Sunday’s editorial in The San Francisco Examiner (“Coastal Commission should allow city’s plan for soccer fields to proceed”) criticized the California Coastal Commission’s report regarding the Beach Chalet soccer complex proposed for Golden Gate Park, right next to Ocean Beach. Read carefully, however, this report is accurate and reasonable, and if approved this week its recommendations will benefit San Francisco’s children, residents and visitors to the park and Ocean Beach for decades.
The key word for the western end of Golden Gate Park is “naturalistic.” Naturalistic is a specific term of art going back to 1860 and the original design of the park, which is now recognized as a National Historic Place. The Golden Gate Park Master Plan requires and mandates that the western end of the park be maintained as naturalistic pastoral and forested landscapes, and it prohibits deviation from this historic landscape.
Unfortunately, the proposal to strip-mine natural turf across the entire Beach Chalet fields and replace it with ground-up toxic tires and fake lawn, add 150,000 watts of night lighting on 60-foot poles burning 365 days per year, along with stadium seating for 1,000 and more than 1 acre of additional paving, is not in any way, shape, form or intent “naturalistic.”
Every expert with respect to the Coastal Act, landscape architecture, historic designations and dark night skies has determined the proposal would cause permanent, catastrophic, unavoidable and irreparable damage to one of the most famous parks in the United States, if not the entire world.
Why does this matter to the California Coastal Commission? Because San Francisco’s own Local Coastal Plan requires that development “emphasize the naturalistic landscape qualities of the western end of the park. …” The local plan was written by San Franciscans at a time when The City valued the access to nature that Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach provide. The City has since turned its back on its natural heritage and now supports commercialization and privatization of open space over non-revenue-generating parkland.
No one is asking for the elimination of soccer from this area. The alternative outlined in the staff report actually improves the Beach Chalet fields. West Sunset Playground is just a few blocks to the southeast. It is scheduled for renovation with real grass — yet West Sunset is used only for sports. One alternative proposes a simple swap of materials between the two projects — install artificial turf and neighborhood-appropriate lighting at West Sunset and real grass with no sports lights at Beach Chalet. This reasonable alternative would provide more hours of play for kids while protecting the naturalistic beauty of the park and Ocean Beach for San Franciscans of all backgrounds and physical ability.
Finally, Beach Chalet may be “only 1 percent” of the parkland, but it is one of only three major multiuse meadows in Golden Gate Park. Squeezed into Golden Gate Park are more than 15 miles of roads, more than 35 buildings, 10 monuments, parking lots and a garage, and various utility yards.
Yosemite Valley is less than 1 percent of Yosemite National Park’s 750,000 acres, yet right now there are plans to remove man-made structures and return more of the valley to nature. This is the forward thinking of the 21st century — to protect and restore the precious little nature that we have left. That is what should be done with the Beach Chalet fields. And that is what the staff report recommends.
Come to the Coastal Commission hearing Thursday in Marin, and let them know that Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach are too valuable to be ruined with this project.
Mark Massara is an attorney and coastal advocate. Katherine Howard is a landscape architect and member of SF Ocean Edge.