Commentary: Paul Kozakiewicz

Keep the grass, no retreat!
The soccer fields at Golden Gate Park should be the city's premiere location for playing important games, like middle and high school championships. They should be the best the City can produce - and they should be grass.

The City has two premiere baseball locations, Big Rec in Golden Gate Park and Moscone Playground in the Marina District, where all the big games are played. The City has Kezar Stadium, where the high school football championship is played. These fields are all grass and are in great condition because the city invests resources, money and gardeners, to keep them that way. The city's premiere soccer fields should be, like all these other premiere spots, made of grass.

A Draft Environmental Impact Report is out for the plan to convert the nine-plus acres of playing surface into an artificial surface made of ground-up car tires. The rubber-pellet fields are safer than the old "Astroturf" ones, but still need considerable attention, such as cleaning like a carpet with chemicals and rolling it with large rollers to redistribute the rubber "crumbs."

Soon, the SF Planning Commission will be making a decision about the fate of the athletic fields at the western edge of Golden Gate Park. Besides converting the fields to synthetic turf, the plan calls for installing 10 60-foot-high light standards with each containing 10 1,500-watt metal halide lamps for night-time playing.

Hypocrisy - San Francisco style
Another aspect of the plan that chaps my hide is converting 9.4 acres of grass fields into a parking lot, insofar as every drop of rainwater that hits that surface has to be drained into pipes and transported to the Westside Treatment Plant near the SF Zoo to be treated and pumped out to sea.

In 2002 SF Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval sponsored legislation making it illegal to pave over the entire front yards of city homes to allow water to replenish underground aquifers.

Last year, the fines for paving over the front yard of homes was increased from $100 per day after 30 days in non-compliance to $250 a day. The fines continue until the homeowner brings his/her home into compliance.

If the soccer fields in Golden Gate Park are converted to synthetic turf, it would be the equivalent of hundreds, if not thousands, of homes having their yards paved over.

I would think this underground aquifer is particularly important, since it is on the border with the Pacific Ocean and has to stave off saltwater intrusion, and because the City just drilled wells in Golden Gate Park and is going to start drawing potable water for city residents from underground aquifers. (At Lake Merced there is monitoring equipment underground to warn of saltwater intrusions.)

Nevertheless, the Draft EIR says there will be "less than significant" impacts with no mitigation measures required. That's because of the elaborate drainage system that is required to make sure no polluted water gets to the aquifer. The study assumes all of the rainwater and runoff from detergent cleanings will be captured all of the time and transported to the treatment center for processing.

Other concerns about the Golden Gate Park plan include birds using the Pacific flyway at night getting confused over the night-time lighting, the safety of the rubber pellets as they disintegrate, and serious health issues caused by bacterial infections on the "carpet." As well, after 10 years, or less, the entire field has to be replaced, leading to questions about the efficacy of recycling the old materials.

From an environmental point of view, the Draft EIR sums it up this way: "The No Project Alternative would be the environmentally superior alternative."

City Fields has best interests of youth at heart
I believe those who want to install the turf at Golden Gate Park and other sites have the best interests of our children at heart. Members of the non-profit group City Fields Foundation have raised a lot of money for the conversion of soccer fields around the City. The foundation generally pays about half of the cost for converting the fields and the city picks up the rest.

At the sites where synthetic turf has been installed the number of hours youth can play on the fields has increased, partly because rain does not stop play like real fields, and because light stands have been installed.

The goal of increasing the number and quality of athletic fields in the City is a noble one, but every location has to be evaluated for its appropriateness. When City Fields proposed installing the turf and night lights at Rossi Playground, neighborhood opposition stopped the project. But residents near the West Sunset, Silver Terrace and Crocker Amazon playgrounds didn't mind them, so they were installed.

As a nonprofit, City Fields could donate enough money to pay for one or two full-time gardeners, who would keep the fields gopher free and properly trimmed year round. Since we only have rain several months a year, the fields could be used during daytime hours, serving up the best possible conditions for San Francisco soccer players of all ages. As well, City Fields could renovate the bathrooms and parking lot and create a new plaza area for people to sit as its current plan calls for.

City Fields should continue to put synthetic fields where they are welcome and appropriate.

(As its "alternative site" studied in the Draft EIR, the West Sunset Playground, located at 41st Avenue and Ortega Street, was chosen. The Draft EIR results showed the site would "fail to meet most of the project objectives." If synthetic turf was installed at the site, it would reduce maintenance costs and provide for more hours of usage, but it would worsen the problem of night-time lighting in an urban neighborhood.)

Please contact the SF Planning Department, SF Mayor Edwin Lee and SF Supervisor Eric Mar and urge them to support grass playing fields in Golden Gate Park.

'Managed retreat' means giving up
The SF Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) has been working on a plan to "save" Ocean Beach and the vital infrastructure located along the coast. So far, its call is for a "managed retreat" from the coastline.

What in the world are they thinking?

SPUR is calling for the Great Highway to be reduced to one lane in each direction and for the road to be removed altogether south of Sloat Boulevard, near the SF Zoo.

The Coastal Conservancy recently said it would no longer grant permits for the dumping of rock at Ocean Beach to create a revetment to halt the erosive powers of the waves.

And one non-profit environmental group, Save the Waves, wants any Ocean Beach plans to include the eventual removal and relocation of the Westside Treatment Center near the Zoo so the waves can claim the land.

Excuse me!

Why is dumping rocks to create a barrier so verboten? Why can't we extend the seawall from where it ends now to Fort Funston? Why do we have to throw up our hands and say "no mas?"

The Farallon Islands, located 26 miles offshore, were once part of the California coastline. Managed retreat means over time we'll give up and let the ocean claim the Sunset and Parkside districts.

Fight the power of the waves with the power of the people, which have been building barriers to halt rivers and seas for centuries. Without levies, New Orleans would be under water. We already have a seawall along most of the coast, so why not extend it and continue other measures, like creating a sandbar offshore to weaken the power of the waves. We are currently doing this with the sand we have to dredge out of the Bay's shipping channels.

For centuries man has been taming nature for the betterment of mankind, and San Francisco has always been the city that "can do."

In this case, why would we want to practice reverse evolution.

Paul Kozakiewicz is the editor of the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers.