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.