In my published column today I opined on the value of getting new synthetic turf playing fields throughout San Francisco, a move that San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has attempted to slow, if not outright halt, through a series of legislative actions.
I called Mirkarimi last week to get his thoughts on why he was trying to wrest some budgetary control over the City Fields Foundation’s gifts to the Recreation and Parks Department. I didn’t hear back from him until after my deadline passed yesterday, but out of courtesy for the supervisor, I will post some of his comments on the issue.
For starters, Mirkarimi insists that he’s not trying to stop more synthetic turf fields from being installed in San Francisco. He says he’s just trying to improve what he says is a flawed process that has kept some members of the public from participating in hearings that would allow them to air their concerns.
“The public just wants some forum so that people can hear their concerns or so they can get more information," he told me. “At a town hall forum in my district (over a new turf field going into Kimball Park) there were unresolved concerns over access, lighting and the sighting of the fields."
Some people were feeling “shocked and surprised" that they were not informed about the fields, Mirkarimi said, and he wanted to increase the “transparency" about the fields.
“Many of those people left the meeting feeling they had more information," he said. “That kind of engagement was nonexistent before or the public outreach was poorly orchestrated. It’s about trying to get people to embrace the fields with better imformation.
That’s all well and good, but the community hearings about the fields have been going on for three years now and the public has been involved. Some of the forums have been particularly heated, which is one of the reasons the neighbors near Rossi Playground will not be getting a nice, new synthetic turf field anytime soon.
However, Mirkarimi could not quite explain why the Board of Supervisors needed to have a say over the money being spent by a private foundation for the new fields. The fields have been a tremendous hit with the public and increased the amount of recreation time for individuals and teams by tens of thousands of hours each year.
First the supervisor sought to place a moratorium on the new fields citing health concerns. Yet almost every study has concluded that the rubberized turf poses no health risks.
So now it’s about public participation. Mirkarimi did tip his hand a bit when he told me that the Recreation and Parks Commission was one of only two public panels that did not have an “appeal’’ process. He wants supervisors to have final say.
That would possibly have stopped $25 million in new athletic fields from being built in San Francisco, and there is nothing in that idea that is appealing.