Monthly Archives: October 2011

Mayoral Candidates Take On Park Issues

By Thomas K. Pendergast

In front of a standing-room-only crowd at a recent community meeting, most of the San Francisco mayoral candidates talked about two controversial proposals for the western end of Golden Gate Park that city government is advocating for.

There is a project by the SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which wants to build a $152 million water treatment plant, in which partially-treated water from the Oceanside plant near the SF Zoo would be subjected to additional treatment before being distributed for non-potable irrigation uses in the park. The water would be used at the Golden Gate Park Golf Course and the California Academy of Sciences.

As well, the plan calls for the pumping of water from an underground aquifer to augment water the City gets from its Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Then there’s a proposal from the SF Recreation and Park Commission to install artificial turf and 60-foot-tall lights at the soccer fields near the Beach Chalet restaurant.

Both the water treatment and turf replacement projects are currently under environmental review.

“I would oppose the water plant,” SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi told the forum crowd. “It’s 40,000 square feet. It’s got 30-foot-tall walls. It’s got lights and it’s going to be owned by Homeland Security. That’s not exactly why we come to the park. In terms of the artificial turf and the soccer fields, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to have seven acres of Astroturf; I think that it should be grass.”

Many in the audience burst into applause at this and shouted their approval, although at least one person booed.

“I don’t favor having all these bright lights out there. This is Golden Gate Park. It’s not just a parking lot somewhere.”

Another candidate, Cesar Ascarrunz, said he used to play professional soccer.

“I hate artificial turf. You can kill yourself on it,” he said. “The 60-foot lights, it’s not very proper for Golden Gate Park. San Francisco is a tourist town. Tourists come because San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world. Millions of people come to see Golden Gate Park. Artificial turf in the Golden Park, I don’t think so. It’s not healthy.”

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos also expressed a dislike for the proposed artificial turf and lights.

“I’d feel like I was right smack dab in the middle of civilization. We certainly are a civilization, but we would lose a lot by having a park with lights on at night. That could cause a lot of glare for people who live in the area,” Avalos said. “I also don’t really think it’s a good idea to put an industrial use, the water treatment plant, within Golden Gate Park. I think we’d be losing a lot in terms of what the park has to offer.”

Terry Baum, the Green Party candidate, said the water treatment plant went against the goals of those who created the park and she also did not think the artificial turf was healthy for people.

“I have a report here that was done that summarizes the toxic effects of the artificial turf, potentially,” Baum said. “Some of it’s been proven, some of it’s not: severe irritation of the respiratory system, systemic effects on the liver and kidneys, irritation of the eye/skin, cancers, developmental affects. We need these kids to be playing on real grass.”

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu was approaching both issues with an open mind.

“I have a very healthy skepticism of both of these projects,” Chiu said. “With regards to the water treatment plant … I have serious questions about whether we want to put such a heavy-duty industrial use in our park. I’m going to be looking at the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) when it comes to us, through that lens.

“With regards to the soccer fields, I got to tell you, when I was a kid in elementary school I did play soccer as well. I was not a professional soccer player like my fellow candidate but I got to play on real grass. If we can find a real alternative, which is what an EIR is supposed to do, we should look at that very seriously.”

Former SF Supervisor Bevan Dufty did not directly answer the water treatment question but he supports the concept of artificial turf and said a parcel tax would be a good idea to pay for Rec. and Park needs.

“We passed park bonds to renovate our facilities but we don’t have staff at them,” Dufty said. “Now, I’m willing to have an honest conversation, and there’s not a lot of that when you run for office in this town, that we need to talk about a parcel tax dedicated for our Recreation and Park system. … I think we have a responsibility to either pony up and stand up and say you’ll support a parcel tax for the parks or step aside and let’s have fields that kids and young adults can play on because they need something positive.”

Former SF Supervisor Tony Hall, who is running as an independent candidate, joined the majority of the candidates in opposition to both proposals.

“I’ve got seven children. Five of them have gone through college on athletic scholarships. I was very careful as a parent to watch the surfaces they were playing on,” he said. “Cesar’s right. You can’t cut when playing soccer. You can’t curve. Your knees go out on you. And those growing ligaments, it’s so important to play on natural ground. In Golden Gate Park, artificial turf, are you crazy?

Hall would not pump water from the underground aquifer in the park. As a member of the Board of Supervisors Hall helped create a plan for raising the water levels at Lake Merced.

“I know all about water treatment plants. They do not have to pull water from the underground aquifer. In fact, the way we replenished Lake Merced was stopping the extraction of water from the underground aquifer.”

Entrepreneur and candidate Joanna Rees said she’s been canvassing the city in her election campaign.

“What I’ve heard loud and clear from all the neighbors is: ‘We don’t want big bright lights and we don’t want Astroturf.’ And these are the people we should be listening to and supporting,” she said.

“So much of this is due to how we budget because we don’t do bottom-up budgeting in San Francisco, where we go department by department to figure out what’s the investment we have to absolutely make, because we have to support critical services for the community, and what are some things that we’re funding that are no longer meeting their intended purpose and we should not continue to fund,” Rees said.

“There’s no reason in a budget of $6.8 billion, granted we’re a city and a county, for a city of 800,000 people, that we can’t afford to keep our parks and make great open spaces for all in our community,” Rees said.

Other candidates attending the forum, which was held at the Richmond Recreation Center on Sept. 19, included SF Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, state Sen. Leland Yee, SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera, SF Supervisor John Avalos, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Paul Currier, and Wilma Pang.

Two candidates, Michela Alioto-Pier and SF Mayor Ed Lee, were invited to the forum but did not attend, citing previous commitments.


New Book about Playland at the Beach Covers Early Years

By Jonathan Farrell

Memories of Playland at Ocean Beach were alive and well as people gathered Aug. 30 to listen to historian and author James R. Smith talk about his new book, “San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach – The Early Years.”

The downstairs auditorium of St. Phillips Church on Diamond Street was filled almost to capacity as people from all parts of the City attended Smith’s presentation, sponsored by the SF History Association. Displaying old photographs of Playland from his book on a projector screen he pointed out the attractions, like “The Big Dipper,” “Ship of Joy,” “Dogem,” “The Chutes,” “Midway,”  “Topsy’s  Roost” and “The Fun House,” with old “Laughing Sal.”

“Trying to gathering information was not too difficult because everyone has so many memories of Playland,” Smith said.

When he was a kid, Playland was so much fun because it was a place for youth to roam and families could afford to go there with no worries financially because of the low cost of admission.

Smith explained that in the early years, before Playland became that special place to San Franciscans, it was simply referred to as “the concessions.” Concessions emerged in the 1880s as a series of beer stands and other attractions to draw people out to the beach on the weekends. The Cliff House and Sutro Baths were popular so the concessions were a welcome addition that grew and evolved over time.

The Great Earthquake of 1906 delayed the arrival of a carousel build by Loof & Sons. When Loof had a falling out with the owners of an amusement park in Seattle because they served alcohol, so he decided to remove their installation and replant it in San Francisco. By 1915, when the Panama-Pacific Exposition was celebrated, a full amusement park with a special carousel – “The Hippodrome” – was constructed.

San Franciscans were enjoying updated incarnations of The Chutes and other rides and in 1922 when “The Big Dipper” roller coaster was introduced with more than 3,000 feet of track. Eventually Loof and partner John Friedle let the amusement park be taken over by an enterprising concessionaire from the Midwest by the name of George K. Whitney.

Loof and Friedle remained in the background, with Friedle making regular appearances at events. Some rumors claim that Friedle had been swindled as there are no records of a sale. Yet, Smith mentions in the book that Friedle was upset by lawsuits because many accidents did happen back then. It is surmised that because of this fear of lawsuits, Friedle sought the help of Whitney and others. As the Great Depression hit, Whitney and his brother Leo purchased most of the land in the amusement park as individual concessions folded or were struggling.

By 1930, the amusement park had nearly 100 concessions and rides and was officially known as Whitney’s at The Beach. Yet it was advertised as “Playland at the Beach.”

People at the lecture had dozens of questions, all of which Smith was happy to answer, including: “Was there more than one “Laughing Sal? What happened to her?” Actually spelled as “Laffing Sal,” Smith said she had lots of sisters and even a few brothers, named Sam, all spelled with the name “laffing.”

Some in the audience were a bit disappointed because the book looks at the early years, not the later ones.

“This book is more about Playland before any of us here knew it,” said John Freeman. “We all remember the Playland from the 1940s until it closed in 1972.”

Many in the audience live or had lived in the Sunset and Richmond districts and have happy memories of the amusement park.

“While I have some good memories of Playland, I was strong-arm mugged for pocket change there when I was 12,” said former Richmond resident John Martini.

Playland’s glory days were gone by the 1960s. Larger venues, such as “theme parks” like Disneyland, lured people away from the local attractions and Playland fell into decay.

“The park was sold to a developer. At that time, the City didn’t care much about preserving its history,” Smith said.

Smith is preparing a follow-up book entitled “San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach: The Golden Years,” which is the Playland that most Baby Boomers remember.

For more information or to obtain a copy of “San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach – The Early Years,” go to the website at