Construction for the artificial turf and new lighting at the Beach Chalet athletic fields in Golden Gate Park is moving along as planned, more than three months after voters endorsed the project. But activists say they will continue to fight for natural grass at the site and elsewhere in San Francisco.
The project was approved by voters essentially twice in November's election, with 55.2 percent approval for a measure that supported the development and 54.8 percent of voters rejecting an opposing measure that sought to keep the field as natural grass. That was the final component to move forward with renovating the multi-use sports fields as part of a nearly decadelong partnership between San Francisco and City Fields Foundation.
But a group of about 30 activists, primarily from the Coalition to Protect Golden Gate Park, say they are still committed to putting a stop to the use of artificial turf. The group has staged nearly a dozen protests in The City since the election, seeking to block the use of artificial turf.
"They could use something else. There's an opportunity to get the toxic tire waste out of this project," Mike Murphy, director of the coalition, said of the Beach Chalet fields.
Construction at the 9-acre site began shortly after the election and is set to be finished by the end of November. Crews this month are grading the site and installing storm drainage piping and electrical conduits. Underground utility work will continue over the next few months, said Sarah Ballard, a spokeswoman with the Recreation and Park Department.
"When Beach Chalet is completed, the Playfields Initiative partnership will have added approximately 100,000 hours of additional playtime each year on city sports fields," said Patrick Hannon, director of communications and planning for City Fields Foundation.
The artificial turf — which opponents claim creates noxious fumes, among other hazards — has already been installed at 12 multi-use sports fields per the Playfields Initiative — including the Mission, Kimbell, Crocker Amazon, South Sunset and Silver Terrace playgrounds — and Franklin and Garfield squares.
The turf consists of four components: fiber, infill, backing and underlayment, according to a 2011 environmental impact report about the Beach Chalet project. The infill is comprised of about 70 percent rubber that is recovered from scrap tires and the tire retreading process; the rest is sand.
In December, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced legislation that would put a moratorium on installing such artificial turf until 2018 while the state conducts a study to determine possible health risks. Senate Bill 47 would not affect projects already underway, including the Beach Chalet.
Hill said he introduced the bill after others, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and New York City, banned the use of artificial-turf fields. He added that he has also heard concerns from those opposed to the Beach Chalet project.
"That's why we're conducting the study, to see if it is in fact posing a medical hazard," Hill said.
But Hannon, of the City Fields Foundation, emphasized that the Beach Chalet project has been thoroughly vetted and studied by officials since it was first proposed in 2008 and that the turf is not toxic, which is reiterated in the environmental impact report that states that the project "would not create a significant hazard to the public or the environment."
"The same group of people has raised questions about the project [and] time and again, legal, scientific, planning and safety experts have come back and said this is a good project, this is a safe project, this will benefit kids and San Francisco residents tremendously by increasing the opportunity for outdoor play," Hannon said.
Rec and Park officials said there are no other athletic field renovations in the works that would use artificial turf, but The City remains open to using it in the future.
"The health impacts of field infill have been vetted by the Department of Public Health, which relies on the best available science," the department said in a statement. "We look forward to any new information on the issue."
San Francisco resident Jaime Arbona, whose 17-year-old son plays soccer at the Crocker Amazon fields that have artificial turf, said he has no problem with converting the Beach Chalet fields to turf. He also noted that there was no opposition to the switch at Crocker Amazon.
"The folks who are opposing it, they only seem to have found that turf is toxic when it's close to the Pacific Ocean," Arbona said. "None of the opponents who claim it's toxic ever lined up to protect the kids and adults who play at Crocker Amazon when that was converted."