installation
So many San Franciscans are bored with this Illuminate project, many are asking why it's still there? Photo: Illuminate.com
Illuminate burns on.

The Millionaire's Arts Club of San Francisco

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects me directly affects all indirectly.” - Martin Luther King, Jr

We need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth. The future of all life on this planet, humans and our societies included, requires us to become effective stewards of the global commons—the climate, ice, land, ocean, freshwater, forests, soils, and rich diversity of life that regulate the state of the planet, and combine to create a unique and harmonious life-support system.” From a statement by a group of academics including 13 Nobel laureates issued on April 29, 2021 (as reported in the SF Chronicle)

David Romano.
David Romano

There is a millionaire's club at work in San Francisco, bringing corporate money and corporate influence into public spaces, grabbing public resources and exploiting what little remains of our green spaces and our night sky in the City. This millionaire's club goes by the name of Illuminate and is, ostensibly, a non-profit arts organization. Its mission: "Illuminate rallies large groups of people together to create impossible works of public art that, through awe, free humanity's better nature" (from the Illuminate website). What on earth does that even mean? There is so much wrong with Illuminate, on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin.

You do not create art by rallying large groups of people. Millionaires plus technocrats plus electric lights do not equal art. It is not possible to create "impossible" works of art. It's not possible to create "impossible" anything. But it is clever, if deceptive: if you do make something that you had previously said was impossible, why then you must be a creative genius. Right from the start you get the impression that Illuminate is laughing at us; we can tell these fools anything if we dress it up in some new age jargon. David Hatfield, part of the three-member executive team, has the title, Chief of Opportunities.

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Illuminate is a group mostly composed of elite white capitalists who hire contractors to put up electric lights in public spaces”

Illuminate's Ten Principles include, "Live or die with integrity. Never compromise for corporate dollars, even if that means failing." Are you kidding me? Is Iluminate like Doctors Without Borders whose members risk their lives to bring life-saving medicine to victims in conflict zones? Is it like Greenpeace whose members risk their lives and possible jail time defending whales and dolphins from slaughter? Is it like the tribes trying to stop the oil pipelines who are putting their lives on the line to save the planet from fossil fuels? No; Illuminate is a group mostly composed of elite white capitalists who hire contractors to put up electric lights in public spaces. I don't think "dying with integrity" really enters into it, unless someone is accidentally electrocuted.

So, who are these guys, anyway? I have to ask, with all due respect, how are these people qualified to sit on the Board of a non-profit arts organization that's taking in tens of millions of dollars and using its spending to influence City officials to favor its projects? 

A quick look at some of the Illuminate Board members tells you that art is likely not their strong point: 

John Combs, Founder/Principal RiverRock Real Estate Group; Jeff Jungsten, Jungsten Construction, President; Ken Maxey, Director of External Relations Comcast NBC Universal; Matt Mullenweg, Founder/CEO Automattic Inc.; Dickon Pinner (chair), Partner, McKinsey & Company; Patricia Wilson, CEO, P.S. Think Big, Inc.; Lisa Vogel, Director of Asset Management, Wareham Development.

Illuminate's most prominent supporters are: The Lisa & John Pritzker Family Fund at $3 million plus and Tad and Dianne Taube at $2 million plus. "The Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund seeks to improve the trajectories for young children in San Francisco, by investing in their health and learning" (from their website) so it's a bit of a head scratcher why they would give so much to Illuminate. The Taubes give money to youth programs, pediatric cancer research and the San Francisco Opera, amongst others, so it's also puzzling why they would donate so much to fund lighting projects that diminish children's experience of the night sky and their ability to see the stars, moon and planets. Artificial light only obscures the celestial lights, which have always been humanity's true source of awe and wonder.

More from Illuminates Ten Principles: "Be free to all. Create nothing that requires paid admission." Shouldn't be hard to do when all you do is put up lights in public places and you're funded by donations. "Take worthy risks. Try difficult things and be transparent in sharing all lessons." Again, are you kidding me? What risks is Illuminate taking? What lessons are they sharing?

It goes on: "Bring light to shadow. Pursue positive expressions that address real-world shortcomings." "Be in it for others. Self-sacrifice toward the greater good." Such noble sentiments! These people are veritable saints. "Always aim high. Seek to unite all people around higher values of love and equality." And the way to do this is by putting electric light displays in our public spaces, causing untold amounts of wasted energy and light pollution?

Somehow, all this quixotic double-talk has also translated into putting lights in Golden Gate Park. Illuminate is lighting up the bandshell for the next two years with bright, colored lights. Also, they apparently plan to light up the Conservatory of Flowers indefinitely "...the dazzling light projection on the historic building’s exterior continues nightly into its third year." (from the Illuminate website.)

"In ways we have long understood, in others we are just beginning to understand, night's natural darkness has always been invaluable to our health and the health of the natural world, and every living creature suffers from its loss." The End of Night by Paul Bogard

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We need this? Perhaps Illuminate is thinking that the destitute and disenfranchised individuals who congregate on Market between 6th Street and Van Ness will be so mesmerized by the lights they'll forget about their plight?”

Ben Davis, the CEO of Illuminate, asked if he could address a Zoom meeting of San Franciscans for Urban Nature, (I am a member) and we agreed. Once the meeting had begun, he announced that he had invited Dana King to join us and shortly afterwards handed his presentation over to her. He was looking to get our support for Illuminate's latest project, putting an electric light installation across the facade of the bandshell. Dana King is the creator of Monumental Reckoning, a newly installed sculpture in the Music Concourse. A few weeks later he again asked to speak at our meeting and, after the meeting had begun, again announced that he had invited Dana King, and he let her do the talking.

It may be a somewhat underhanded way of doing business, but it is very effective. Who's going to dare to oppose what a celebrity African American woman artist says? I guess that's why Mr. Davis gets paid the big bucks. According to ProPublica in 2018 his compensation was $169,623. Total executive compensation was $249,056 (38.7% of total expenses); other salaries and wages were $202, 805 (31.5% of total expense). For 2019 Mr. Davis made a more modest $137,066. 

So be aware, if Ben Davis asks to speak to your group, he will likely produce Dana King in his place once he arrives. He won't tell you ahead of time.

**************

“... light pollution poses a serious threat to nocturnal wildlife, having negative impacts on plant and animal physiology. ... The rhythm of life is orchestrated by the diurnal patterns of light and dark, and disruption of these patterns impacts ecological dynamics.” Connie Walker, A Silent Cry for Dark Skies, The Universe in the Classroom.

Illuminate's current big project is Lightrail - "Lightrail will be the world’s first subway-responsive light sculpture. Designed with more than 20,000 LED lights, it will run for two miles along San Francisco’s iconic Market Street, from Van Ness Avenue to The Embarcadero."(Illuminate website). We need this? Perhaps Illuminate is thinking that the destitute and disenfranchised individuals who congregate on Market between 6th Street and Van Ness will be so mesmerized by the lights they'll forget about their plight?

"Working with local artists George Zisiadis and Stefano Corazza, an extraordinary technical team, a range of city agencies, and the SF Board of Supervisors, Illuminate holds a major encroachment permit to install Lightrail, a two-mile-long piece of artwork that will run from One Market Street to Van Ness Avenue" (Illuminate website). May I point out that it is not artwork; it is light pollution and a wasteful use of energy we should be trying to conserve. It is ironic that as part of the same project, Illuminate "plans to retrofit the ... streetlights–from the Ferry Building to the Rainbow Flag–with new energy-efficient LED bulbs that will cut energy use by "80%" Yes, exactly; we need to cut energy use and direct lights downward. But if this is going to cut energy use by 80%, why isn't the City taking care of it? Why is our public space being co-opted by Illuminate who, otherwise, plans to produce only more light pollution using ever more energy? Dana King may be willing to lend her name and credibility to Illuminate, but the City should not cede rights to our public spaces to a non-profit "Arts" organization propagating ecologically damaging activities.

The stakes are very high and San Francisco is on the wrong path. Has no one at the Recreation and Parks Commission or the Mayor's office heard of Greta Thunberg? I guess what Greta has to say is just an inconvenient truth. What would Greta think of Illuminate's projects? Jason Mark, the editor-in-chief of Sierra, makes our situation very clear in his editorial, Writing the Future, “The twin threats of the climate crisis and the extinction emergency mean that the decisions we make today will reverberate on a geologic time scale.” What does Illuminate do to mitigate the climate crisis or the extinction emergency? Sad to say, thus far, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Illuminate can yet become a good steward of the Earth by turning it's creativity, imagination and technical knowledge toward reducing the negative effects of artificial light in our public spaces.

“Artificial light at night disrupts a wide range of natural processes. Recent research has shown significant impacts of coastal lighting reducing foraging of intertidal invertebrates, disrupting marine food webs, suppressing movement of juvenile fishes, increasing predation on nesting seabirds...” Dr. Travis Longcore, Associate Adjunct Professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Everything we do matters. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. It's past time to recognize this.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

July 2021

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GG Park Map
A glance at the tourist map of Golden Gate Park indicates how little parkland is left
A Walk in the Park

A Letter to Our Supervisors

David Romano.
David Romano

The buildings, facilities, roads, parking lots, golf course, Polo Field, and the many sports venues (soccer fields, lawn bowls, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, etc.) in Golden Gate Park, leave very little parkland for people to experience.   

Here is a (partial) list of the areas in Golden Gate Park that are not available for "a walk in the park."  A glance at a map showing the features of the Park quickly reveals how little parkland is left.  The list of the man-made, or "not-park", areas of the Park is impressive.  Located within the boundaries of the Park are:

1. Kezar Stadium

2. Kezar Pavilion

3. Kezar Parking Lot

4. the considerable asphalt expanse of Kezar Drive 

5. the Tennis Courts 

6. the Horseshoe Pits

7. McLaren Lodge with its adjacent parking area

8. Racquetball Courts

9. Sharon Art Studio

10. JFK Drive

11. County Fair Building

12. MLK, Jr. Drive

13. Academy of Sciences

14. de Young Museum

15.  Japanese Tea Garden

16. the Disc Golf Course

17. Golden Gate Park Golf Course

18. the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (7 acres of artificial turf, concrete and asphalt) 

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In truth, the chance for a quiet walk in the park is fast disappearing”

19. the Dog Training Area (4 acres of artificial turf, sand, concrete and asphalt)

20. Route 1 - a six lane highway running more than the width of the Park

21. Crossover Drive - a four lane roadway

22. the Polo Fields and parking areas

23. the Horse Stables

24. the Bercut Equitation Field and adjacent area (now rented by a private vendor)

25. the Bison Paddock 

26. the Casting Pools, and the Angler's Lodge and grounds

27. the Archery Range

28. Middle Drive

29. Chain of Lakes Drive

30. 47th Avenue

31. the Park Chalet restaurant, backyard dining area and parking lot

32. various restrooms, playgrounds, maintenance yards, storage facilities, including a four acre yard south of the Soccer Fields

33. the Petanque Courts

34. Lawn Bowls Courts

35. the Richmond Senior Center and parking lot

36. the wood chipping facility and groundwater processing facility accessed by Overlook Drive. 

Wheel from the Concourse
Concourse today / Photo: Ann McPherson

The Music Concourse, with its fountains, walkways, landscaping, monuments and many trees, used to provide visitors with a gracious and pleasant walk.  Now, that walk is marred by a gigantic Ferris wheel, with a noisy diesel generator, a photo booth, and stands selling food and gewgaws. 

When Dana Ketcham of the Rec and Park Dept. advocated for a four year extension for the Skystar Wheel in the Music Concourse, she repeatedly made the claim that out of Golden Gate Park's 1017 acres, the Music Concourse was only 1.6 acres, and everyone had all the rest of the Park to be in a park.  We can see that isn't correct.  Ms. Ketcham's presentations to the Historic Preservation Commission and the Recreation and Park Commission, relied, in part, on establishing the negligible impact of the Wheel on our park environment, based on her claim that only 1.6 acres are directly impacted. In truth, the impact goes far beyond the Music Concourse, crowding visitors who come for the rejuvenating experience of being in "green space" into what little parkland is left.  

"Ready access to green space is proven to contribute to better health outcomes such as heart health, obesity and blood sugar as well as improved mental wellbeing."  Is Golden Gate Park really for all San Franciscans?  by Carly Graf (SF ExaminerMay 21, 2021.)

In truth, the chance for a quiet walk in the park is fast disappearing.  Please protect our parks from encroaching development. 

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

June 2021

artificial turf field
Unnecessary lighting disrupts the life cycle of the insects, birds and animals in Golden Gate Park Photo: Ann McPherson
Light Pollution in Golden Gate Park
David Romano.
David Romano

The night sky, like the air, land and oceans, is a precious resource and belongs to everyone. It is our human heritage and the night sky truly gives meaning to our lore, literature, history and art. Alternating day and night, natural sunlight and natural dark, are essential to all living things on this planet. 

"We need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth. The future of all life on this planet, humans and our societies included, requires us to become effective stewards of the global commons—the climate, ice, land, ocean, freshwater, forests, soils, and rich diversity of life that regulate the state of the planet, and combine to create a unique and harmonious life-support system. There is now an existential need to build economies and societies that support Earth system harmony rather than disrupt it." From a statement by a group of academics including 13 Nobel laureates issued on April 29, 2021 (as reported in the SF Chronicle)

"In ways we have long understood, in others we are just beginning to understand, night's natural darkness has always been invaluable to our health and the health of the natural world, and every living creature suffers from its loss.” The End of Night by Paul Bogard

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We need electric light for human safety, comfort and health but lighting up the night sky for amusement or displays should be kept to a minimum. It is especially important that artificial light be kept to a minimum in our urban parks. At night, our city parks can be an oasis of dark in the otherwise unrelenting glare of electric light that engulfs most of our city.”

Light pollution is the opposite of what's needed for a "harmonious life-support system.” We need electric light for human safety, comfort and health but lighting up the night sky for amusement or displays should be kept to a minimum. It is especially important that artificial light be kept to a minimum in our urban parks. At night, our city parks can be an oasis of dark in the otherwise unrelenting glare of electric light that engulfs most of our city.

Illuminate, a non-profit arts organization, seems determined to add electric lights to Golden Gate Park. Its mission (from the Illuminate website): "Illuminate rallies large groups of people together to create impossible works of public art that, through awe, free humanity's better nature.” Somehow, this quixotic double-talk translates into putting lights in Golden Gate Park. And what does "rallying large groups of people" mean? Are we all going to meet in Golden Gate to celebrate the colored lights that Illuminate puts up? How does that create anything? If you want to have a Human Be-In why don't you say so? Concerts and planetariums are good places for light shows; parks, not so much. 

Ferris Wheel lighting
Photo: Ann McPherson

"We are approaching the planet's limitations ... We are undermining the very ecological systems which allow life to continue.” Annie Leonard, founder of Story of Stuff.

"... light pollution poses a serious threat to nocturnal wildlife, having negative impacts on plant and animal physiology. ... The rhythm of life is orchestrated by the diurnal patterns of light and dark, and disruption of these patterns impacts ecological dynamics." Connie Walker, A Silent Cry for Dark Skies, The Universe in the Classroom.

Why Golden Gate Park? Why not Union Square, the Ferry Building, the Moscone Center, Market Street or Civic Center?  Perhaps it's because Golden Gate Park is there for the taking. And what's better than free space in the center of one of the world's most famous parks? Mark Buell, head of the Recreation and Park Commission, and Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, are happy to welcome a 150-foot-high lighted Ferris Wheel (brought to you, in part, by the SF Parks Alliance) for a four-year stay, so why not have Illuminate light-up the band shell with garish colored lights (also brought to you in conjunction with the SF Parks Alliance) for two years and put bright white lights on top of it? All in the guise of celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Park. Actually, light pollution is not good for the Park. Some birthday present.

And, while we're at it, why not have Illuminate light up the Conservatory of Flowers indefinitely? "...the dazzling light projection on the historic building’s exterior continues nightly into its third year. Working in close collaboration with ..., San Francisco Recreation and Park, (and) the Californian Historical Society," (from the Illuminate website.)  Add in the 100,000 plus watts of lights from the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields, the lights from Kezar Stadium and the new tennis courts and you've got quite a display. When Outside Lands comes with its light shows and three weeks of night-time security and work lighting, we'll really get going. It's an electrician's dream. Do Mr. Buell and Mr. Ginsburg, who are responsible for maintaining and preserving Golden Gate Park for future generations, think they know better than all the environmental organizations and scientists?

Concourse lights
Photo: Steph Wiseman

Let's not forget Entwined, where Peacock Meadow was filled with colored lights. Once again, SF Parks Alliance plays a prominent role; "SF Parks Alliance and SF Recreation & Parks look forward to bringing more temporary public art installations to parks in the future" (from the Golden Gate Park 150 Years website.)  I think we can see where this is headed. Private companies like Skystar, LLC, and private nonprofits with corporate donors, like SF Parks Alliance and Illuminate, are simply taking over Golden Gate Park with the full collaboration of Rec and Park.

Fireworks are for a few hours; light shows at outdoor concerts might have a run of a week; a MLB night game doesn't happen every night. Stadium lighting isn't on every night at Oracle Park like it is in the sports fields in our parks. Like it is at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields in Golden Gate Park, a hundred yards from Ocean Beach.

"Artificial light at night disrupts a wide range of natural processes. Recent research has shown significant impacts of coastal lighting reducing foraging of intertidal invertebrates, disrupting marine food webs, suppressing movement of juvenile fishes, increasing predation on nesting seabirds..." Dr. Travis Longcore, Associate Adjunct Professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Before Mark Buell and Phil Ginsburg sell out our parks to every dog and pony show (or amusement park ride and light show) that comes along, they might read about Prof. Longcore's research. Our parks are not an inexhaustible resource. Golden Gate Park is one of the few places in San Francisco where wildlife can find a refuge. Parks need darkness at night. The health of our environment and the future of planet Earth depend on mitigating the impact of human activity on the natural environment. There is no Planet B.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

May 2021

artificial turf field
GGP's Dog Training Area features lots of fake green turf
What's Wrong With The Dog Training Area in Golden Gate Park?

When you take your dog to the newly renovated Dog Training Area in Golden Gate Park you may want to avoid letting your dog play on the artificial turf installed there. It may not be good for the dog's health or for your own health either, for that matter. Before venturing into the Dog Training Area you may want to consider some of the reporting on artificial grass. 

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Single use plastic bags are being banned. Plastic straws are being phased out or banned. Why would anyone think it was a good idea to put plastic grass in Golden Gate Park?  Artificial turf only lasts 8-10 years and then it has to be ripped out and becomes toxic waste that can't be recycled. There is no good outcome to installing artificial turf.”

"Used tire rubber is put through a cracker mill, producing crumb rubber — tiny pellets of rubber, still carrying those thousands of unknown chemicals. Crumb rubber is then used to manufacture artificial turf and playground surface cover. A 2015 report by Yale scientists analyzed 14 different samples used for school athletic fields and playgrounds. They detected 96 chemicals, most of which have never been carefully studied. The National Center for Health Research has identified lead, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, and other chemicals that harm human health. Ingesting these chemicals is not advised. Unfortunately, they can get into a child’s bloodstream in other ways. The steam from a playground surface on a sunny day can be inhaled. Any scrape or skin burn invites exposure. Simply rolling on the surface can allow seepage into the skin’s pores."  - Don Kahle, The Register-Guard, Eugene OR 12/13/2020

"Scientists have shown that both the grass-like blades and the backing of artificial turf contain PFAS, highly toxic fluorinated chemicals. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” since they accumulate in the body and do not break down. They have been linked to endocrine disruption and cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to harm from PFAS because of their developing bodies and the chemicals’ persistence in the body. In a recent New York Times Op Ed piece (What Are Sperm Telling Us?), we read that 'Chemical companies are as reckless as tobacco companies were a generation ago, or as opioid manufacturers were a decade ago. They even lobby against safety testing of endocrine disruptors, so that we have little idea if products we use each day are damaging our bodies or our children. We’re all guinea pigs.'  Most people think manufacturers must prove that chemicals are safe before they put them on the market. They are wrong. Weak and outdated federal law presumes that most chemicals are safe until proven toxic." -  Real Grass for Healthy Kids!  greenwichfreepress.com  March 12, 2021

Synthetic turf should not have been used in the renovation of the Golden Gate Park Dog Training Area or anywhere in our parks and playgrounds. We should use natural grass turf. San Francisco cannot afford the liability and environmental consequences of plastic grass. Is the "City that knows how" unable to maintain some grass in our parks?  Plastic grass (synthetic turf) is subject to high temperatures, it is scratched (think of dogs playing on it) and degraded from use and it deteriorates over time due to exposure to the elements. Micro-particles of plastic are constantly being released into the environment.

Rubberized surfaces are mostly recycled tire rubber. We rarely have high temperatures in San Francisco, but plastic grass and rubberized surfaces heat up well above the ambient air temperature. Even in San Francisco temperatures are more than hot enough to "facilitate the release of chemicals ... linked to numerous negative health effects." Is the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department somehow exempt from the responsibility of not letting plastic pollute our environment?

"A garbage truck worth of plastic empties into the ocean every minute. Worldwide, humankind produces over 300 million tons of plastic each year, and this is increasing. Researchers believe as many as 51 trillion fragments of plastic ― known as microplastic (characterized as pieces under 5 mm) ― are polluting waterways and marine environments."  Author: Lucy Siegle, printed in the Huffington Post

Single use plastic bags are being banned. Plastic straws are being phased out or banned. Why would anyone think it was a good idea to put plastic grass in Golden Gate Park?  Artificial turf only lasts 8-10 years and then it has to be ripped out and becomes toxic waste that can't be recycled. There is no good outcome to installing artificial turf. 

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

March 2021

Outdoor Pollution — Fun and Games.
artificial turf field
Photo: Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center

What does it take to get people off their phones and into the outdoors? 

Phil Ginsburg
SF Rec & Park Director Phil Ginsburg

In March of 2019, the Commonwealth Club of California presented an onstage discussion entitled "Naturally Wired: Getting Outside in the Digital Age." This begs the question of how much of the outdoors will be left uncontaminated in a world of increasing plastic pollution and global warming and how degraded will that outdoors become in our urban environment? Phil Ginsberg, the head of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD),  was one of the participants onstage. In response to a question from Kathleen McCowin, President of Healthy Soccer San Francisco, concerning the cancer risks associated with playing on the artificial turf fields installed at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields, Ginsberg began his reply with, "Now that's a fun question."

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And how long will it be before a leak from the fields begins to contaminate groundwater? ... in the midst of a campaign to replace paved over front lawns in the Sunset and Richmond districts so that rainwater will go into the ground, replenish the aquifer and not become run-off that pollutes the ocean. ”

How is that a "fun question"? A concerned citizen asks about the cancer risks to children from playing on artificial turf and that is a "fun question"? Ginsburg sidesteps any concerns about carcinogens and goes on to say, "So here's the thing about synthetic turf soccer fields is that they enable more people to use them and to play and they do it without actually using or conserving water. We’ve been able to add nearly 80,000 hours of playing each hour of play actually can accommodate 20 to 40 kids in a particular spot in an urban city that's particularly important." 

It is entirely misleading to compare the hours of play at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (BCSF) before the renovation to hours of play after the renovation. Prior to the renovation, the SFRPD had put a fence around the field and locked the children out. The fields were deliberately neglected and kept in a state of disrepair to bolster City Fields Foundation's case for artificial turf. No wonder the Soccer Fields were under-utilized. Phil Ginsburg, as well as being head of the SFRPD, also sat on the Board  of City Fields Foundation, the main advocate for artificial turf playing fields in San Francisco. The additional  80,000 hours of play is easy to achieve when you've previously taken the fields out of play.

artificial turf illustration

It's hard to know exactly what Ginsburg means by "without actually using or conserving water," (perhaps there is an error in the transcript?) but it's clear that he means to make a case for the fields as using little water and thereby being environmentally sound. In fact, plastic grass requires regular washing and the run-off from the washing, or from rain,  has to be treated as sewerage. The run-off is toxic and can't be allowed to enter the ground. Even as I write, toxic tire crumb is spreading from the fields into the surrounding Park.  It can't be contained within the soccer fields. Grass fields use recycled groundwater for irrigation and that water, and the rain that falls on grass fields, goes to replenish the aquifer under the Park. This ground water reservoir is also being tapped for drinking water for the first time. Contrary to Ginsburg's claims, maintaining artificial turf wastes more water than maintaining natural grass. And how long will it be before a leak from the fields begins to contaminate groundwater? The issue of groundwater is important. San Francisco is in the midst of a campaign to replace paved over front lawns in the Sunset and Richmond districts so that rainwater will go into the ground, replenish the aquifer and not become run-off that pollutes the ocean. 

The City has banned single use plastic bags. The State has banned single use plastic bags. Environmental organizations everywhere are in a campaign to lessen our use of plastics. So why would Ginsburg think it in the best interest of the citizens and the environment of San Francisco to put seven acres of plastic grass and tire crumb in Golden Gate Park within a hundred yards of Ocean Beach? 

Seven acres of artificial turf that is so toxic nothing can live in it. It poisons everything it comes in contact with, including soccer players. "Toxins from tire crumb can enter the body through inhalation of particulates, fibers, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  VOCs can cause organ damage, irritation of eyes, throat and airways, and nervous system impairments. Synthetic turf can be heated to high temperatures when exposed to sunlight which, in turn, can lead to further release of VOCs” Another 2011 study found that "benzothiazole, a chemical that causes respiratory irritation and dermal sensitization, volatilizes from crumb rubber resulting in inhalation exposure." (from the Sierra Club's brief re. the appeal of the findings of the BCSF (EIR). There have been a number of studies since with similar results and they are available online

When you're playing soccer on an artificial turf field, you are not in nature, you are in a man-made environment made of plastics and shredded automobile tires.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

October 2020

More Pavement — Less Park
Dog Training Area construction.
Renovation of the Dog Training Area in Golden Gate Park

Can no one stop SFRPD from paving over Golden Gate Park?  What's next, a miniature golf course?  If it wasn't for the pandemic, the Music Concourse would have been like a county fairground, complete with Ferris Wheel and hot dog stands. It soon will be as Mayor Breed has announced a grand opening for October 21st. SF Rec and Park might be good at the Rec part but they are failing us on the Park part; they don't seem to understand the concept of what a park should be. 

Dog Training Area

This is the current state of the Golden Gate Park Dog Training Area at 39th Avenue and Fulton. This is what Phil Ting and the SF Rec and Park Dept. (SFRPD) have wrought. Our beloved Golden Gate Park is being used, once again, as a contractor's boondoggle. The natural environment is being replaced by concrete and artificial turf. Two and half million dollars are being spent so dogs can run around? This is way beyond what was needed to renovate the dog run. 

Dog Training Area construction.

It seems SF Rec and Park won't be satisfied until every square foot of Golden Gate Park is concrete and artificial turf. The seven acres of the Beach Chalet Athletic Fields are now entirely concrete and artificial turf. Have you been to the Arboretum lately and seen the amount of greenery that's been replaced by asphalt and concrete?  If you go, I advise wearing earplugs because the noise from the leaf blowers, earth movers, chain-saws, trucks with horrendously loud back-up warning beeps, and other machines and tools have turned it into a construction zone. Nature is decidedly secondary. The amount of concrete being proposed for the renovation of the 9th Avenue entrance to the Park is truly frightening; a concrete extravaganza.

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Two and half million dollars are being spent so dogs can run around? This is way beyond what was needed to renovate the dog run”

John McClaren
John McClaren

If Phil Ginsburg would go back and read what John McClaren had to say about Golden Gate Park and what the Golden Gate Park Master Plan says, he would see more clearly how to maintain and improve the Park. Perhaps he already has read the documents?  In which case, I would like to remind him that, "The purpose of Golden Gate Park is to serve as an open space preserve in the midst of San Francisco. This historic park is a cultivated pastoral and sylvan landscape, defined by an abundant evergreen woodland. It is designed and managed to afford opportunities for all to experience beauty, tranquility, recreation, and relief from urban pressures.” (Mission Statement, 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan). And what is meant by recreation is not Ferris Wheels, music festivals and pay-to-play soccer played under night lighting on artificial turf. Golden Gate Park recreation, for the great majority of residents using the Park, means walking, running and biking as anyone who visits the Park can plainly see.

Unfortunately, since the beginning of the tenure of Newsom appointees Phil Ginsburg as head of Rec and Park and Mark Buell as head of the Rec and Park Commission, the Recreation has been at the expense of the Park. The Outside Lands music festival is a prime example; the Park is used as a for-profit, exclusive, entertainment venue and the residents are locked out so the City can get a slice of the money being made.

The massive amounts of concrete and asphalt being poured at the Dog Training Area, along with all the artificial turf, is another example of how Golden Gate Park is being monetized and degraded. The long- term health of the Park, and the planet, is not served by concrete and plastic grass.

David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach

October 2020

Creeping Toxic Tire Crumb Seeps into SF Groundwater

tire crumb
Five photos showing the migration of toxic tire crumb into the adjacent parkland. See hi-res photos here 
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David Romano

In the May/June issue of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's newsletter, Currents, there is a report on "Our Sewer System's Secret Weapon." The article talks about how, "...during large rain events, stormwater and wastewater volumes exceed the capacity of our pipes, causing overflow and discharge of excess wastewater to local waterways. This can carry pollutants and debris to the Bay or Pacific Ocean that are harmful to the environment." The article goes on to talk about how "Green infrastructure ... works to alleviate this problem by slowing down the rate in which stormwater goes into the sewer system." Some examples of "Green Infrastructure" are rain gardens, permeable pavement and green roofs.

No Opposition from SFPUC The Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (BCSF) in Golden Gate Park used to have a permeable surface; it's called grass. Rainwater and water from irrigation filters through the grass to replenish the groundwater supply. Now, after the renovation of the Soccer Fields by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD), instead of grass there are seven acres of artificial turf. The area has been effectively paved over. The run-off from the artificial turf is so toxic it can't be allowed to enter the ground but, instead, has to go into the sewer system. The SFPUC is committed to preventing overflow in the sewer system with its "Green Infrastructure" projects, yet the decision by the SFRPD to pave over the Soccer Fields was made without opposition from the SFPUC.

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The Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (BCSF) in Golden Gate Park used to have a permeable surface; it's called grass. Rainwater and water from irrigation filters through the grass to replenish the groundwater supply. Now ... instead of grass there are seven acres of artificial turf.”

Public Concern Starting in 2011, when the draft EIR was before the SFRPD Commission, and continuing through November, 2014, when Prop, H and Prop I were on the ballot, many organizations and individuals publicly voiced their concerns about possible contamination of groundwater. These organizations and community groups included: SF Ocean Edge, San Francisco Tomorrow, The Richmond Review, the Coalition to Protect Golden Gate Park, Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Coalition of Retired SFRPD Gardeners, the SF Green Party, the Sunset District Neighborhood Coalition, Soccer Parents & Coaches for Grass Fields in Golden Gate Park, and many others.

I raised my concerns about contamination of the groundwater supply with the SFPUC in 2018. I received a reply from John Scarpulla, Policy and Government Affairs, that said, in part, "The environmental review process for the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields documented that the soccer field is designed and was constructed with an underlying liner and a drainage system to prevent any potentially toxic materials from infiltrating into the groundwater basin. The storm water that drains from the soccer fields is directed into our wastewater treatment system and is not allowed to infiltrate into the groundwater."

Load on the sewer system from run-off Certainly, it's good that run-off from the Soccer Fields is not going into the ground, but it is going into the sewer system and that is not in accord with the goal of "Green Infrastructure" to reduce the load on the sewer system from run-off. Unfortunately, there is still the danger of toxins entering the groundwater supply because tire crumb is migrating from the Soccer Fields into the surrounding parkland where there is no lining to prevent contaminated water from entering the aquifer. This has been going on since the Fields were installed and a considerable amount of tire crumb would have migrated over the past five years. To quote from the Petition (by the Sierra Club) requesting the City reject the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the renovation of the BCSF:
"4. The artificial turf the City has elected to use consists of plastic blades of grass interspersed with infill material that cushions the turf. Unfortunately, the City has elected to use the most toxic type of artificial turf infill material – styrene butadiene crumb rubber (“SBR”), despite the fact that several non-toxic alternatives are available and are in use in places including Los Angeles, California; New York, New York; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Carlos, California; Piedmont, California; and dozens of other communities.

5. SBR infill consists of tiny, loose crumb rubber pellets. Petitioners presented the City and County with highly qualified expert reports and peer-reviewed scientific journal studies showing that SBR infill contains dozens of highly toxic chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”), phthalates, antioxidants, benzothiazole and derivatives, heavy metals, benzene, formaldehyde, naphthalene, nitromethane, and styrene, among other chemicals.

6. Certified hydrogeologist Matthew Hagemann, C. Hg., the former Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s West Coast Superfund Program, calculated that a child playing on SBR crumb rubber as few as 30 times per year (less than once per week) would experience a cancer risk of 19 per million – almost 20 times higher than the CEQA significance threshold of 1 per million, and approximately twice as high as the cancer risk experienced by someone living adjacent to the Chevron Richmond refinery.

7. Dr. Phillip Landrigan, M.D., epidemiologist and Director of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Children’s Environmental Health Center in New York submitted a letter to the City expressing his concerns that the major chemical components of crumb rubber, styrene and butadiene, are a neurotoxin and proven human carcinogen, respectively, and that the types of exposure risks have not been adequately studied. The EIR did not address Dr. Landrigan’s comments and the City has not responded to his letter.

8. The stormwater run-off from the Beach Chalet fields with SBR infill will be so contaminated with toxic heavy metals that the City will have to capture the stormwater in underground vaults, and send it to a treatment facility, so that the aquifer under Golden Gate Park will not become contaminated with toxic heavy metals."
The SFPUC's mission is to protect the water supply and environment of San Francisco, not to further the interests of the artificial turf industry. There is nothing good and potentially a lot of bad that can result from the installation of artificial turf at the BCSF. Frequent earthquakes are the norm in California and could cause damage to the drainage system allowing toxic run-off to infiltrate the groundwater. If this were to occur, there is no easy way to get the toxins out of the water supply. In addition, the entire field will need to be ripped up and replaced in a few years creating even more chances for environmental contamination. 


It's the job of the SFPUC to put clean water first. I hope the SFPUC will oppose any further installation of artificial turf in our parks.

David Romano lives near Ocean Beach

July 2020


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