plays on artificial turf fields.

More background information on this issue:

— Katherine Howard, ASLA, www.healthysoccersf.org; Susan Vaughan, chairwoman of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter’s San Francisco Group

Farewell to Frank Dean — Head of Golden Gate National Recreation Area moving on after productive tenure

Frank Dean.

Frank Dean.

Frank Dean, who served as General Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) since 2009, is leaving the National Park Service to join the Yosemite Conservancy as its new President and CEO.

“Frank Dean came to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area after the sudden death of our much-loved superintendent, Brian O’Neill,” recalls Becky Evans, longtime GGNRA activist. “O’Neill had been deeply involved in the communities surrounding the park for more than 25 years. It was a hard position to inherit, but over his tenure Frank has succeeded in improving the park in many ways.”

Frank’s first job was to bring together his deeply-saddened staff, which he did most effectively. Many projects in the park were left partly-finished upon O’Neill’s death, and had relied on his community connections. Frank approached this unfinished business with a strong background and deep knowledge base that enabled him to bring the projects to a successful conclusion.

“This park, embedded in an urban area where so many people care vociferously about its attributes, is one of the most complex to administer in the national park system,” said GGNRA advocate Amy Meyer. “Frank’s stalwart support of national park principles and his personal warmth won the admiration and affection of park advocates.”

A park superintendent is frequently under the radar except to those working on specific issues — which in an urban area can be many and diverse. Frank worked hand-in-hand with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the Presidio Trust to conserve and improve the GGNRA. Among his numerous accomplishments as Superintendent of the GGNRA, he:

  • Fostered an innovative partnership with the Golden Gate Bridge District and Parks Conservancy to provide modern visitor facilities at the iconic bridge;
  • Initiated a new partnership to protect the Mt. Tamalpais ecosystem;
  • Established a major capital campaign to preserve facilities on Alcatraz;
  • Worked out a win-win arrangement with the Veterans Administration Medical Center under which their temporary need for extended parking as they undergo construction is helping pay for restoration and eventual repurposing of the octagon house at Lands End.
  • Continued the Ocean Beach project begun by his predecessor in coordination with the urban planning nonprofit SPUR and seven agencies. The project is designed to beautify the beach and adjacent areas and help the southern part, in particular, become more resistant to the effects of climate change.
  • Defended the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, which helped lead to the defeat of the George Lucas Museum proposed to be erected adjacent to the Presidio’s Crissy Field.
  • Participated effectively in a multi-agency effort to deal with the difficult traffic, parking, and natural resource problems at Muir Woods, a project now approaching resolution.

Prior to serving at GGNRA, Frank was superintendent of Saratoga National Historical Park and assistant superintendent at Point Reyes National Seashore. His position at the Yosemite Conservancy marks a return to his roots; a trip to Yosemite as a college student triggered Frank’s passion for the outdoors and conservation, and inspired a career working in our national parks.

Frank went on to serve in Yosemite as a park ranger, and from 1990 to 1995 was management assistant to the superintendent and the primary National Park Service contact on Yosemite Conservancy projects. Working with the Conservancy, he helped establish project review guidelines for work with the National Park Service (NPS), and he led the NPS team on the dramatic improvements and restoration of Glacier Point overlook. Frank also was a park ranger in Sequoia and Grand Canyon national parks.

Frank will be missed, but we look forward to seeing more of his good work in action at Yosemite!

— Becky Evans

Decision coming soon on “wreck-reation” in Tesla Park

Trails-only area at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area; photo by Celeste Garamendi

Damage to the hills in the trails-only area at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area; photo by Celeste Garamendi.

We are still fighting to save the biologically unique and culturally important Tesla Park in eastern Alameda County from the damaging impacts of off-highway vehicle (OHV) “wreck-reation”.

The California State Parks Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division has delayed at least three times the release of the Draft General Plan update and Environmental Impact Report EIR for the existing Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) and its proposed expansion into Tesla Park land. This effort to complete a plan to guide future management and operation of Carnegie SVRA, begun in 2012, is the OHMVR Division’s third attempt to create such a plan. Other attempts from 2000 and 2004 were aborted without explanation. The Sierra Club continues to work with the Friends of Tesla Park alliance to press for State Parks to change their plans and permanently preserve Tesla Park, and to prepare for review of the Draft General Plan and EIR once it is finally released.

One troubling issue with regard to natural resource management in this sensitive area is the failure of Carnegie SVRA to issue statutorily required annual habitat monitoring systems reports. With no annual reports there can be no meaningful or timely adaptive management. While this is just one of many significant issues with Carnegie SVRA management, we are concerned that the failure to conduct credible natural-resource assessments is occurring throughout the State Park OHMVR system.

When the Draft General Plan and EIR are released we will need as many people as possible to submit comments. To receive our notification, make sure you are on the Bay Chapter’s email list. You can sign up for our East Bay Bulletin and “General” lists.

— Celeste Garamendi

Bay Chapter forms Federal Parks Committee

Point Reyes Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Frank Schulenburg on Flickr Creative Commons.

Point Reyes Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Frank Schulenburg on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Bay Chapter has formed a Federal Parks Committee, which will be concerned with planning and other issues in our region’s national parks. The committee’s immediate focus will be parks currently engaged in planning processes, including Marin’s Muir Woods, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Bay Area is home to many spectacular sites of natural and historic interest that are managed by the National Park Service. In addition to the three parks listed above, examples include the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park, the John Muir National Historic Site, the Presidio, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Fort Point National Historic Site, and the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site.

The new committee will not deal with federal wildlife refuges in the Bay Chapter.

If you are interested in joining the Federal Parks Committee, please contact committee chair Alan Carlton at (510)769-3403 or carltonal@yahoo.com.

Health, environmental concerns about tire-crumb turf call S.F. plans into question

Construction on the Beach Chalet soccer fields as of January, 2015. Photo by Greg Miller.

Construction on the Beach Chalet soccer fields as of January, 2015. Photo by Greg Miller.

One of the most visible and vexing byproducts of our love affair with the car—besides climate change—is the used tire. Taking a cue from the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” cities including San Francisco are repurposing the leftover tires to pave sports fields and playgrounds. However, growing concerns about the health risks posed by toxins present in tires have the Sierra Club and many other environmental and consumer safety groups calling for their removal. San Francisco has in place a Precautionary Principle that should preclude the use of materials that could pose a risk to the health and safety of its citizens and the environment. So why is the city continuing with plans to install this potentially hazardous material at the Beach Chalet soccer fields?

In part, the city’s installation of tire-crumb—or styrene butadiene rubber — turf sports fields is a part of a nationwide undertaking, once encouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By 2003, Americans were generating about 290 million used tires annually. To keep waste tires out of landfills and from polluting the countryside, the EPA began to encourage their reuse. Several states, including California, followed suit and created grant programs that local governments could tap into to repurpose used tires.

Encouraged by such incentives, tire-crumb playgrounds and sports fields have begun to proliferate in San Francisco parks in recent years. In November, following the failure of a ballot measure that would have prevented the project, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department commenced construction on its largest-yet tire-crumb facility: the Beach Chalet soccer complex, located at the western end of Golden Gate Park. This project involves demolishing seven acres of natural grass fields and covering those seven acres with an estimated 3.5 million pounds of ground-up tires covered with plastic grass.

Because of projects like the Beach Chalet fields, there may be fewer heaps of used tires throughout the nation, but growing concerns about the safety of tire-crumb turf have raised questions about the wisdom of this tradeoff.

For several years, the Sierra Club has been litigating the Beach Chalet soccer fields project based on inadequacies in the project Environment Impact Report (EIR), including these safety concerns. For one thing, the EIR acknowledges that ingested toxins in the tire crumb exceed hazard levels for children by 220 percent, based on a report by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (you can find the full report at http://tinyurl.com/oehhastudy). What are those substances that exceed the trigger levels?  Among others, they are arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc. Physiological impacts of overexposure to these toxins range from irritated eyes, rashes, and joint pain to developmental delays, cardiomyopathy, and cancer.

Other government agencies have likewise acknowledged safety issues with tire crumb. In 2013, in response to advocacy by the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the EPA retracted a 2009 statement that read, “The limited study, conducted in August through October 2008, found that the concentrations of materials that made up tire crumb were below levels considered harmful.” The EPA now admits that the information from its 2008 study is outdated.

In 2014, NBC News reporters aired a series of stories on the potential link between tire-crumb turf and cancer in soccer players, mostly goalies, a number of whom have developed lymphoma and leukemia, among other cancers. Soccer goalies spend a lot of time on the ground, diving into the crumb rubber. The NBC stories revealed that the EPA now admits that more studies need to be done before tire-crumb turf can be declared safe.

Additionally, in December 2014, State Senator Jerry Hill, representing Peninsula district 13 and Chair of the Standing Committee on Environmental Quality, introduced legislation calling for a temporary moratorium on the installation of tire-crumb soccer fields pending the results of a state study on their safety. Senate Bill 47, The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015, would require the study to be completed by July 2017. Unfortunately, because the moratorium would not apply to any projects already underway before July 2016, the legislation would not stop installation of the Beach Chalet fields or remove the many acres of tire crumb-filled artificial turf already in use throughout San Francisco.

At a Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee meeting on January 6 of this year, Dawn Kamalanathan, the SFRPD director of Planning and Capital Management, said that as part of the department’s capital plans for 2015-16 and 2016-17 it is considering a proposal to replace tire-crumb turf fields at the Franklin, Youngblood Coleman, Garfield, and Silver Terrace playfields with “natural infill material.” Despite this positive development, Kamalanathan said that the department still plans to install tire crumb turf at the Beach Chalet fields.

San Francisco’s Precautionary Principle, adopted in 2003, requires policymakers to thoroughly vet projects and choose the option least harmful to human health and the city’s natural systems. Given all that we know—and still don’t know—about the toxins present in tire crumb, the Precautionary Principle would seem to preclude the Beach Chalet project right from the get go.

The Sierra Club’s fight to appeal the Beach Chalet project EIR is ongoing, with a ruling expected in early 2015. If the Club wins its appeal, the city will be forced to redo the project’s Environmental Impact Report. At that point, environmentalists and those concerned about the health of soccer players will have an opportunity to lobby for safer turf for the city’s children.

Read more about the environmental and health impacts of the Beach Chalet soccer fields project in the Yodeler online in “November election pits grassroots initiative to protect Golden Gate Park against Park Department power play” and “Sierra Club appeals Beach Chalet court decision that ignores critical safety hazards“.

— Sue Vaughan, chair of the San Francisco Group Executive Committee, and Kathleen McCowin, an attorney, geneticist, and soccer mom.

Feds continue court action over Crown Beach Park

Crab_Crown_TrailmapLast July, the Alameda City Council heeded the will of Alameda citizens (and the Sierra Club) by zoning federal surplus property near Crown Memorial State Beach as open space. As a result, a private housing developer recently defaulted on its contract to purchase the property from the federal General Services Administration (GSA), and walked away from a plan to build 48 houses on the property.

One might think this is great news for the East Bay Regional Park District—that the way is now cleared for the district to acquire the land for the purpose of expanding the park at Crab Cove, just as the voters intended back in 2008 when they passed Measure WW. But the United States Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the GSA, is continuing its action to take over title of McKay Avenue, the state-owned street leading to the Crab Cove Visitor Center. If the GSA were to take control of McKay Avenue, the GSA could transfer the right to a private developer to dig up the street in order to install the utilities necessary for its project. The state and park district are fighting to kill the eminent domain action so that the GSA—which currently only has utility easement rights for federal government agencies—is compelled to sell the empty lot to the park district.

The Department of Justice says it needs to seize McKay Avenue for the “continuing operations of the Alameda Federal Center,” which is located on the upper part of the street. (The 3.89 acres vacated by the Department of Agriculture—and now zoned open space—are located at the end of the road closest to the beach.) However, the state and the park district argue that the eminent domain action is actually intended to secure a more profitable sale of the vacant property.

On November 10, the court sided with the state and the park district on a motion to strike affirmative defenses. In his ruling, Judge William Alsup determined that the Department of Justice’s claim that it needs to take ownership of McKay Avenue for its “continuing operations” is disingenuous and “belied by the easement it already retains and the circumstances around the now defunct sale to the private developer.” The judge went on to write, “The only real reason the United States seeks to obtain title to McKay Avenue in fee simple is to secure easements for a prospective private development of the vacant federal parcel.”

This ruling was good news, but it is far from the last word on the matter. Judge Alsup ordered the United States to file a summary judgment motion, in which the judge decides the case based on undisputed facts without a trial, on or before February 16, 2015, and also urged the parties at the hearing to pursue immediate settlement negotiations.  If the case is neither settled nor resolved by summary judgment, it is scheduled for trial in October 2015.


Write to the Alameda City Council, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and ask them to help end the eminent domain action and make way for the expansion of the park at Crab Cove.

—Irene Dieter

Read more about Crab Cove in “Promising news for Alameda’s waterfront”.

East Bay wins major open-space victories in the 2014 elections

10295384_760409887357464_664081245092806404_oEnemies of suburban sprawl scored major victories for open space on Election Day, defeating two developer-backed initiatives in Southern Alameda County in what the Contra Costa Times called “a defining moment for slow growth advocates.” Here’s more on the two open-space victories:

Dublin voters reject Measure T by 4:1; protect Doolan Canyon from development

In a stunning endorsement of open space protection, 84% of voters in Dublin (in eastern Alameda County) rejected a developer-sponsored initiative to break their new urban growth boundary and authorize urban sprawl in rural Doolan Canyon without further voter approval (see “Fate of Doolan Canyon hangs on competing ballot initiatives” in the Aug-Sept 2014 Yodeler, http://theyodeler.org/?s=doolan). Developer Pacific Union Land Company had spent over $160,000 to place Measure T on the ballot but failed miserably to find public support.

Earlier in the year, a coalition of local residents and environmental organizations including the Sierra Club wrote and qualified an open-space initiative to enact an urban-growth boundary on Dublin’s east side. In June, the City Council unanimously adopted the initiative, thereby thwarting Pacific Union’s strategy of running a confusion campaign with two similar-sounding land-use measures on the November ballot.

Measure T, formally titled the Let Dublin Decide Initiative, was billed as a way for Dublin to exert local control over unincorporated Doolan Canyon and prevent nearby Livermore from annexing and developing the area. But voters saw through that ploy. Measure T would have expanded Dublin’s new growth boundary by 2 ½ square miles, over the exact same area where Pacific Union had previously proposed a 1,990-unit housing development.

Doolan Canyon is a rural valley of rolling hills and grasslands now used for ranching, a dozen rural homesteads, and an equestrian center. It is habitat for numerous rare and special status species including the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, Golden eagle, Western burrowing owl, Congdon’s tarplant, and more.

With the overwhelming margin by which Dublin voters defended their urban-growth boundary, and with voter-approved urban-growth boundaries in place around Livermore, Pleasanton, and Alameda County, developers will think long and hard before proposing new sprawl developments in Alameda County’s Tri-Valley area.

Measure KK defeated in Union City

With the endorsement of the Sierra Club and other state and local environmental organizations, the Save Our Hills Committee in Union City earned a smashing victory on November 4 with the defeat of Measure KK, the Flatlands Development Initiative. The measure was soundly defeated, with voters casting 5,296 (65.14%) “no” votes to a meager 2,834 (34.68%) “yes” votes. This victory ensures that the 63 acres of flatlands to the northeast of Mission Blvd. and the undeveloped hills to the east of the flatlands will remain as open space.

In 1996, the Sierra Club-endorsed Measure II—which codified the Union City Hillside Area Plan and protected 6,100 acres of open space—passed with approximately 65% of the vote. That measure required that any changes to the Plan would have to go before the voters; Measure KK was the first attack on the 53 policies in Measure II.

The proponents of the Flatlands Development Initiative (the Masonic Homes of California) spent about $610,000 in their failed campaign. A major theme of their misleading messaging was a ruse to “Protect the Hills.” This disingenuous slogan was designed to get voters to cast a “yes” vote. The Save Our Hills Committee’s message was to “Save Our Hills.” Given the likelihood that many voters may in fact have been confused as to what a “yes” vote meant, the percentage of voters who do not want new development on the Union City hills and flatlands is probably even higher than the 65% who correctly cast a vote for open space.

——Dick Schneider and Bob Garfinkle

Op-Ed: Where have all of Tilden’s newts gone?


Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, www.flickr.com/mtbjohn

Have you seen a California newt along Wildcat Creek or around Jewel Lake in the Tilden Nature Area (TNA) recently?  If so, I would like to know about it. I haven’t seen one for years (in spite of Park signs that say they still are there). When I first started studying certain species of birds in the TNA in the early 1980s, California newts were fairly common, and some (unfortunately) were invariably squashed in the parking lot every migratory season. However, the number of newts I saw steadily declined through the 1980s and, by the early 1990s, I saw none. At that time I also noted that I neither saw nor heard Pacific chorus frogs along Wildcat Creek or Jewel Lake, even though they generally are ubiquitous in California wetlands.

In subsequent years I mentioned these observations to East Bay Regional Park District personnel, naively assuming that my concerns would be passed up the chain of command, and that the situation would be investigated. After years without a response, I reached out to still more Park District staff and Board members, still to no avail.

I am told that both newts and chorus frogs still exist and breed in some small ponds to the east of Wildcat Creek in the TNA. However, from along the middle stretches of Wildcat Creek itself, and Jewell Lake, amphibians appear to have vanished. Additionally, I fear that what may be affecting the amphibians in the middle reaches of Wildcat Creek may be affecting the entire ecosystem. For example, some heron species which typically would feed on chorus frogs and small fish along and in Wildcat Creek and Jewel Lake seem uncharacteristically scarce. Over the decades I recall seeing just one each of green and black-crowned night herons, and one snowy egret (although great blue herons, which feed on gophers in picnic areas, are often seen). I also have concerns for aquatic insects, which seem scarce in that portion of the creek.

The Wildcat Creek watershed has been touted as an ecological success story. Its lower urban reaches, traversing Richmond and San Pablo, have been the focus of “remarkable community-based restoration efforts” which received a Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2003. In April of 2013 the Tilden Park Golf Course, through which the upper reaches of Wildcat Creek flow, was designated a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary,” and was commended for, among other things, “Chemical Use Reduction Safety (and) Water Quality Management.” With such accolades and awards, one might conclude that all is well in the Wildcat Creek watershed. This may not be the case. Where are the newts, chorus frogs, and herons? I can only think that the thousands of schoolchildren that visit the TNA and Environmental Education Center every year are being shortchanged in not seeing some of the animals that are supposed to be there.

A recent article in The Yodeler by Peter Rausch and a co-author (“Putting the environment first in East Bay parks”) suggested that the Park District does a good job in acquiring and preserving holdings in the East Bay, but is less proficient in caring for the biological resources in those acquisitions. While the article makes a good general point, an inability of the Park District to assign monetary and human resources to relatively undeveloped and little-visited new acquisitions is to some degree understandable, given their limited resources. Much less understandable, in my estimation, is the Park District’s ignoring a possible ecological problem in one of its oldest and most-visited regional parks—a problem that seemingly exists in the crown jewel of its environmental educational facilities.

William M. Gilbert, Ph.D.
Chair, Sierra Couples

November election pits grassroots initiative to protect Golden Gate Park against Park Department power play

Rendering of proposed SFRPD project at Beach Chalet fields.

Rendering of proposed SFRPD project at Beach Chalet fields.

After working around the clock to qualify the Golden Gate Park Recreational Fields Renovation Act for the November ballot, dedicated environmentalists and health-conscious parents submitted over 15,000 signatures to San Francisco’s Department of Elections in July.   If certified, the Fields Renovation Act would give San Franciscans the opportunity to cast a simple “yes” or “no” vote on installing artificial turf and stadium lighting in the western end of Golden Gate Park. The Act requires the City to maintain those same sports fields as grass.

The Fields Renovation Act was born from efforts to protect Golden Gate Park from the destructive Beach Chalet soccer fields project.  For over five years, the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Park (SFRPD) has pushed for demolishing the natural grass fields to make way for a seven-acre artificial-turf soccer field containing toxic tire waste and 150,000 watts of stadium lighting on 60 foot poles.  The SFRPD project would bulldoze grassy and forest habitat as well as bringing in more car traffic, more concrete, and extensive night-lighting, right next to Ocean Beach.

The outpouring of grassroots support for the Fields Renovation Act has prompted SFRPD to file a competing initiative through the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. The SFRPD initiative would amend the Park Code to “authorize renovation of children’s playgrounds, walking trails and athletic fields where a certified environmental impact report documents at least doubling in anticipated usage.”

The SFRPD initiative is both too vague and too broad, presenting a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen consequences for the entire park system—not just for Golden Gate Park. While it claims to satisfy the need for more recreation areas, what the SFRPD initiative would actually accomplish is unclear.  SFRPD already possesses the authority to renovate city parks, and the initiative does not provide any new funding to accomplish its stated goal of future renovations. Moreover, the SFRPD initiative is vague as to the meaning of “usage,” opening the door for the department to use its own data to decide unilaterally which activities should take precedence in all of San Francisco’s parks.

The SFRPD initiative would take control of the park system away from the public in other ways. First, the impact of the proposed legislation on the public’s right to appeal under the California Environmental Quality Act or at the Board of Appeals is uncertain. Second, the initiative states that it shall be “liberally construed,” potentially opening the parks to privatization and commercial “usage.” And third, the initiative states that it can be amended by the Board of Supervisors. Control of the parks was taken away from the Supervisors years ago, because they could not be trusted to look beyond the next election. Is this legislation the first step to placing power over our parks back in the hands of the Supervisors?

The SFRPD initiative is actually a thinly veiled power grab, disguised as a measure that will somehow benefit children. By contrast, the grassroots Fields Renovation Act would save Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach from irrevocable environmental damage, while promoting maintenance of the existing playing fields. The Sierra Club urges you to support the Recreational Fields Renovation Act and reject the SFRPD’s competing initiative when you go to the ballot box in November.

For more information about the ballot initiative to protect Golden Gate Park, visit www.protectggp.org. For background information on the Beach Chalet soccer fields, visit www.sfoceanedge.org.

—Katherine Howard, ASLA

Oakland Zoo’s proposed expansion into Knowland Park goes from bad to worse

10272777_228030487396164_7927941693625751956_oThe Sierra Club has grown increasingly concerned about the California Trails exhibit that the Oakland Zoo proposes to build on the ridge line of Knowland Park. The City of Oakland approved the fifty-six-acre project in 2011 on a fifteen-year-old Mitigated Negative Declaration. Since then, however, the permitting agencies have provided significant pushback to the zoo’s claim that the project would have no significant environmental impacts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommended that the project be built within the zoo’s existing footprint to avoid significant impacts to rare plant communities and to the threatened Alameda whipsnake. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), meanwhile, sent the zoo’s application back to the drawing board, noting that the project is at best conceptual.

Two-and-a-half years later, after much heated negotiation, both CDFW and USFWS find that the zoo and the city have each grossly underestimated impacts to Alameda whipsnake habitat, and now require fifty-two acres be set aside for mitigation. In order to fulfill this requirement, the zoo is now proposing that an additional twenty-one acres of Knowland Park land be set aside. In addition to the fact that taking park land for mitigation is double-dipping, this proposal would require the loss of public access to that land.

The parcel in question is closed-canopy oak bay woodland, not the high-quality Alameda whipsnake habitat that the project would destroy. And, because the Deed of Transfer that conveyed the park from the state to the city required that it always remain a public park, removing acreage from public access could potentially trigger the “reverter clause” that would re-convey the land to the state. The zoo and the city are once again offering a ludicrous solution to a self-imposed problem: they propose to keep the appearance of public access by allowing the public to view the twenty-one acres under mitigation from the project’s aerial gondola or a viewing station.

It is clear that the city failed in its fundamental duty as Lead Agency to require a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Such a process would have included the critical alternatives analysis, which would have uncovered the major problems with the project and proposed better alternatives. In fact, early in the process the Sierra Club requested that the City conduct a full EIR. The California Native Plant Society’s East Bay Chapter, the California Native Grasslands Association, and Friends of Knowland Park all concurred. As of this writing, not a single East Bay environmental organization endorses this project.

The Sierra Club believes that the public’s right to full and complete access to land in Knowland Park is unequivocal. Furthermore, building on ridge lines, in protected park land, and in listed-species habitat is an affront to conservation principles—especially when there’s more than adequate unused land to accommodate this project within and immediately adjacent to the zoo footprint. The City has dragged the public down a long, twisted path in its quest to accommodate the zoo’s desire to build in the wrong place. The Sierra Club recommends that the City acknowledge that it has gotten in over its head and hit the re-set button.


Contact Oakland City Council members, the Director of City Planning, and the Office of Parks and Recreation to let them know that you oppose developing high-quality park land.

—Norman La Force, Chair East Bay Public Lands Committee