Beach Chalet soccer fields face pitched battle

If lawyers had the equivalent of a penalty shootout, it might look like what played out in a San Francisco courtroom Friday when two teams of attorneys argued over putting artificial turf on the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park.

This civil trial comes at the back end of a two-year struggle over replacing grass with synthetic turf cushioned by ground up rubber tires. The conversion would also include 60-foot tall lights plus new concrete seating and parking.

Opponents of the plan — the petitioners — include the Sierra Club and a local citizen’s group called San Francisco Tomorrow.

They had three attorneys lined up against three attorneys for the respondents – which are The City and the City Fields Foundation, a non-profit organization slated to fund the new soccer fields at the west end of the park.

The $14 million plan — partially funded from a parks bond San Francisco voters passed in 2008 — has many supporters, mainly from a large swath of local soccer and youth groups, plus some of the most prominent politicians from the Bay Area.

The proposal is opposed by a variety of local neighborhood groups and associations, in addition to environmental groups like the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

The plan took years to develop, and was approved by several San Francisco boards and commissions, as well as the California Coastal Commission.

And the fight to stop it has been going on almost every step of the way.

This trial is the last chance opponents have to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

The lawsuit — brought under the California Environmental Quality Act — asserts that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project is inadequate because it failed to disclose the health risks of toxins found in the rubber tire crumb infill used in the artificial turf, including heavy metals such as lead and zinc, benzene, formaldehyde  and carbon black.

Critics say the EIR does not consider safe alternatives to toxic infill and fails to consider a “hybrid alternative” which would relocate artificial turf fields with “safe” infill to the West Sunset Playground.

The suit is asking the court to order The City to immediately stop the project, and vacate the approvals granted by The City until a better EIR is prepared and approved in compliance with all CEQA requirements.

Attorney for the petitioners, Vernon C. Grigg III, said during his opening statement:

“We all want our kids to have a safe, rich environment in which to play. … But playing on top of crushed-up, recycled old tires is not the solution. … This plan proposes to grind (the tires) up and spread them all over the soccer fields in a fine powder for kids to ingest, breath in, end up in their eyes, their mouths.”

Grigg argued that when the SF Board of Supervisors approved the plan, other “non-toxic” alternative turfs were not included in the EIR:

“Because they were told ‘either we do it this way, at the Beach Chalet, using the SBR crumb turf with the lights in this location … or else we don’t do the project at all.’”

City Attorney Jim Emery countered by arguing that the EIR fulfilled its function as an informational document because SBR does not pose a significant environmental health risk:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if these are not the most heavily scrutinized soccer fields in America and they haven’t even been built yet … Under CEQA, if there’s substantial evidence to support the conclusion that the material does not pose a significant environmental health risk, then CEQA does not require an analysis of alternatives.”

Petitioner attorney Richard Drury responded that The City’s position ignores evidence that the materials in the infill have the potential to cause cancer or asthma if enough is ingested, either by breathing it or getting it in the eyes or mouth:

“What the (City) is essentially arguing here is ‘well we looked at a bunch of studies. Some of them say said it was risky, some said that it wasn’t, and after looking at all those studies, we decided it’s ‘safe.’ They’re not only lowering the goal posts, they’re removing the goal posts entirely..’”

Scott Emblidge, an attorney for the City Fields Foundation, kicked the issue right back at Drury.

“The EIR reflects years of research, internationally, nationally and in California into SBR turf. It’s one of the most studied substances you can find out there and (the EIR) has reference after reference to studies that found no health effects.”

Judge Teri L. Jackson noted that there is also a question in this case of whether The City followed proper procedures required by CEQA in putting together the EIR.

An attorney for the Sierra Club, Michael Molland, addressed this issue.

Before the San Francisco Ethics Committee, said Molland, Recreation and Park Department officials admitted to “destroying” numerous emails related to the soccer fields because of the department’s document retention policy:

“Because we don’t have the whole record, as a matter of procedure, the EIR does not conform with law. … We have admitted testimony and we have documents that show not all Rec & Park emails that should have been produced in this case, have been.”

City attorney Emery responded:

“If there’s a argument by petitioners that the record is inadequate, they must tie it to a substantive claim and say that the absence of information in the record means that there isn’t substantial evidence or that there’s no showing of sufficient alternatives. … It has to be tied to one of their substantive arguments. Mr. Molland’s argument was not.”

After the attorneys presented their arguments, Judge Jackson said she will review them and will likely have more questions before she makes a decision. She scheduled another hearing for next Wednesday.

4 Comments

  • Jean Barish says:

    Rubber tire crumbs are toxic industrial waste. The disposal of rubber tires is highly regulated in California and other states. Yet for reasons that remain a mystery, the City of San Francisco and City Fields Foundation insist that artificial turf fields padded with tire crumb does not pose health and environmental risks. As demonstrated at Friday’s hearing, however, under the facts and the law it is clear that this material should not be used on soccer fields, especially where young children play.

    The City states that these may be the most heavily scrutinized fields in the country. Sadly, that is not the case. Yet the City failed to consider dozens of scientific studies published in academic journals, including the leading chemical journal “Chemosphere”, which conclude that these fields pose a health risk. The City also ignored the expertise of some of the country’s leading environmental health experts, as well as public comments from environmental leaders, science teachers and research scientists.

    New York City Parks and Recreation Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District do not allow artificial turf with rubber tire crumb because it is a health hazard. Yet San Francisco, which prides itself on being the country’s “greenest” city is fighting to be allowed to expose our youth to the toxins in this material.

    Our City’s Precautionary Principle says “err on the side of caution.” This is embodied in our Municipal Code. Yet when it comes to protecting the health of our youth, the City is ignoring its own Code.

    In addition to the City’s erroneous conclusion that the turf it plans to use is safe, the City has also erred by failing to consider an alternative site for this project. If it is true that artificial turf provides more play time, then safe, non-toxic artificial turf fields should be installed at West Sunset Playground, just 8 blocks from the Beach Chalet fields. Golden Gate Park is unique and must be protected from development. The western end of the park should not become the site of a major sports complex with stadium seating, night lights, and synthetic grass.

    For the sake of our children and for the sake of Golden Gate Park, let us hope the court will find in favor of the plaintiffs in this case, stop the project, and order a supplemental Environmental Impact Report that will thorougly consider these important issues.

  • SF Ocean Edge says:

    Thanks for the videographer for filming the fields, so that folks can see what will be lost.

    An additional newvideo illustrates the negative impact that the 7 acre artificial turf/150,000 watt sports-lighted Beach Chalet project will have on the beauty and habitat of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. Thanks to Rasa Gustaitis for producing this video, Andrej Zdravicz’s (AZ) beautiful photography, and editing by Eli Noyes, Alligator Planet. AZ is an internationally known filmmaker who specializes in filming natural phenomena — the movement of air, water, and wind. AZ’s installation ‘Water Waves – Time Horizon’ can be seen currently at the Exploratorium. Alligator Planet LLC provides production management, creative, strategic and financial consulting services to the global animation entertainment industry.

    We hope that people who appreciate and love the coast will Watch the video, “Like” it, and forward the link to friends and family all over the world! “Beach Chalet Fields Renovation” on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAhM4X8CPow

  • SF Ocean Edge says:

    Here’s more information:

    The over 200 appellants and organizations that thought the Coastal Commission would protect our parkland were appalled at not only the Commission’s final decision but also the fact that there was no real discussion of the project from the standpoint of either wildlife or the damage from the 150,000 watts of lights that will shine on the California Coast from dusk until 10:00 p.m. every night of the year! More can be learned from the article in the June, 2013, Westside Observer, article “California Coast Debacle” http://www.westsideobserver.com/2012/soccer.html#jun13 “California Coast Debacle” June

  • SF Ocean Edge says:

    The Beach Chalet soccer complex means the loss of over 7 acres of green grass to 7 acres of artificial turf, made up of gravel, plastic carpet, and potentially toxic tire waste infill; 150,000 watts of sports lighting, lighted until 10:00 pm every night of the year and located just a few hundred feet from Ocean Beach; loss of plantings to over 1 acre of new paving; loss of over 55 trees; loss of more parkland to seating for over 1,000 visitors; expansion of the parking lot by 33% – in a City that brags about being “transit first.” Loss of carbon sequestration equal to planting over 7,000 trees and having them grow for 10 years. Loss of the night sky to families at Ocean Beach, who visit to view the sunset, to gaze at the stars, or to sit by the fire rings. These plastic fields will have to be replaced in 8 years, with no money in the budget to pay for replacements.

    Rec and park is always crying poor – how are they going to pay for replacement fields? Does anyone think that San Francisco will have more money in 8 years than it has now? Will soccer players have fewer fields after over 30 acres of artificial turf fields have worn out and there is no funding to replace them?

    Add to all of this, placement of this project in a tsunami zone. What will be the impact on the park and on the aquifer under the park (from which San Franciscans will soon be drinking) when a tidal wave spreads tons of tire waste throughout the park?

    The Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Golden Gate Audubon Society, as well as over 10,000 people who signed petitions, postcards, and wrote personal letters, are opposed to this project. Also opposed are Viking Soccer Parents for Green Grass in Golden Gate Park and Educators for Photosynthesis, an organization of teachers.

    And don’t forget the 44-member, city-wide neighborhood organization, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, as well as every major historic preservation organization — national, state, and local. People who oppose the terrible damage that this project will do to Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach range from very young soccer players to grand-parents and cover a wide variety of occupations. In one sense this is a generational issue – do we destroy this area or do we protect it for future generations?

    Many professionals are also lined up against the project. Dr. Travis Longcore, the leading expert on the impacts of artificial lighting on wildlife, wrote a 24-page report detailing the damage this project will do to wildlife in this area. Wayne M. Donaldson, past State Historic Preservation Officer and currently the Chairman of the United States Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) detailed the unmitigated damage this hard-edged and paved sports complex will do to the beauty and character of Golden Gate Park.

    There is a feasible alternative to this project. Renovate the Beach Chalet fields with real grass and state of the art construction, new irrigation, gopher controls and new sod. Renovate the West Sunset Playground with a safe (not SBR rubber) artificial turf and some lighting — there are lights in that area already, and the new lights do not have to be bright enough for TV sports!

    The San Francisco Department of Recreation and Park, by refusing to even consider this alternative, has introduced a lot of strife into a situation that could have been resolved peacefully and positively for everyone involved.

    Learn the facts — go to the website or to Facebook SF Ocean Edge or to Flickr SF Ocean Edge or to twitter @SFOceanEdge.

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