For Marina Green restaurant supporters who trust San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department to do the right thing, the changes coming to the soccer fields at the Beach Chalet in Golden Gate Park should make you think twice. Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg and his cronies have fought for years to build a mammoth soccer field replete with artificial turf, stadium seating, and blaring lights for nighttime play. Environmentalists and other proponents of keeping what little open space we have in this city natural are in shock and disbelief that Ginsburg got his way, especially since the final hurdle — a vote by the California Coastal Commission on May 9, 2013 — went against the commission’s own report.
The project as planned “will modify the Beach Chalet fields in a way that will alter its naturalistic character, including through the introduction of elements that would significantly change its spatial organization and setting (e.g., artificial turf, field lights, seating areas, fencing, concrete paths, etc.),” the commission staff wrote. They went on to recommend modifying the project by improving grass fields rather than replacing them with artificial turf, and eliminating or at the very least reducing the proposed 60-foot-tall lighting towers (the plan calls for 10 towers that produce 150,000 watts). “Such a project would be a significant improvement to the Beach Chalet fields area that would both enhance its pastoral naturalistic character and its utility for recreation consistent with the LCP [Local Coastal Plan],” the
Golden Gate Audubon Society Executive Director Mike Lynes details on the group’s website (www.goldengateaudubon.org) the many reasons the 11-acre soccer field project shouldn’t happen, from the effect it will have on local wildlife (150,000-watt stadium lights and migrating birds don’t mix) to the fact that every major planning document — including the City’s General Plan and the Golden Gate Master Plan — mandates that “the historic natural character of the western end of the park be preserved.” Lynes describes the loss of the area as “another big gash in the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ faced by local bird and wildlife.”
Though Lynes agrees that local athletes need more fields and playing time and that the Beach Chalet field is in need of renovation, he points out that this plan goes far beyond renovation and instead converts the area into “a regional sport complex capable of hosting 1,000 spectators and ‘high-level’ tournaments that will draw traffic and other disturbances
into the area.”
That last part should sound familiar to anyone following Rec and Park’s plan to install a Woodhouse Fish Co. at the site of the old degaussing station on the Marina Green: While Ginsburg would like you to believe that his group only wants to renovate the dilapidated building, in fact they will be converting it into a shiny new restaurant that bares no resemblance to the little ivy-covered bump that sits there now.
Ginsburg is, of course, thrilled about getting approval for his gargantuan soccer field in Golden Gate Park. “This is a win for the kids,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle after the Coastal Commission’s vote. By “kids,” I assume he means the many management underlings in his department making six figures to do important things like tell the public what a good job they’re doing. Rec and Park’s budget for the current fiscal year is nearly $139 million, with over 60 percent of that going toward salaries. That’s why Ginsburg wants to extend the $7 nonresident fee at the Botanical Gardens, set to end this September, which bestows $250,000 annually on his department (“That’s five or six Rec staff,” Ginsburg told the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee recently); that’s also why he wants a regional sports complex that can hold 1,000 paying spectators at the Beach Chalet soccer fields; and don’t think for a minute that’s not why he wants restaurants on the Marina Green. Yes, I said restaurants — plural — because once Rec and Park gets Woodhouse up and running, they’re going to want more, and now that Phildora’s Box is open, there’s no stopping Ginsburg’s master plan to privatize and commercialize as much open space in San Francisco as he possibly can.