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article image'Save Don't Pave Golden Gate Park' is now a campaign Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Aug 22, 2011 in Environment
San Francisco - For long-time residents and those who grew up in San Francisco near Golden Gate Park, the noticeable change in the quality of care that the park receives is very disheartening.
Kathy Howard of the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance and many other concerned citizens called together a community meeting this past July 20 to let it be known that Golden Gate Park needs better care.
"Save - Don't Pave Golden Gate Park" was the motto for that Wednesday evening meeting held at the Richmond District Police Station's community room on 6th Ave. Jean Barish, a community organizer helped to coordinate the meeting. Dozens gathered to listen about the current condition the park is in as well as to voice their concerns as what they see as a priority in the maintenance needs of the 1,017 acre park.
Mostly Barish, Howard and others like past Parks, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee member Nancy Wuerfel have been very outspoken about seeking to block plans for a soccer field complex and a water treatment facility in the Western edge of the park. They all have made plea after plea to the various city officials asking that these plans be reconsidered and carried out elsewhere but not in Golden Gate Park.
Wuerfel who has served on many advisory committees and helped audit with numerous planning drafts for the city and county over the years sees problems with the two projects. This is especially true with regards to the natural habitat of Golden Gate Park.
Those opposed to the proposed projects for the park, like the Golden Gate Audubon Society among others fear that once these projects get approved and break ground the natural integrity of the park will be forever changed. The soccer fields and sports complex would have 60-foot high lighting, fences and a parking lot. Currently the soccer fields that are there now are grass. If completed the new soccer facilities would have artificial turf filled with recycled tire crumbs.
This type of project according to those at the meeting is not acceptable. People are concerned about using Golden Gate Park for just "revenue building" and more "money-making" enterprises for the park. Much of the input from the audience was fear that the park would simply become an event venue outlet as a way for the City of San Francisco to make money.
As more and more aspects to the park are being renovated to bring in revenue, such as the Boathouse at Stow Lake, etc. the access of the park becomes limited to only those who can afford to pay vendors and admission fees. And as far as a water treatment facility, Howard and others noted that the water treatment facility comes under Homeland Security.
She explained that the rendering given to the public of greenery covering the building site is not actually what will the public will see once the facility is built and in full operation,. In addition, once there is a security breach, ". . . you are going to have a hardened site. You are going to have concrete and barbed wire. . . " She and others noted that the treatment facility will be more industrial that will also include noise and traffic from utility vehicle access, etc. ".
Much of the encouragement for the water treatment facility in Golden Gate Park is based upon better water management, especially in the face of drought and increasing water demands. Some attendees felt that this push for a water treatment facility is really about generating revenue.
Wuerfel noted that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has not discussed any payment arrangements with the Recreation & Parks Dept. for use of the park land. She along with Howard and others question why a world famous park should be a site for a treatment facility?
The argument from Recreation & Parks Dept as well as SF PUC is that the treatment facility will help prepare for the City's anticipated population growth and new ways of managing water; while this may be necessary, the Golden Gate Audubon Society and others are pleading with the City and the SF PUC to find another spot for this plan of a water treatment and recycling facility. Most of what Howard, Wuerfel and others confront each time these two projects are in the spotlight is lots of enthusiastic promotion and not exact details of the impact these two projects will have upon the park.
The Environmental Impact Report for the Beach Chalet soccer fields is in process, and the draft will be issued in late September. Moderator Jean Barish expressed concern about the rubber tire crumbs -- old tires that the EPA does not allow to be dumped into a landfill but are used for the fields. "There is a lot of discussion and debate and a lot of unresolved issues about whether this is a safe product., " she said. Neighborhood resident, educator and panel member, Gene Thompson, expressed concern about the artificial turf and stated that it contains many hazardous materials, Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) are crucial in situations like these and according to California State Regulations they are required.
George Wooding, a Local columnist for the Westside Observer newspaper and a soccer father coach, confessed he was initially all in favor of the soccer field plan. He told those at the meeting that he did not think the artificial turf concern was that much of a big deal. "Until I began to listen to the arguments more attentively and read up on more of the details," he said.
Now, Wooding is concerned that an artificial turf is not such a good idea, especially for Golden Gate Park. Wooding said that to simply restore the natural field as it has been for the past 50 years or so would be most appropriate for the area.
And, if people still wanted a sports complex type of soccer facility, it would be best to build it some place else and not in the park. The natural integrity and habitat of the park that was set aside generations ago for all citizens to enjoy is being undermined in favor of revenue building.
Another issue of concern which Wuerfel is most vocal about is the cost. Who is going to pay for these projects? The City Fields Foundation through the Fisher family is contributing over time the equivalent of $25 million to renovate and install artificial turf fields throughout the City. The Recreation and Park Department is matching this amount with $20 million. Yet for the renovation of the soccer fields at Golden Gate Park, Wuerfel said she has not seen any documentation of their gift or contribution.
Wuerfel claimed at the July 20 meeting that evening that the agreement the foundation made with the City is that the foundation "will match" the funds. So far according to Wuerfel the soccer fields plan is moving forward simply based upon "their word."
Many of the people at the meeting said they thought much of the effort to make the park "more profitable" especially with these two projects in mind had a lot to do with "politics as usual."
Shawna McGrew who has worked with Recreation & Parks for many years, spoke up and said that residents need to "act politically." Barish, Howard and others agreed that with so much at stake regarding Golden Gate Park's future as a park land and a natural habitat, people of San Francisco, especially residents of the Sunset and Richmond Districts closest to the park should tell officials how they feel by writing letters, talking to their representatives and mayoral candidates.
If residents make it clear that these two projects in particular are not feasible for Golden Gate Park by way of their vote, then maybe City Officials would pay better attention. Members of Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance are hoping to keep the issue of Golden Gate Park on San Francisco voters minds when they mark their ballots this fall. While the recent Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park was a success, many residents question the long-term effects such a large event makes upon the park. This event according to Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance and others is one of several instances when city officials must think again about the impact large scale events have not only upon the park, but also upon the residents who live near by.
More about Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, artificial turf, kathy howard
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