Initiative promotes parks, muzzles pushback

A November ballot initiative to increase the number of city parks, open spaces and walking trails was introduced at City Hall Tuesday by the mayor and seven supervisors along with a crowd of cheering school children.

Photos by Gavin McIntyre/SFBay

The initiative is designed to bypass costly delays and streamline the approval process needed to repair, renovate and reopen The City’s parks and play spaces.

As he stood across from United Nations Plaza, where a giant TV televised the World Cup, resident Brad Rothenberg told SFBay the children in San Francisco need a place to play:

“Sometimes a soccer field is the single most important thing in the neighborhood.”

The problem is there aren’t enough athletic fields, open spaces and walking trails in The City. Some residents have resisted renovating city parks with artificial turf and outside field lights.

One of these parks is the Beach Athletic Fields at the western end of Golden Gate Park, which has been the battleground between a group of conservationists and The City.

Any single individual can stop a park renovation project by filing an appeal, an action not only costly, but which also denies residents the ability to use the park in question.

The Walking Trails and Athletic Fields Act would cut through much of that red tape. If a park repair project is documented to at least double the number of users — and the environmental reviews have been completed — then renovation could proceed.

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener told SFBay the city’s children would be less at risk for diabetes and obesity if there were more play areas:

“We have a real shortage of soccer fields and baseball diamonds. It’s about everyone in the city having access to open fields.”

San Francisco would need to build 35 soccer fields and 30 baseball-softball fields to meet demand, according to a 2004 study by the City Fields Foundation.

Local youth leagues and other programs must limit their membership to the number of children who safely fit on a field and must then turn away everyone else.

The poor condition of some of The City’s older playgrounds and walking trails only make matters worse, while the problem is compounded by the current system of approval.

The Recreation and Parks Department partnered with the City Fields Foundation in 2006 has renovated 14 old athletic fields in seven parks with synthetic turf and field lights.

These renovations have added 76,000 playing hours and allowed the creation of 200 new teams with 2,400 additional children playing.

Supporters of the ballot initiative want to build on that success.

District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, who coaches his son’s soccer team, told SFBay The City needed to improve the access to parks and playing fields.

“We need to do better as a city; getting our kids outside is so important. Improving the quality of our playing fields is a no brainer.”