December 19, 2014

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

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