Audubon Society appeals park soccer field plan
by Jonathan Farrell
The Golden Gate Chapter of the Audubon Society filed an appeal to the SF Board of Supervisors on Jan. 12 to examine more closely the environmental affects of renovation plans proposed for the soccer fields near the Beach Chalet in Golden Gate Park.
The SF Recreation and Park Department, in conjunction with the non-profit organization City Fields Foundation, wants to renovate the soccer fields by replacing the current grass fields with synthetic turf. As well, lighting would be added for playing in the evening. The renovation would also include the addition of benches, bleachers and pathway upgrades to conform with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.
The project would renovate a 473,300-square-foot area and is expected to cost $9.8 million. City Fields and the City would split the cost of the project.
Katherine Howard, a member of the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, said there is more involved with the renovation plans.
"This project will extend one-half the width of Golden Gate Park, an area larger than Candlestick Park. It replaces a grassy meadow with artificial turf, which is essentially a type of paving," she said.
"Trees will be removed and parking will be increased," Howard added. "A massive amount of sports lighting and pedestrian lighting will be installed. This lighting will be on until 10 p.m. almost every night of the year."
Patrick Hannan, who represents the City Fields Foundation, said a public meeting was held Dec. 7.
"We have been above-board and transparent about everything," he said.
Howard and others disagree. Even though officials at Rec. and Park, as well as other city administrators, are reassuring the public that the proposed Beach Chalet Athletic Field renovation will be immensely helpful in addressing the deficit of sports fields for San Francisco youth.
Since the December hearing, about a dozen organizations, including the Audubon Society, have come forward to support a delay for the project's approval. Together, they are asking for a full Environmental Impact Report, which was initially ruled as being unnecessary.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), environmental impact reports must be completed if there are significant environmental impacts. National Environmental Policy Act policies have been in place since 1970.
The act does not directly regulate land uses, but instead requires state and local agencies within California to follow a protocol for analysis and public disclosure of potential environmental impacts caused by development projects.
The Audubon Society is miffed because the SF Planning Commission allowed for an exemption to the CEQA regulation. This was a warning sign to the Audubon Society, which fears the integrity of the park will be severely damaged if the plan goes forward.
Michael Lynes, conservation director at the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said the organization has been trying to obtain more detailed information about the project through the Sunshine Ordinance. The ordinance is a civic code that assures deliberations are conducted in a transparent manner and that city operations are open to the public for review.
"It was so difficult," Lynes said. "The documentation (regarding the CEQA exemption) was not being released."
Nevertheless, Lynes went forward and filed an appeal without having all of the relevant documents.
"We received a routine request from the SF Board of Supervisor's clerk's office on whether it was the right time for Audubon to bring an appeal of a CEQA exemption to the Board," said Matt Dorsey, press secretary for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
"We advised that it was premature," said Dorsey, "because after consulting with the Planning Department, we determined that planning is still working on CEQA review for this project."
Lynes said despite all the effort it took to file the 23-page appeal, he is pleased for now that the renovation plans for the soccer fields will be looked at with more scrutiny.
"It's worth noting that the Beach Chalet Athletic Fields have been sports fields for more than 75 years and comprise less than six percent of Golden Gate Park," said Elton Pon, a communications representative for Rec. and Park.
"Just last week, we learned that a youth league that serves low-income kids will have to turn some kids away from their spring soccer program simply because there aren't enough sports fields available after school in San Francisco. That just isn't right," he said.
For more information about renovation plans for the soccer fields, visit the Web sites at www.cityfieldsfoundation.org or www.sfoceanedge.org.