Ain't No Sunshine at Rec and Park
The state-level efforts to gut the Public Records Act have shown us that we cannot trust our politicians to protect our right to know what is going on in government. But we don't have to go to the state level to be reminded of the vital role that public disclosure laws play in keeping our government honest. Westside Observer readers will have already read George Wooding's excellent expose of the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Park (Rec and Park) efforts to stifle free speech at a public presentation sponsored by the Commonwealth Club. That fiasco was brought into the light of day because a public-spirited individual obtained copies of the denied Rec and Park e-mails from a non-government source; but what if no one had come forward with those documents? The public would never have known about Rec and Park's behind-the-scenes efforts to censor a public forum.
Having information doesn't always mean you can affect change, but without it the public doesn't even know where to start.”
Rec and Park's continued efforts to hide the truth about their actions have been exposed even more recently, due to the efforts of individuals who used the local Sunshine Ordinance.
In preparation for the California Coastal Commission (CCC) hearing, Rec and Park wanted to prove that the Beach Chalet artificial turf soccer fields were environmentally a good idea. The fact that environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society were opposing the project did not seem to have made much of an impact on them. In its efforts to prove environmental benefits, Rec and Park claimed that the artificial turf would save on irrigation water. It came up with a figure of 5.7 million gallons of water saved each year. An impressive figure! Except that it was not true. How do we know? Because Rec and Park's own on-the-ground staff told it so. This was exposed in Department documents that were Sunshined this spring. The Department staff had gone out to the fields and measured the amount of water actually used. The Beach Chalet fields need less than 1.5 million gallons of water, not the 5.7 million gallons Rec and Park was writing into its publicity releases. What was Rec and Park's response? Did department management rush out and tell the Coastal Commission the actual amount of water used?
You have probably already guessed the answer to that one. Management's response to its staff person was, "Not sure we need to beat this one up too much . . . the good news is that we are saving water."
Misrepresenting actual water usage was just one way that Rec and Park skewed the numbers. What about the water needed to wash off that plastic grass every week? It's not mentioned anywhere in the department's calculations. Maybe Rec and Park doesn't think the kids deserve clean grass -- but they can get a serious infection if the plastic is not cleaned. So which is it — is Rec and Park not cleaning the grass, or are they cleaning the grass but neglecting to include that water in their calculations?
But wait, there is more. Rec and Park ignored the negative impact on the aquifer and on your sewer bills of the rainwater going to the sewage treatment plant. The SFPUC has required that all of the rainwater that falls on the artificial turf be sent to the sewage treatment plant for processing, because of possible toxics in the artificial turf. (You didn't really believe Rec and Park when it said the turf was harmless, did you?) There is a big aquifer under Golden Gate Park, and in a few years a great many San Franciscans will be drinking water from that aquifer.
As every homeowner knows from their water bills, processing sewer water is expensive. When you pay your sewer bill in a few years, remember that you are paying for an additional 4.4 million gallons of clean rainwater to be purified, for artificial turf fields in Golden Gate Park.
The Public Records Act was also used when the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) first built a community garden with recycled materials, planted it, and staffed it, providing employment for community members, all at no cost to the taxpayers. However one might have felt about the HANC recycling center, certainly everyone, especially the many folks who had garden beds, would agree that this was a great project. But Rec and Park evicted HANC and bulldozed the garden. And then turned around and rebuilt it!
Rec and Park said it could do it for $250,000. HANC's Sunshine Request found that RPD is actually spending almost $1 million on this garden, plus a city employee $75,000 a year of taxpayer money to run it.
Having information doesn't always mean you can affect change, but without it the public doesn't even know where to start. The public needs and deserves a strong, effective Public Records Act and the ability to get timely responses to its Sunshine requests.
Katherine Howard, ASLA, Landscape Architect, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, www.goldengateparkpreservation.org
Editors note: The fight for the Beach Chalet soccer fields isn't over. Go to www.sfoceanedge.org and learn what you can do.
Having information doesn't always mean you can affect change, but without it the public doesn't even know where to start.
California Coast Debacle
George Wooding testifies before the California Coastal Commission
On May 9th, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) approved the permit for the Beach Chalet soccer fields complex. In doing so, the CCC established a worrisome precedent for inappropriate development along the entire California coast. Only two commissioners understood their duty to protect the coastline. Commissioner Steve Blank pleaded eloquently:
…permanent protection of the state’s natural resources is of paramount concern to present and future residents of this state and nation, not just the City of San Francisco”
“. . . because this park is in the Coastal Zone, that means our review is based on the needs of all 38 million Californians. And one of the reasons why our coast looks like no other state is because of this Commission. Our charter . . . says that California’s coastal zone is a distinct and invaluable natural resource of vital and enduring interest to all of the people and exists as a delicately balanced ecosystem. . . [our charter] says that permanent protection of the state’s natural resources is of paramount concern to present and future residents of this state and nation, not just the City of San Francisco. And this is the reason that the coastal zone has stricter zoning than almost every other part of the state, including the City of San Francisco. As commissioners our decisions have to be guided by the Coastal Act not by San Francisco City regulations and policies. . . .
“And it is pretty clear to me that the LCP [Local Coastal Plan] defines the western part of the park as something unique. . . 60 foot light poles and night lighting do not meet the definition of naturalistic landscape qualities . . . Putting in artificial turf does not meet that definition. . . this facility looks like an industrial sports facility, which is again the antithesis of a naturalistic definition.”
In closing, Blank said, “. . . in the 1950’s San Francisco enthusiastically supported building the Embarcadero Freeway. After it was opened in 1959, the people realized what they had done. It took 40 years to correct that mistake, and I hope we don’t make the same one here.”
He was supported by Commissioner Sanchez, but the other Commissioners ignored him.
A Coastal Commission brochure proclaims that:
“. . .it is the policy of the State to preserve, protect, and where possible, to restore the resources of the coastal zone for the enjoyment of the current and succeeding generations. . . The Commission works with local governments and other public agencies to protect public beach access, wetlands, wildlife on land and in the sea, water quality, scenic vistas, and coastal tourism.”
The guiding principle of San Francisco’s Local Coastal Plan is to “preserve the naturalistic character of Golden Gate Park.” Naturalistic simply means that a landscape has been designed so well, that it looks like nature put it there! Incredibly the Commission found that the installation of over 7 acres of artificial turf and 150,000 watts of sports lighting in Golden Gate Park, right next to Ocean Beach, met these requirements.
Commissioners spent time extolling the virtues of ‘recreation’ and ‘bringing people to the coast.’ However, ‘recreation’ to them meant only organized sports. The Commissioners ignored the 95% of the public that enjoys hiking, bird-watching, strolling on the beach with their family, enjoying a sunset, sitting by a fire ring, learning about astronomy on a dark night, enjoying real trees, shrubs and grass. These activities were not given any weight by the Commission.
The Commissioners ignored expert testimony on the environmental damage of the project. Dr. Travis Longcore, a leading expert on the impact of artificial light on wildlife, submitted a detailed report on the damaging impacts the lighting will have on birds and other wildlife. His analysis was never discussed. In addition, the impact of 150,000 watts of lighting on the experience of the thousands of people who visit Ocean Beach every year was not even discussed.
Wayne Donaldson, past State Historic Preservation Officer and currently Chair of the United States Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, wrote how this project destroys Golden Gate Park’s naturalistic setting. He was ignored.
The Commission ignored its own Staff Report, which recommended significant changes to the proposed plan, including the removal of artificial turf, a large reduction in the amount of concrete, and significant modifications to the lighting plan. In a disturbing manner, some Commissioners even publically berated their staff for making recommendations to protect the coast.
The Commissioners failed to respond to the extraordinary opposition represented by a record 200 appeals and over 11,000 hand-signed postcards, petitions, and letters. Opposing groups ranged from the Sierra Club to the Golden Gate Audubon Society, from the 44-member Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods to the grass-roots Viking Soccer Parents for Green Grass in Golden Gate Park, and the child-advocacy group, Action in Nature.
The Commissioners also failed to consider a practical alternative that would give youth extra playing time, while protecting wildlife habitat and the natural beauty of the beach for everyone.
Why were these “Coastal” commissioners so determined to gut the Coastal Act?
The answer became apparent during the hearing. Powerful political interests leaned heavily on the Commissioners. The Commissioners received calls, emails, and texts from a senator, a congresswoman, the Lieutenant Governor, a state senator, an assemblyman and the chief of staff for a past governor. What public official could resist that kind of pressure? Only Commissioners Blank and Sanchez were committed to protecting the coast, in the face of such intense political pressure.
Why was all of this political attention focused on this one area?
Since the onset of the last recession, powerful political forces within California have steadily promoted a pro-development agenda for our California open spaces. If this environmentally-damaging project can be built in world-renowned Golden Gate Park, and alongside “green” San Francisco’s premiere beach, then almost any project can be built along the coast using ‘recreation’ as its wedge.
The Coastal Commission has set a new, low threshold for development standards, and created a dangerous precedent which threatens to seriously undermine its mission to protect our coast.
We are not ready to surrender our park and coastline to misguided development. A CEQA lawsuit is working its way through the courts; in addition, a broad coalition of groups will continue to fight for our coast.
Join with us — it will take everyone’s participation to win back our parkland, our beach and the California Coast.
Dennis Antenore, former San Francisco Planning Commissioner.
Katherine Howard, ASLA, SF Ocean Edge
Interview with Mark Massara
Attorney, Coastal Advocate, and Surfer!
Mark Massara is the lead attorney for the appeal of the Beach Chalet soccer complex to the California Coastal Commission. This project will replace over 7 acres of living natural grass at the western end of Golden Gate Park with over 7 acres of toxic artificial turf — gravel, plastic carpet, and SBR rubber infill. The project also includes over 150,000 watts of 60-ft tall sports lighting plus 50 additional night lights, as well as over an additional acre of paving in an area that is currently grass, shrubs and trees.
The Coastal Commission will be meeting in San Rafael on May 9th, 2013 to consider this issue. Mark Massara will be there, and so we thought we’d get some more information on the Coastal Act and his impression of the project.
…San Francisco itself is a poor steward of coastal resources. It is embarrassing that even California’s smallest cities do so much more to protect the coast than wealthy, resource rich San Francisco.”
How did you get involved?
California Coastal Commission
Date: May 9, 2013
Time: Noon (approximate time) or call (415) 407-3211
What: Decisive Hearing on Beach Chalet Soccer Complex
Who: California Coastal Commission
Where: Marin Civic Center
Board Of Supervisors Chambers
3501 Civic Center Dr. San Rafael
Attend: Come to testify
Learn more: www.sfoceanedge.org
“I grew up in Santa Barbara. When I was a little kid, In 1969 there was a giant oil spill by Unocal. My father brought me down to the beach, and we tossed straw on the oil as it came into shore. We got birds and tried to help clean them. We saw dead and dying marine mammals. That was a galvanizing event in my young life, and I developed a serious passion for ocean wilderness and coastal resources. I have enjoyed playing at the beach and surfing for the last 50 years, and still get incensed over the senseless destruction of coastal resources.”
What is the Coastal Act?
“The Coastal Act is the result of a citizen’s initiative (Prop. 20) in 1972. The Coastal Initiative was passed by over 62% of California voters and was the direct result of activists campaigning statewide in favor of protecting coastal resources and public beach access. It led to the immediate formation of regional coastal commissions and provided a four-year window for the legislature to pass a comprehensive coastal protection law that would replace it. The California Coastal Act was enacted by the legislature in 1976 and signed by Jerry Brown. It is the nation’s premiere environmental law. It mandates protection of coastal resources, sensitive habitats, water quality, beach access, our quality of life, and visitor-serving coastal amenities in California for residents, visitors and future generations.”
What are your most satisfying victories?
“There have been more than a thousand victories, big and small. I have had the luxury of having a front row seat and participating in legal arguments before the Coastal Commission on behalf of the Sierra Club and many other environmental organizations for more than two decades. Our cases have included everything from wetlands protections to natural gas terminals, mitigating nuclear power plants, defeating toll roads, deliberating the future of the Hearst Ranch, development of Pebble Beach in Monterey, all of the onshore oil and gas issues throughout California, and literally hundreds of other projects, big and small, on the California Coast.”
What San Francisco coastal issues have you been involved in?
“The entire shoreline is a national park, and it is supposed to be protected. But San Francisco itself is a poor steward of coastal resources. It is embarrassing that even California’s smallest cities do so much more to protect the coast than wealthy, resource rich San Francisco. A great example of this is that San Francisco didn’t even realize the Beach Chalet fields were in the coastal zone when they decided to build a soccer stadium with Astroturf and high-rise lights.”
How about Beach Chalet soccer complex?
“This situation is so distressing and should be alarming to anyone who cares about Golden Gate Park. The City flush with donated money, and they are reckless. They are the exact reason that California voters enacted the Coastal Act in the first place. If we want to protect the shore and our coastal environment we have to prevent cities like San Francisco from paving it over with Astro-turf. “
Does the Beach chalet project conform to the Coastal Act?
“The Coastal Act is filled with policies that protect lower-cost, visitor-serving opportunities to the coastline, coastal resources, water quality, character and quality of the environment and habitat of the coast, and maximizing public access to it. The Beach Chalet project fails in every single regard. It will eliminate or adversely impact wildlife and public enjoyment of the park and beach, injure kids, prevent enjoyment of night skies and permanently alter the historic natural nature of Golden Gate Park, a registered US Historic Resource for its natural open space character.”
“The city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money and time, consultants and lobbyists on this project in GGP. If they had gone to the Coastal Commission staff five or six years ago, they could have gotten advice for free not to do this project.”
What should the City do now?
“The City needs to make a dramatic reformation of the project. They need to abide by the Golden Gate Park Master Plan, the Coastal Act, and the will of the people who do not want our natural environment paved over with plastic Astro-turf.”
What can the public do?
Attend the California Coastal Commission hearing on May 9th!
Massara is the attorney for SF Ocean Edge and the 200 other co-appellants for the Beach Chalet soccer complex appeal to the California Coastal Commission
Twinkle, twinkle little stars, we all wonder WHERE you are?
Astronomy Tourism is a growing business worldwide because of the loss of the night sky in cities due to light pollution. (see March Westside Observer ). What if San Francisco had a great star-gazing location right here in the City, that people could reach easily by public transportation? What if the area were naturally dark, because years ago, a group of dedicated park advocates saved the surrounding land from development? What if the area had been used for years for star-gazing by all ages — including amateur astronomers as well as parents showing the stars to their kids? Wouldn’t this be a great resource for the City’s kids, and wouldn’t we want to protect it for future generations?
In fact, there is such a place, and it is called Land’s End. This special corner of our city has uniquely dark skies, because it faces the Pacific Ocean to the west and the undeveloped coast of Marin County to the north. To the south, the long, dark strip of Golden Gate Park provides for some protection for this dark sky resource.
But wait - there was an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Beach Chalet project. Surely it would have taken a careful and technically accurate look at the impacts of the proposed sports lights on Ocean Beach and the sky overhead!”
Most of the night sky that is important for star-gazing is to the south of Land’s End, in the direction of Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. Many people also go to Ocean Beach to look at the stars.
And yet, the City is not protecting it. The proposed Beach Chalet soccer fields project would introduce over 150,000 watts of sports lighting to an area now completely unlighted. So the soccer project could mess up what is a valuable public resource for everyone.
But wait - there was an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Beach Chalet project. Surely it would have taken a careful and technically accurate look at the impacts of the proposed sports lights on Ocean Beach and the sky overhead!
However, according to independent experts, the EIR is wrong about a lot of facts to do with artificial lighting in general, and with the Beach Chalet project in particular.
Here’s why. The Beach Chalet field lights would include 100 bright 1,500-watt lamps. They would be as bright as if over 16,000 60-watt light bulbs were installed. And this is just the sports lighting. Combined with 60 additional pole lights, this would turn the western end of Golden Gate Park into a brightly-lighted, suburban sports complex.
The City thinks that because the lights would be shielded (that means a hood hangs down over part of the light), there would be no light pollution. Wrong! Why? Because light reflects! You can do a simple experiment to demonstrate this. Take a small box, with a dark cloth on the inside bottom, and a small flashlight into a dark room. Since the sports light poles would be twice as tall as the Park trees along the Ocean Beach side, hold the flashlight up a little above the edge of the box and point it towards the bottom of the box. Now turn on the flashlight. Wow! The walls and ceiling of your room are glowing, furniture can be seen, shadows dance on the walls! And all from one small flashlight. Imagine the impact of 150,000 watts and more!
Actually, one expert has already calculated this impact, and stated that at least 20%, and maybe more, of the 150,000 watts of light would be reflected off of the fields.
You are going to want to sit down for the next fact. On foggy nights, the reflected light would be scattered by the marine layer, and the clouds could be 10 to 20 times brighter than what we all see now. We are talking about a bright, glowing mushroom cloud over Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach.
So if the Beach Chalet fields are built with sports lighting, when you go to Ocean Beach to see the stars, to watch the sunset, or to sit by a fire ring, foggy or not, glowing sky is what you are going to see.
Is it really worth destroying our night sky resources for this one project? Especially when there are feasible alternatives for other locations that could easily replace it?
We await a hearing at the California Coastal Commission, possibly as early as May 2013. Please write a letter! Attend the hearing! Ask the Commissioners to protect the coast! Let’s protect our night sky, for the benefit of both current and future generations of children, who deserve to be able to see the stars.
Katherine Howard, ASLA, www.sfoceanedge.
Twinkle, twinkle little stars, we all wonder WHERE you are
One of my fond memories from childhood is of summer evenings in the mountains. On clear nights, my mother would rush in from outdoors, saying, “Hey, kids, come look at this!” We’d run out in to the night and look up through the trees, and there would be a magnificent sky, awash in a myriad of stars - galaxies, constellations, and shining planets. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring, and it reminded us that there are other worlds out there, and that we are just a small part of the mysteries of the universe.
Perhaps the saddest part of this use of more and brighter lighting is that today’s children don’t know about the night sky. They are growing up without the stars to inspire them, without that contact with a nature that is bigger than their daily life indoors at home and at school, even bigger than the internet!”
What do we see today in San Francisco? On clear nights, we get excited if we can see just a few stars. The contrast between what is and what could be was highlighted in a “New York Times” Sunday Magazine photo spread a few weeks ago. Entitled, “Starry, Starry, Starry Night,” it shows photos of the night sky above different cities as they might look if there were no light pollution. Go online and look - San Francisco is photo number 11. What extraordinary beauty we are missing! The photographer, Thierry Cohen, states that we now have entire cities of people who have forgotten the night sky, and as a result “no longer understand nature.”
Our cities don’t have to be lighted so brightly, but outmoded ideas that more lighting is better have resulted in light pollution. According to the International Dark Sky Association, light pollution is caused by “excessive or inappropriate outdoor lighting.” Light pollution is a waste of energy from excessive lighting, where less lighting could actually help us to see better. Light pollution increases green house gasses, and it affects human health! Light pollution also harms ecosystems. For example, urban lighting confuses birds and causes the deaths of tens of thousands of birds each year.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, bright light does not always increase safety. In fact, too-bright light makes it more difficult to see intruders who are hiding in the harsh shadows.
Perhaps the saddest part of this use of more and brighter lighting is that today’s children don’t know about the night sky. They are growing up without the stars to inspire them, without that contact with a nature that is bigger than their daily life indoors at home and at school, even bigger than the internet!
PBS recently premiered the documentary “The City Dark.” It is subtitled, “A Search for Night on a Planet that never Sleeps.” The film explains that the more isolated parts of the world have preserved their darkness and are attracting visitors for Astronomy Tourism. We should reflect on this - how ironic is it that we have to travel far from home in order to see what is actually right over our heads?
Note: If you are interested in attending a showing of “The City Dark” in the near future, contact SF Ocean Edge at www.sfoceanedge.org .
Appeals Aplenty at Beach Chalet Soccer Field
Two legal actions are currently in process for the proposed Beach Chalet project (installing over 7 acres of artificial turf and 150,000 watts of sports lighting in Golden Gate Park, next to Ocean Beach). The first is the appeal of the local coastal zone permit to the California Coastal Commission (CCC), and the second is a lawsuit under CEQA regarding the inadequacy of the Environmental Impact Report for the project.
…over 200 organizations and individuals have appealed the permit to the Commission. This is the most appeals ever filed against any project in the history of the California Coastal Act.”
The City had originally said that the project could not be appealed to the California Coastal Commission; however, the CCC staff was very direct in stating that the project does indeed come under the jurisdiction of the CCC, and is appealable; therefore, over 200 organizations and individuals have appealed the permit to the Commission. This is the most appeals ever filed against any project in the history of the California Coastal Act.
When Coastal Commissioners were alerted to the project at the December CCC public meeting, several expressed severe reservations. Commissioner Steve Blank stated, “I am also familiar with the situation . . . at Ocean Beach where the Commission finally put an end to San Francisco not quite listening to the fact that the ocean isn’t the end dumping ground for San Francisco. I just wanted to communicate back to the City that you really ought to take a look at what happened there and think a lot about industrializing Golden Gate Park . . .”
The attorney for the CCC appeal is Mark Massara. Mark has many years of experience with the California Coastal Commission on behalf of environmental issues. He is the former Director of the Sierra Club’s California Coastal Campaign. He also surfs! Learn more about Massara on Wikipedia at:
The Coastal Commission is the best hope for protecting the future of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. No date has been set for that hearing. To be kept posted contact SFOE at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
• Volunteer to help with flyering and getting signatures to protect Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach.
• Invite SFOE to a meeting of your group, to talk about the project.
• DONATE through the SFOE website to help cover the CCC legal fees: www.sfoceanedge.org.
Public testimony on the Beach Chalet project is available at CCC video-on-demand: www.cal-span.org/cgi-bin/archive.php?owner=CCC&date=2012-12-13 “Click here to start” and go to Minute 12:00.
Go to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Massara and watch a video interview of Mark on the NY Times website: http://video.on.nytimes.com/video/2008/05/12/us/1194817116420/planet-us-the-coastal-warrior.html
Money Talks - the 2012 Parks Bond
Sometimes money talks, and sometimes it shouts. What did it shout out about the passing of local Proposition B, the Parks bond, on November 6th?
San Franciscans are concerned about the future of their parks. Our parks need increased general funding for maintenance and operations, not another capital bond which will build new structures without the funds to manage, maintain, and staff them. ”
Our national and state elections are the victims of unbalanced infusions of cash from wealthy individuals and from corporations. This syndrome has now permeated San Francisco’s local elections. More money was donated to “Yes on B” than to any other local proposition. In fact, the “Yes on B” proponents raised almost $1,000,000 to promote the Bond. This staggering amount included contributions ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to $100,000 each donated by wealthy individuals, by a Rec and Park vendor, and by major corporations. The “Yes on B” funding is over 100 times greater than the mere $9,000 war chest raised by cash-strapped neighborhood groups and individuals for the “No on B” campaign. This works out to “Yes on B” having available over $4.00 a vote to pay for multiple mailers and media ads, compared to the less than 10 cents a vote available to “No on B.”
Despite this lopsided expenditure, the 2012 Parks Bond campaign increased the margin of public support for parks by less than 1% over the 2008 Bond.
Everyone loves our parks. Why would a parks bond require such enormous campaign funding to succeed? The answer is the change in the way our parks are being managed. The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, representing 44 neighborhood groups, along with over 20 additional organizations, and many individuals who deeply love their parks, opposed the 2012 Parks bond. San Franciscans submitted an unprecedented 14 ballot arguments AGAINST the bond. The “No on B” coalition included people from conservative, moderate, and progressive backgrounds. These people were joined by over 93,000 citizens in voting “No”.
Yes, the Bond passed. But the lack of a significant increase over the approval rate for the 2008 Parks bond demonstrates that something is wrong, and by reading the ballot arguments, it is evident that San Franciscans are concerned with the Department of Recreation and Parks’ continued efforts to privatize and commercialize our parks.
San Franciscans are concerned about the future of their parks. Our parks need increased general funding for maintenance and operations, not another capital bond which will build new structures without the funds to manage, maintain, and staff them. Our parks need to be revered as parkland, not viewed as free land for potential developments. Our parks need to be valued as commonly-held public assets, not as site-specific revenue generation machines. Our parks need a steady funding source that keeps them open and accessible to all, not a system that charges high fees or completely limits access to local neighborhoods.
And so we ask everyone to urge the Department of Recreation and Park to redirect its management policies back to its core mission of providing the broadest access to our parks for everyone, giving all San Franciscans a voice in their parks, and stewarding our precious resources for San Franciscans both today and for future generations.
Judy Berkowitz, President, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and Katherine Howard, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance
SOCCER FIELD OPPONENTS APPEAL TO
THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION
When will environmentalists stop their opposition to
plastic grass in Golden Gate Park? Probably never.
SF Ocean Edge, Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, Viking Soccer Parents for Grass Fields in Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, and other organizations and individuals have filed Appeals of the Local Coastal Permit for the Beach Chalet soccer fields project with the California Coastal Commission (CCC).
This project will remove over 7 acres of living grass and replace it with over 7 acres of artificial turf and add 150,000 watts of sports lighting on 60 foot poles in Golden Gate Park, next to the Ocean Beach Promenade. These appeals mean that the project will be heard before the CCC at some time in the future. The CCC can have a major impact on the final design of the project. Your input will be very important to their decision. Please go to our website and sign up with us for updates as they become available. www.sfoceanedge.org
Beach Chalet - a Simple Solution
What is the big deal with the controversy over the Beach Chalet project? Why has a coalition of environmental organizations and neighborhood groups filed an Appeal with the Board of Supervisors?
Isn’t this just a conflict of birds vs. kids? That is what the Department of Recreation and Park (RPD) would have you think. Well, that is NOT what this is about. San Franciscans of all ages and backgrounds love Golden Gate Park AS A PARK, and kids and active adults also love sports. The real problem is—how do we reconcile the two?
The simple answer is to swap the field materials for the two projects. Keep the natural grass in Golden Gate Park and put the artificial turf in West Sunset.”
Sometimes the best solution to a problem is the simplest one.
Eight blocks south of Beach Chalet are the West Sunset Playing fields. The 2012 Parks Bond calls for the renovation of the 9-acre West Sunset Playing fields with natural grass. West Sunset is already given over to sports — basketball, baseball, soccer, and a great new kids’ play area. It is not a place where one goes for a “walk in the park.” Yet, oddly enough, RPD is planning to put real grass there.
The 7-acre Beach Chalet fields are in Golden Gate Park, where San Franciscans do go to enjoy prime parkland. The area is appreciated by hikers, dog walkers, and joggers. It is also habitat — the fields provide food, rest, and shelter to wildlife. Over 80 species of birds have been recorded there. All sizes of birds dot the fields, often even when there are teams playing. This is NOT barren land; it is living parkland. All this will be lost if this project installs over 7 acres of artificial turf and 150,000 watts of night lighting in the Park.
The simple answer is to swap the field materials for the two projects. Keep the natural grass in Golden Gate Park and put the artificial turf in West Sunset.
Let’s repeat this obvious solution. Swap the field materials for the two sites — same benefits, same costs. The folks who have proposed this alternative have been talking about this for over a year. They have been ignored - so they have been forced to file an Appeal to the Board of Supervisors. They tried to meet with the RPD General Manager for months before the Appeal and were refused.
Why is this? Wouldn’t it be more valuable to forge a compromise now? Wouldn’t it save money for the City, instead of paying the City Attorneys (5 figure salaries + benefits) to handle the Appeal? The City has already spent over $1 million on trying to justify this project in the environmental report. Now RPD is adding the cost of an Appeal and potentially even more costs for a court battle, as well as earning the increased enmity of San Franciscans who could be allies in caring for our parks.
What does this mean for the future of our parks? The Mayor and RPD want San Franciscans to encumber themselves with over $195 million in the 2012 Parks Bond. Yet, both have shown indifference to funding park operations from the City budget, instead treating our parks as cash cows, building or renovating facilities and then raising fees or, even worse, trying to lease the new facilities out to private companies. This has led to a city-wide distrust of RPD.
The Beach Chalet soccer complex is an example of Bond funding gone wrong. Funding for the Beach Chalet fields was in the fine print of the “2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond.” The 2008 Bond passed by a slim margin. Most of the people who found out about the proposed Beach Chalet project later said they would not have voted for the 2008 Bond if they had known it would put artificial turf and sports lights in Golden Gate Park. It is therefore logical for people to wonder about RPD’s motives.
The Mayor and RPD need to earn the trust of people regarding our parks. It’s fine to court wealthy donors, but in the final analysis, if you ignore the needs of the electorate, they will not support you or your programs. The first step for RPD and the Mayor is to meet with both sides and work out the very simple swap alternative for Beach Chalet.
And the first step for the public is to write to the Mayor and to the Board of Supervisors. Tell them that Golden Gate Park is too important to pave over. Tell them that there is an alternative, and that you are watching to see if San Francisco will protect its crown jewel, Golden Gate Park. The second step is to plan to attend the BOS Appeal hearing, scheduled for July 10, 2012, 4:00 p.m., at City Hall.
Gregory P. Miller, 36 year SF resident, retired senior financial analyst, US Navy veteran.
Golden Gate Park The Beginning of the End
With a few, quick votes, on May 24th, 2012, the SF Planning Commission and the Recreation and Park Commission approved the destruction of the western end of Golden Gate Park. How did they do this? By saying that they saw no problem with taking prime parkland and paving it over with 7 acres of artificial turf and installing 150,000 watts of night lighting, right next to Ocean Beach. This vote was arrived at in the face of the Departments receiving over 1,000 e-mails regarding the project, the majority of which were opposed to destroying the Park.
The other four seemed more intent on currying favor with the sports fans present, than with upholding their responsibility to carefully evaluate an environmental document that will decide the fate of one of the few large meadows in Golden Gate Park and in the City. ”
There were two sets of votes, neither of which reflects well on the Commissions involved. The Planning Commission approved the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), despite the submission of over 300 pages of arguments and documentation from the Environmental Law firm of Lozeau-Drury stating that the EIR is incomplete and inadequate. In fact, only one Planning Commissioner seemed to understand the duty of the Commission. The other four seemed more intent on currying favor with the sports fans present, than with upholding their responsibility to carefully evaluate an environmental document that will decide the fate of one of the few large meadows in Golden Gate Park and in the City. Park supporters were appalled that the Planning Commission did not uphold either the California Environmental Quality Act or the California Coastal Commission regulations.
After a very brief discussion of the 369-page “Draft EIR”, and the 1,600-page “Comments and Responses” and letters, the Planning Commission voted to certify the EIR. From the limited discussion that took place, it was clear that the majority of Commissioners were unfamiliar with both the document and the concept of naturalistic parkland. They then took all of 30 seconds to adopt the CEQA Findings in the EIR, and another 30 seconds to approve the General Plan Conformity Findings. For those of you who are not policy wonks, this means that despite the City’s Planning documents stating clearly that this part of Golden Gate Park must retain its naturalistic character, the Planning Commission decided to throw out the planning documents. As one person testified, this is like throwing out the Downtown Plan in order to build skyscrapers.
Outside of City Hall was a well-stage media circus — teams of kids playing on the natural grass at Civic Center — an ironic counterpoint to the claims of how terrible natural grass is and how it should be replaced with artificial turf.
Next up was the Recreation and Park Commission. It has been documented that this commission always agrees with the Department. Dissension on this Commission is as rare as, well, finding anything living in a field of artificial turf. On the Recreation and Park Department website is the following statement about Golden Gate Park:
“We’re proud to welcome more than 13 million visitors each year to Golden Gate Park, one of San Francisco’s greatest treasures. From a vast, windswept expanse of sand dunes, park engineer William Hammond Hall and master gardener John McLaren carved out an oasis—a verdant, horticulturally diverse, and picturesque public space where city dwellers can relax and reconnect with the natural world.”
The natural world did not rate mention by the Commissioners on Thursday. They ignored the pleas by parents, environmentalists, neighborhood activists, and child advocates alike to protect our scarce parkland from being plowed under.
This is a Rolls Royce of a project - the budget is up to $13 million and rising. Yet the Commission ignored the proposed win-win solution of a much-less expensive renovation of the Beach Chalet fields with natural grass and no sports lights, and sharing the rest of the 2008 Bond funding with other playing fields for kids all over San Francisco.
There is a big fight going on in the City now over the pittance of funding for parks in the 2012 Bond. Does the City really have enough money to throw at one pet project? Of course, project supporters will say that part of that funding will come from the Fisher-family-financed City Fields Foundation. An email from Viking Youth Soccer League stated that the donor will only pay for Beach Chalet or the money will have to be returned. Why is a private foundation deciding what happens to our Parks? Are we so short-sighted as to allow this leveraged buyout of our parkland, when there are other options available for getting kids a place to play soccer?
The 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan protects parkland for everyone — old, young, healthy, not so active, of all ages and backgrounds. That is the purpose of Golden Gate Park — active and passive recreation in a natural setting, but open to all. The soccer players claim 7,000 kids who play soccer. That is great — and they should have a place to play (see the win-win solution above). But at the Thursday meeting, the Recreation and Park Commission, in their rush to support one user-group, rode roughshod over the 790,000 people in San Francisco who don’t - or can’t - play soccer. In the space of a few minutes, the Commission overrode the Master Plan and approved the project.
This is the beginning of the end of our parkland. There are many people who view parkland as space that is useless unless it is built on. Or, in the words of a Rec and Park Commissioner, it produces “site specific revenue generation.” There will be more development projects, and they will come thick and fast. And each one will look like a great idea, it will have its own constituency, and it will be approved, all because the Recreation and Park Commission does not have the backbone to stand up for our Parks.
It is a sad day for Golden Gate Park, when the City departments charged with stewardship of our parks decide to destroy our crown jewel.
We still hold out hope for the win-win solution. There are other locations for this project — but there is only one Golden Gate Park!
Gregory P. Miller 37 year SF resident, retired senior financial analyst, US Navy veteran.
(Editors note: The group SF Ocean Edge is considering filing an Appeal to the Board of Supervisors. Info www.sfoceanedge.org.)
Time Is Running Out To Protect Golden Gate Park!
The Final Comments and Responses (C&R) for the Environmental Impact Report for the Beach Chalet Athletic Fields will be published on May 9, 2012. This sports complex will replace over 7 acres of grass in Golden Gate Park with over 7 acres of artificial turf. In addition, the project will install 60 light standards with sports lights — 150,000 watts of light —- right across the Great Highway from Ocean Beach. The parking lot for the fields will be expanded by 33%, seating for over 1,000 spectators will be installed, and more paving and lights will cover the once-living landscape.
Tell them that you want real grass and NO sports lights in Golden Gate Park. Act now! Once this project is built, the western end of Golden Gate Park will be destroyed forever.”
The joint hearing for the Final C&R is tentatively scheduled for May 17th. This hearing will involve both the Planning Commission and the Recreation and Park Commission. If the EIR is certified and the project is approved at this hearing, and if SF Ocean Edge and their partner groups feel that this is the wrong decision, then those groups will consider filing an appeal with the Board of Supervisors. That appeal would take place in June and would also involve a public hearing.
There will be very little time between certification of the Final EIR and a Board of Supervisors appeal hearing. If you want real grass and no sports lights in Golden Gate Park, you need to let City officials know right now!
Send an email to:
Tell them that you want real grass and NO sports lights in Golden Gate Park.
Act now! Once this project is built, the western end of Golden Gate Park will be destroyed forever.
Contact SF Ocean Edge to be put on their alert list: www.sfoceanedge.org . Check their website regularly for public hearing advisories.
Katherine Howard, ASLA, is a certified landscape architect. Feedback: email@example.com or website: www.sfoceanedge.org
Beach Chalet Soccer Fields Cost Lots of Dollars But Don’t Make Sense
We have been told over and over again that one of the reasons for using artificial turf in Golden Gate Park is to save money. However, the figures do not bear this out.
The public has just learned the cost for the legally-mandated Environmental Impact Report for the Beach Chalet athletic fields project is $400,000. Yes, that is a lot of money. The cost reflects the fact that the project may have major negative impacts on Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach, and the EIR must cover the potential impacts in detail.
Before our readers get upset over the cost of following the environmental laws, let’s look at the real costs involved in this massive construction project.
The overall Beach Chalet project budget has been quoted at $12 million dollars. Where is this money being spent? The project includes artificial turf fields, new grading, new irrigation, new concrete, expensive site amenities, and 60 foot sports lights. Let’s be clear about the lighting. The night lights are for the adult soccer leagues who play at night, and many of whom include players from outside of San Francisco. The lighting will have a limited impact on the number of hours that the kids can play.
Now let’s look at the Golden Gate Park Polo Field. The Polo Field has just been completely renovated with new grading, new irrigation, soil amendments, and new natural grass. The Polo Field occupies an area twice the size of the Beach Chalet fields —so, how much do you think that costs? Was it $24 million? $12 million? Maybe only $5 million, since it is natural grass? If you guessed any of those amounts, you would be far afield (sorry for the pun). The Polo Field renovation contract with natural grass cost $1 million. And it did not require an EIR!
What is wrong with this picture? For $500,000 or only $100,000 more than is being spent on the EIR alone, the Beach Chalet fields could be renovated today. No wait of 18 months for the EIR, and no more legal battles, which will cost the City even more money with uncertain outcomes.
Or, looking at it differently, if so much extra money is lying around for the Beach Chalet fields, they could be renovated with natural grass every year for 24 years with the $12 million!
Let’s look at what will happen if artificial turf is installed. It will have to be replaced in 8 years for hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is the fate of all the artificial turf fields in San Francisco.
Among all the city’s fields that will have to be renovated every 8 years, which fields will get budgeted? Will Beach Chalet be chosen at the expense of neighborhood artificial turf fields, that will be left to crumble into trash heaps of gravel, old plastic and rubber?
One other argument given in favor of artificial turf here is that the grass fields have to rest. The answer to that is easy -- Rec and Park has said that it does not need the construction area which is located next to the soccer fields. There is enough land there for at least one more multi-use meadow—in fact, it is designated in the Golden Gate Park Master Plan.
San Francisco’s kids need safe, natural fields to play on. They need them now. Kids all over San Francisco need funding to pay for renovations of parks closer to their homes - studies show that there are many more children in other parts of San Francisco than in the outer reaches of the Sunset and Richmond Districts.
The artificial turf playing fields in Golden Gate Park do not make sense. They do not make sense in the context of Golden Gate Park. They do not make sense environmentally. They do not make sense in providing the most benefit for kids all over San Francisco. And they do not make sense in dollars and cents.
Katherine Howard, ASLA -The EIR for the artificial turf fields will start in December. If you are interested in being notified so that you can attend the scoping session or write a letter expressing your concerns about this project to be included in the official record, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.sfoceanedge.org
GG Park's New Water Treatment Factory
The SF Public Utilities Commission has announced an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a new water treatment plant in the western part of Golden Gate Park. This factory will be located northeast of the historic (and soon to be restored) Murphy Windmill and Millwright’s Cottage. The project includes approximately 40,000 square feet of buildings as well as new roads, parking, and lighting. The plant would filter and disinfect pre-treated sewer and storm water that will then be used to irrigate Golden Gate Park, the Presidio Golf Course and Lincoln Park. Currently, potable water from the aquifer under Golden Gate Park is used for this irrigation. According to the PUC, the purpose of the project is to mix the aquifer water with Hetch Hetchy water to make drinking water for San Franciscans. The treated water from the recycling plant will then be used for irrigation. Estimated construction cost of the proposed project is $109 million with construction planned for completion in 2015.
The placement of the plant above-ground in Golden Gate Park raises a number of issues about the location and design of the facility. According to the 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan, this part of the western end of Golden Gate Park should be converted to recreation and parkland uses. The Master Plan also states that if a water treatment plant is installed, it must be placed completely underground with recreational uses on top of it. But the SFPUC is planning to build large buildings above ground, at a height of 30 feet in some places. There are many questions about this project: Why was this location selected? Why aren’t the buildings being placed underground? Why are we giving up valuable parkland to what is essentially an industrial use? Why are we giving up open space to paving, buildings, parking, and lighting?
The factory will be built on what is now a construction yard. One argument given by the SFPUC in favor of the factory is that it will ‘return’ open space to the Park. But building a factory is not adding open space. Has anyone asked San Franciscans what other uses they might like to see for this precious open space? This land could, and should be, used for park and recreational uses. Golden Gate Park can always use more recreation areas and meadows — try to find a picnic table on a busy weekend!
The need to come up with ways to address San Francisco’s drinking water supply for the future cannot be denied. But it is important that all concerns about our parkland are addressed before this factory is constructed. Public input at the early stages of this EIR process is very important in order to protect and preserve open space in Golden Gate Park.
What I Heard at City Hall
If you have read my previous articles in this newspaper (Perils to our Parks), you will not be surprised to learn that I support the proposed Charter Amendment which would change how Recreation and Park Commissioners are appointed.
Currently, all 7 Commissioners and the General Manager are appointed by the Mayor. The amendment calls for 3 to be chosen by the mayor, 3 by the Board of Supervisors, and one by a joint selection by the Mayor and the President of the BOS.
I attended a the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hearing on June 18th to consider this amendment. The testimony of Commission President Mark Buell was particularly enlightening. Herein, I quote some highlights – I encourage readers to consult sfgovtv, (http://www.sfgovtv.org/ video on-line) to view the meeting.
Commissioner Buell: “. . . We have this enormous budget problem and we are trying to deal with it.. . . .
. . . . Mayor Newsom approached me and asked would I go on the Recreation and Park Commission with a specific goal intended. And that was to find a way to bring more resources, private resources, philanthropic resources, and some stability in funding Rec and Park, at the same time trying to get it off the General Fund because of the problems that you are only too well aware of that are systemic at a state and national level in terms of revenue . . . .
. . . . When the Mayor talked to me, he mentioned that one of the things that he was impressed with was the New York Park Central Park Conservancy. As you may be aware, that really got started in the 80’s, but in 1998 they contracted with the city of New York as a private nonprofit and took over Central Park as an operation. 80% of the employees belong to the conservancy, 20% to the City. . . ..
. . . . So you are coming at a time when Rec and Park, I think, has never been better and we are trying to shape a philanthropic portion of the community which really hasn’t been there to a great degree. So at the same time we are improving services, cutting our budget, trying to generate new revenue (and I’m sure that you will hear from people who disagree with the way that happens), that you are going to put on the ballot a divisive measure that I think will discourage philanthropic dollars and I think give less confidence in the Rec and Park Department . . .
. . . So I guess what I’m telling you is be very careful as you put something on the ballot that will be publicly debated and, I think, be divisive at the same time that we are making an effort to try to bring major philanthropic dollars that have in the past not been there.”
So…… Let me get this straight-- according to Commissioner Buell: Our parks are being managed better than ever. BUT San Francisco can no longer afford its parks. THEREFORE, we desperately need the aid of wealthy donors. BY THE WAY, public discussion of such matters is damaging.
I applaud Commissioner Buell for his clarity and candor, and I do not doubt his good intentions. However, his statement raises important issues:
1. Does Mr. Buell’s statement outline the long-term policy of Mayor Newsom?
2. Will there be a formal announcement of this policy and a detailed
plan for the public’s review and discussion? Or will it be implemented quietly, bit by bit, until we turn around and our parks are out of our reach — or at least fenced and closed to general use? Sue Bierman Park is covered with the tent of a private theatrical enterprise. The Stow Lake Boathouse is planned to go from a community-friendly gathering place to a high-end restaurant. Threatened by RPD with the withdrawal of gardening staff, the Arboretum will charge for admission - yes, residents won’t have to pay the $15 per family this year, but remember that is the path that the Japanese Tea Garden took. First charge only non-residents -- get the infrastructure in place -- and then get the residents to pay just a little, then more, then more…. It now costs $5.00 for residents and $1.50 for resident kids. For kids! City staff are being dismissed and replaced by volunteer labor. City buildings are leased long-term at low rates to private organizations.
3. Why is RPD using the City’s current financial crisis as a rationale
for sweeping permanent changes? Fiscal problems are generally temporary and are best handled with temporary measures. San Franciscans built and maintained their parks largely through public funding for over 100 years, even through the Great Depression. Now in the middle of an economic downturn, we are told the only solution is to throw ourselves on the mercy - and the control - of private donors. Why is that?
4. If we “get it off the general fund” and rely on the “major
philanthropic dollars”, who will be making the key decisions about
our parks? What role will the ordinary citizens and their elected representatives play in this new world? The Parks Trust is having a fund-raiser in the fall. The higher categories of donors get a private meeting with the General Manager. Since the General Manager has two and half hours of open office time for the public each month, this may be worth the price.
5. Has the Board of Supervisors been consulted, or at least briefed, about the plans to privatize and commercialize our parks?
6. The Board retains ultimate control over the City budget. The General Fund contribution to our Parks is around $30 million each year -- this is about ½ of one percent of the City budget. Does the BOS see any other means of dealing with the situation short of permanent privatization and commercialization of our parks? Has this even been talked about?
7. Why is a Charter Amendment that includes more diverse representation
considered “divisive” by RPD? If massive changes are required, wouldn’t the actions of a more representative body be more likely to gain widespread public support?
8. Why would the proposed Charter amendment “discourage philanthropic
dollars?” Do private donors object to a democratic process? Aren’t private donations most appropriate and appreciated when solicited to support objectives chosen by the majority of citizens?
If you are concerned about such issues, write to the Commission, write to the Mayor, and write to your Supervisor NOW to support the Recreation and Park Commission Charter Amendment.
Gregory P. Miller, 36 year SF resident, retired senior financial analyst, US Navy veteran. Feedback: email@example.com
GG Park: The Peril to Our Parkland
In my first two articles, I explored some of the problems threatening our parkland today and what has caused them. Here are some ideas for solving them. I encourage readers to look closely at these ideas and come up with some of your own – if you wish to see parkland continue as open space in San Francisco, your parks need you to become involved!
(Photo caption: Sue Bierman Park - This parkland has been rented for a
low amount of money and with minimal public discourse. Is
the selling of our parks the prototype for future funding
by RPD and the Commission?)
1. San Francisco lacks a clear and sustained public vision for its parkland
There is a public statement of this vision for our premier city park. It’s called the Golden Gate Park Master Plan, and it outlines a detailed plan for the protection of the Park. There is a need for a broader vision for all of our parkland. This vision should be formed through outreach to all communities in San Francisco, and should take place over at least a few years, so that the short-term needs of the moment are not over-riding in its formation.
2. It is difficult to maintain citizen interest in protecting open space.
Without a John McLaren or other leading citizen who has the prestige and power to protect our parkland, the next best solution is to turn to an institution to protect our parkland. This institution should be the Department of Recreation and Park. Yet the RPD is intent on selling our parks. How can we have more oversight, so that RPD focuses on preservation instead of cashing in on our open space?
One solution is to change the make-up of the Recreation and Park Commission. Since the Commission is currently appointed by the Mayor and the General Manger is appointed by the Mayor, the decisions of both are often in lock step. A more balanced division of powers needs to be instituted so that the Commission can do what commissions are supposed to do – provide citizen oversight for City departments.
3. ‘Recreation’ and ‘parks’ are not the same.
The needs of our specialized recreational communities and the needs of our general citizenry for healthy parkland are both legitimate. They deserve separate and independent public advocates; this option should be studied carefully, but it would have to be done by someone outside the Department who did not report to RPD. A government agency or private firm from outside of Recreation and Park and reporting to the Board of Supervisors would be more likely to be responsive to public comment as well as less likely to slant the report towards the current RPD management preferences.
4. Donated projects are not necessarily “free” projects— Park land is not “free” land.
Any time we carve off another piece of our public parks for a single purpose use, the taxpayers are making a very valuable gift to a small user community. Park land is NOT free! We need to realize this and stop this practice of accepting projects that respond to a small community just because someone has the money to finance them. The correct process would be for the Recreation and Park Department in conjunction with the Commission and with due process and public input, to decide on what projects are needed. Only after the projects have been decided, should gifts be sought to support those projects.
5. Bureaucracy Abhors Public Discourse:
Public institutions instinctively avoid an open public discussion of their plans. It is easier to work quietly with carefully-chosen “stakeholders”, develop detailed plans, organize support, and finally roll out the results. The message to the public is, ‘We worked really hard on this – we hope you like it -- because this is what you are going to get!”
We need Sunshine laws with real teeth in them, so that if a project does not go through a comprehensive, open process, it can be rescinded AT ANY TIME. This should include an appeals process that goes outside of RPD.
6. Capital Projects Are Sexy (Operational budgets are so boooringggg):
Living, green parks are labor intensive. There is a strong temptation to shift park costs from the “operating budget” that pays gardeners to the “capital budget” that builds things. It becomes increasingly tempting to convert our labor-intensive parks into hardened sites that need less care - a process also known as “paving the park”.
To reverse this process, each new capital project must also have an endowed maintenance budget to keep it going in future years. This money should be untouchable – it can’t be pillaged the way the Open Space Fund is now. This will prevent expensive, non-maintainable projects from being built and also save the RPD budget for our existing parkland from being robbed.
These are just a few of my ideas for changes that would help to better protect our parkland. Perhaps the readers would also like to submit ideas!
UPDATE ON POINT #2 and WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY TO EFFECT CHANGE: A charter amendment has been submitted at the Board of Supervisors to change the way appointments are made to the Recreation and Park Commission. Under this balanced proposal, the Mayor will appoint 3 commissioners, the BOS will appoint 3 commissioners, and 1 additional commissioner will be selected jointly by the Mayor and the President of the BOS. With a Commission reflective of a variety of viewpoints, there is hope for more accountability from RPD to the citizens of San Francisco.
Please contact the Supervisors in support of this charter amendment for a balanced Recreation and Park Commission. Encourage them to put this issue before the voters, and let the voters decide!
Gregory P. Miller, 36 year SF resident, retired senior financial analyst, US Navy veteran. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
GG Park: The Peril to Our Parkland
On April 15th, the SF Recreation and Park Commission (RPC) approved replacing the existing natural grass athletic fields at the west end of Golden Gate Park with over 6 acres of artificial turf. The area will be illuminated every night of the year until 10 p.m. with almost a quarter million watts of night sports lighting. The SF Planning Department paved the way with its earlier ruling that the proposal was a routine renovation and no Environmental Impact Report was required.
These decisions were made despite the written concerns of over 1500 residents and over 80 neighborhood, environmental, and historic preservation groups.
While the City’s decision is disappointing, the most depressing aspect is the predictability of that decision. In my prior article, I outlined institutional and attitudinal factors that undermine the preservation of our treasured parks (www.westsideobserver.com/special10/soccer.html).
Here are a few more factors:
6. Bureaucracy Abhors Public Discourse: The soccer complex has been in
the works since 2007, yet the general public learned of the
proposal in late 2009. This was six months after the City Fields Foundation
(SF’s private partner in this venture) alerted the Bay Area soccer community
to the project. The few public outreach sessions have been
combination sales presentations and pep rallies. There was no earnest
discussion of alternatives or flaws in the plan. In one meeting, an innocent
asked if new natural grass fields might be a better solution in the context
of Golden Gate Park. City Fields replied that artificial turf and night
lighting are non-negotiable. End of discussion.
We should not be surprised. Public institutions instinctively avoid an open public discussion of their plans. It is easier to work quietly with carefully-chosen “stakeholders,” develop detailed plans, organize support, and finally roll out the results. The message to the public is, “We worked really hard on this – we hope you like it -- because this is what you are going to get!”
And that is why we have the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA can compel our public institutions to open up the process to a full public environmental review.
“ Private donors are reluctant to endow operational staff. It’s only human for a donor to want to point to a substantial building with pride – pointing to a guy mowing a lawn has less psychic reward. And, many donors don’t trust the City. They can verify that a building was built, but how do they know that a department won’t find some clever way to move the money to some other pet project?”
7. Investment Analysis is for Sissies: The Recreation and Park Department
(RPD) claims that artificial turf is cost effective compared to grass
fields. Their claim is not obvious from the information made available
to the public. Field utilization may increase with plastic grass, but
the proper base reference is not the current, poorly-maintained fields
but, rather, new grass fields constructed using modern techniques. Both
grass and artificial fields have maintenance costs – estimating these
costs is rife with controversy. Other costs have not been factored in,
for example, the City pays for the electric power, and stadium lights
are not cheap. The City will have to maintain the plastic/tire crumb mat
to the manufacturer’s specifications, and then replace everything in 10
years with public funds.
A detailed financial analysis of such issues is routine for any sizeable private company. If the City has done such a careful analysis, it remains carefully hidden. This is surprising, considering the SF/City Fields partnership has built a number of soccer fields over the past several years.
With the help of a sympathetic Supervisor, I asked RPD about a proper financial analysis, and received no response during the past two months.
8. Capital Projects Are Sexy (Operational budgets are
so boooringggg): Living, green parks are labor intensive. There is a strong temptation
to shift park costs from the “operating budget” that pays gardeners to
the “capital budget” that builds things.
This concept is facilitated by Federal tax law and State law that prohibit using bond money to fund operational expenses. Private donors are reluctant to endow operational staff. It’s only human for a donor to want to point to a substantial building with pride – pointing to a guy mowing a lawn has less psychic reward. And, many donors don’t trust the City. They can verify that a building was built, but how do they know that a department won’t find some clever way to move the money to some other pet project?
As a result, existing facilities tend to be poorly maintained, decline, and are shunned. It becomes increasingly tempting to convert our labor-intensive parks into “hardened” sites that need less care - a process also known as “paving the park.”
9. A Flawed Process is a Denied Process: So let’s walk the destruction
of the west end of Golden Gate Park through the steps we have
Desperate for ‘free’ funding to shore up a department that is bleeding red ink, RPD forges ahead. No evidence of careful analysis of all the long-term costs is made public. The Planning Department EIR decision is released on a Friday. Six days later, the RPC meets. No real outreach takes place – as recently as four days before the RPC meeting to approve this project, many residents with homes overlooking the park had not even heard of it. The opinions of the Historic Preservation Commission and three major historic preservation organizations that the project would cause a significant negative impact on the most valuable historic park in SF are ignored by the RPC. The RPC praises the privately-funded and well-organized soccer leagues and states that the project opponents are close-minded and insensitive to the needs of the community. The RPC, which rarely disagrees with staff proposals, votes to approve the project.
RPC watchers are not surprised…but we are disappointed.
How can we fix a system that is so obviously broken? I have a few ideas, but send your suggestions in to the Westside Observer. Let’s get a dialogue going.
NOTE: SF Ocean Edge, environmental and neighborhood organizations are planning to appeal the CEQA ruling to the BOS. Contact www.sfoceanedge.org for more information on the appeal and how you can participate. The protection of our parkland is in the hands of the citizens of San Francisco.
Gregory P. Miller, 36 year SF resident, retired senior financial analyst, US Navy veteran. Feedback: email@example.com
The Peril to Our Parkland
Many San Franciscans are shocked when they learn the details of the proposed “renovation” of the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields in Golden Gate Park. How did San Francisco come to the point where converting over 13 acres of parkland into an artificial, brightly lighted, single-purpose sports complex is acceptable to City officials and some of its citizens? Our Soccer community has legitimate needs, but why has there been no serious public exploration of alternatives which would be less destructive to our Park?
Our city parks, once bucolic refuges open to all citizens, are under the increasing threat of being partitioned into small fiefdoms. To protect our open parkland, we need to understand the forces that are undermining these wonderful treasures.
1. San Francisco lacks a clear and sustained public vision for its parkland Most San Franciscans think of Golden Gate Park with a mixture of warmth and pride. Our experience may be limited to a few favorite activities such as a family picnic, an afternoon baseball game, bird watching, a summer bluegrass concert, or a quiet morning walk. But a park’s overall impact is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The verdant, bucolic parkland, with its vistas across open meadows and peaceful secluded pathways, forms a framework which enriches our individual experiences. While we value urban living, we also need the balance that only nature can provide. Golden Gate Park is our countryside, our contact with the natural world.
There is a public statement of this vision for our premier city park. It’s called the Golden Gate Park Master Plan, and it outlines a detailed plan for the protection of the Park. But, like any other public policy, it is only effective if the public and officials actively support it.
2. Specific plans from special interest groups always have a tactical advantage. Every year, groups put forward new proposals for developments in our parks. They have a need, and they see a clear solution. The groups are well organized and bring intense pressure on public officials to approve such proposals.
But there are far more projects than can fit into our open space. A few years ago, someone drew up a plan of what New York’s Central Park would look like if all projects proposed for the Park had been implemented. The result resembled the densely-packed financial district of lower Manhattan. In the early 1900’s it was proposed that Golden Gate Park be torn up for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Fortunately, that proposal died after a public outcry. If we pack too many activities and attractions into our parks, we will turn them into amusement parks—attractive to tourists but not the refuge that we seek.
“By formally joining “Recreation” and “Parks,” we force the Department to choose between often-conflicting priorities. At times they have done an admirable job— witness the Golden Gate Park Master Plan. At other times, they must weigh protecting our parkland against addressing the desires of special interest groups. Under this pressure, long-term protection of our parklands often becomes a casualty.”
3. It is difficult to maintain citizen interest in protecting open space. While San Franciscans love their parks, it is difficult to arouse public passion for our parkland on a continual basis.
San Francisco has been blessed with park administrators such as William Hammond Hall and John McLaren who possessed a vision of Golden Gate Park as a natural haven for our citizenry. In other periods, the Park was administered by short-sighted officials and much damage ensued. Without John McLaren, the next best solution is to turn to an institution to protect our parkland. This institution should be the Department of Recreation and Park.
4. ‘Recreation’ and ‘parks’ are not
the same. In 1949 the voters combined Recreation and Parks into one department. While well-intentioned, this merger ignored a major conflict of interest. a “Parks” department should protect our parklands as open space systems that celebrate nature. A “Recreation” department should embrace all of the activities we envision in our parks. These would include individual activities such as strolling, picnics, wildlife observation, jogging, and contemplation. In practice, “Recreation” today means organized activities with specialized staff and capital investments such as recreation centers, playing fields, and swimming pools. While parks often contain a number of “Recreation” facilities, a large collection of “Recreation” facilities does not necessarily constitute a “Park.”
By formally joining “Recreation” and “Parks,” we force the Department to choose between often-conflicting priorities. At times they have done an admirable job— witness the Golden Gate Park Master Plan. At other times, they must weigh protecting our parkland against addressing the desires of special interest groups. Under this pressure, long-term protection of our parklands often becomes a casualty.
The needs of our specialized recreational communities and the needs of our general citizenry for healthy parkland are both legitimate. They deserve separate and independent public advocates.
5. A donated project is not necessarily a “free” project,
and Park land is not “free” land. When a donor offers to fund a project,
the decision seems easy – take the money, and we get a free project. But
is it free? In the case of the soccer complex, the City taxpayers will
pay for a good chunk of the $9 million project. Taxpayers will be on the
hook to replace the artificial turf fields every 8 to 10 years. And 13
to 16 acres of parkland, which have been used by a variety of people for
picnics, informal games, concerts and even kite-flying, will be lost forever.
The soccer community will receive a new playing surface (don’t forget
that there are fields there now that could be maintained as natural grass,
a surface preferred by professional players), but the space will be lost
permanently to all other citizens. Golden Gate Park encompasses 1000 acres,
and an illusion of unlimited space persists. But much of the Park acreage
is already devoted to roads and specialized facilities.
What is the value of the land that we, the taxpayers, are contributing? Using a low estimate of $125 a square foot, the estimated value of 16 acres would be $87 million! Even this may be too low. The large contiguous parcel would be difficult to duplicate anywhere in the city – and is therefore worth a great deal more. Any time we carve off another piece of our public parks for a single purpose use, the taxpayers are making a very valuable gift to a small user community. Park land is NOT free!
Coming next month:
6. Bureaucracy Abhors Public Discourse
7. Investment Analysis is for Sissies
8. Capital Projects are Sexy (Operational Budgets are boorriinngg)
9. Scorched Earth for Undesirables!
Gregory P. Miller, 36 year SF resident, retired senior financial analyst, US Navy veteran.
BRIGHT LIGHTS, ARTIFICIAL TURF IN RUSTIC GOLDEN GATE PARK?
The current grassy meadow as seen today. Imagine this area with bright
striping, taller fences, sidewalks, and lots of lights. The trees vary
in height, from 20 to 40 feet. The new 60 foot light poles will tower
above the fields and be clearly visible from both within and outside
of the Park, day and night. Photos: K. Howard
San Franciscans are currently facing a proposal to destroy the meadow
and woodland in the western end of Golden Gate Park by developing a
15 acre soccer complex.
Within the complex, 7.5 acres of parkland will be covered with artificial turf. The beautiful grassy green meadow will be ripped out. The top soil that has been carefully nurtured for over 140 years will be trucked off and dumped. In its place will be a thick layer of gravel. A plastic carpet with fake grass blades will be laid on top of the gravel and filled in with a mixture of tire waste and sand. Bright yellow and white stripes will be permanently painted on the carpet. More concrete and asphalt paving will be poured for sidewalks and parking.
The existing meadow is surrounded by trees, many of them planted to protect the park from the stiff ocean breezes. This project requires removal of a minimum of 65 trees and many shrubs; many of the remaining trees may be damaged by the construction. The project arborist’s report does not deal with the potential damage to the rest of the Park’s vegetation once the western windbreak has been compromised.
The lighting is perhaps the most objectionable element of this proposal.
Sports lights will be mounted on 60 foot poles - over two
times the height of the surrounding trees. New sidewalks and
an expanded parking lot will have lighting. All lights will
shine brightly until 10:00 p.m. every night. Many people go
out to Ocean Beach to enjoy the sunset, to walk on the beach
at dusk, to look at the stars, or to sit around a fire ring.
The joy of these experiences will be destroyed by the sports
lights. In addition, this lighting is disastrous to wildlife.
Visit the South Sunset Playing Field at 40th Avenue and Wawona
to witness the impact of commercial sports field lighting. (Shown:
South Sunset Playing Field – sportsfield lighting seen from four blocks
away. What will be the experience at Ocean Beach with this type of lighting
The only reason the City can afford these fields is donations from the City Fields Foundation, run by the Fisher family. But what will happen in 10 years, when the plastic fields wear out? Can anyone guarantee that in 10 years the City will have the money and the commitment to replace all the artificial turf fields? Will we have traded woodland and meadow for bare gravel and unplayable soccer fields?
The City has not played straight with San Franciscans about this project. Artificial turf was not mentioned in the Voter Information Pamphlet for the 2008 Parks bond, Proposition A. Public outreach has been one-sided. Private soccer leagues were mobilized to support the project last spring, but local residents weren’t told until public meetings in the late autumn. The soccer supporters convinced some Supervisors to introduce a special resolution, but most San Franciscans don’t even know about this project. Is the City worried that when San Franciscans learn what is planned for Golden Gate Park, they will rebel? That’s what happened at Rossi Park and Potrero Hill, when the neighbors learned that their beloved parks were about to be hijacked for projects they never wanted.
The 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan is very clear about keeping the western end of Golden Gate Park free from development and preserving the ‘pastoral’ nature of this area. The Master Plan was certified after 10 years of research, an Environmental Impact Report, input from City Departments, neighborhood organizations, consultants, and community members. Why does the City spend tax-payer money on a long-range plan and then ignore it?
We agree that kids need to play. But kids also need to learn that nature has a value in itself. What are we teaching them - to choose between playing soccer and being a good environmental steward? Kids shouldn’t have to make this choice.
There are alternatives – renovating the grass fields, installing gopher barriers, improving the drainage, investigating new soil products, and planning effective maintenance. Many soccer players prefer natural grass. Let’s give people a sustainable choice.
We urge the Recreation and Park Department to use the same creativity it is using to meet the budget deficit to preserve the landscape of Golden Gate Park. RPD has just proposed an apprentice gardener program - How about assigning an apprentice to the playing fields? Enlisting a donor to endow a permanent groundskeeper? Urging the City Fields Foundation to rethink their single-minded devotion to artificial turf and night lighting? Selecting some of the other 15 parks listed in the Bond Report book for renovation? Let’s repair the Golden Gate Park grass fields and use the rest of the $9 million for all the other parks that desperately need the funding.
Golden Gate Park provides the experience of nature for the poor, the young, and the old who do not have the means to travel to nature outside of the City and are otherwise restricted to a hard-edged environment. The Park has always provided San Franciscans with a respite from City life. This is what the Park was designed for, and this has been its primary use since it was planted in the sand dunes.
Since its creation, Golden Gate Park has been threatened by City officials who have no understanding of the intrinsic value of a woodland park. In 1915, the City fathers proposed to build the Panama Pacific International Exposition in the Park. In 1951, the City planned to build a freeway through the Panhandle and the Park. Both times, the people of San Francisco rose up to say, ‘Don’t destroy our Park!’
Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s forest, her meadows, her lakes. Golden Gate Park is too important to pave and light up like a suburban parking lot.
Please tell the Planning Department and RPD: We need an EIR to explore these issues. We need an EIR for fair outreach to the community. We need an EIR to find alternatives. We need an EIR so that the Bond money can be spent wisely. ( Please copy us on your letters.)
“Tree and Large Shrub Report, Golden Gate Park Soccer Fields,” prepared by Hortscience for the City Fields Foundation, February 2010. Download: www.sfoceanedge.org
Golden Gate Park Master Plan, http://www.sfgov.org/site/recpark_page.asp?id=30236 or google “golden gate park master plan”
Katherine Howard, member, American Society of Landscape Architects Historic Preservation Professional Interest Group, Chair (elect), Citizen’s Advisory Committee to the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance. Guest Lecturer: UC Berkeley Certificate Program in Landscape Architecture, Landscape Design History. To learn more: www.sfoceanedge.org, feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.