A battle is brewing in the normally quiet neighborhoods around the western side of Golden Gate Park over a plan to replace 7 acres of grass soccer fields with artificial turf. The plan, which also would add lights to the area, pits sports enthusiasts and families against environmentalists and neighborhood activists.
The Beach Chalet Soccer Fields are one of the three most popular sites in San Francisco for sports. According to the Recreation and Park Department, 1,550 children and 600 adults use the site each week in spring and fall to play sports. Unfortunately, high demand results in other children being turned away. In a city already losing families at an alarming rate, making it difficult to join organized sports teams will do nothing to keep households here.
Thus, while there may not be a perfect solution to this fight, the fields should be transformed to extend playing time.
The soccer fields are located off John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, adjacent to the Beach Chalet, which operates a restaurant and visitor center in the park. The location across from Ocean Beach causes aquatic fog and moisture to consistently drench the fields, making the grass soggy and prone to disrepair.
When the fields are re-sodded, they are closed down to players, including youth soccer leagues. Rec and Park says the fields are closed for at least half of their usable hours. One of the four fields is closed at all times to allow the grass time to re-grow.
Part of the opposition stems from concerns that the proposal would expand parking and crowd the area with gaggles of soccer moms, dads and families. But opponents speak of this area as if it were currently a bucolic meadow. Nothing could be further from the truth. The plan would not add playing fields to a patch of virgin parkland; the fields already exist. And the nearby Golden Gate Park Golf Course, Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and Dutch Windmill already attract visitors, while rows of cars park on JFK Drive to visit Ocean Beach.
The project proposal, which is being considered today at a special meeting of the Recreation and Park Commission and the Planning Department, also would add lights to the playing area and 20 new parking spaces next to the fields. Opponents of the plan also cite these as reasons to reject the proposal, but they are not. Like the turf, the lights would extend playing hours, adding an additional 9,582 playing hours annually. As for the parking, the spaces would keep cars off of JFK Drive, where vehicles currently park and commingle with bicyclists and pedestrians enjoying the park.
The project proposal would also add a children’s play area next to the playing fields — a bonus for families with multiple children.
Opponents of artificial turf say they support playing fields in The City, just not at the Beach Chalet site. And if there were not already playing fields at this location, we would encourage Rec and Park to look elsewhere for this project. But the fields are already there and being used beyond what they can handle. In this compact city with limited space for recreational activities, this project makes the most sense for a site in Golden Gate Park.
We encourage officials to approve the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields project and kick off more playing time for San Francisco youths. Utopian dreams of what this area could be should not obscure what it is and needs to be.