Preserve the Park or Let Kids Play: Pick One

Here in San Francisco we just voted (again) on whether to convert one of our grass field complexes to turf. There were two measures, Proposition I and H, one in favor of going ahead (I) and one trying to prevent it (H). The pro-conversion side prevailed.

The policy argument for artificial turf reduces to supply and demand. Grass fields have to rest and are unplayable in heavy rain and turf is playable all the time. The economy is clear: more turf, more hours, more people play, more fun. The unspoken and incorrect assumption is that the two surfaces are of equal quality. They are not. Turf is a poor second to playing on grass (but clearly better to a poorer third – fields closed due to rain). Even now, professional clubs avoid playing on it except in the US. Women players across the world are suing to prevent their 2015 World Cup from using turf fields – because it is an inferior playing experience and athletes experience more pain, soreness, and skin damage on it.

I wonder why voters are not more concerned about athletic field quality. Look at the opposition people have to sweetened foods and corn syrup. GMOs. Iceberg lettuce. We voted on soda taxes and the majority here were in favor. I would think that by the same standards, worried parents would carefully weigh the benefits of Kentucky bluegrass vs

Falling is more pleasant on grass

Falling is more pleasant on grass

Zoysia in a series of painstaking Parent-Groundskeeper meetings (7pm in the auditorium, coffee, wheatgrass, light snacks). Why the concern with what kids eat and drink, but not what they play on?

  • Organic food costs a dollar more. Grass field cost calculations go into the millions.
  • Parents eat the same food, they usually do not play on the field
  • Adults and kids watch pro and college athletes play on turf and it gains credibility

An event that took place shortly before the recent San Francisco election highlighted the issue. A group of adults went to Park & Rec and obtained a permit to play, paying the

Tech Bros have a permit

Tech Bros have a permit

required fee. When they arrived they found a game in progress and there was a brief dispute before the guys on the field agreed to get off. But when it hit the paper it turned into “tech bros” against local Mission kids and controversy ensued. The matter got spun into “if we only had more fields, and turf fields, there’d be fewer disputes over space.” Some commenters were appalled that fields were ever rented. But the fees from rentals help pay for the field, and SFRPD policy states that some fields are available for open play. (Depending on your definition of “some” because at times these are rented too.) To me this is nothing compared to SFRPD renting out all of Golden Gate Park for concerts like Mostly Strictly Bluegrass and KFOG’s Outside Lands, or foot races like the Bay to Breakers. No one seems to think twice about losing the whole park for three days. But the principle is the same: the public park is for all people, unless the City decides to take money for a specific group to use it.

The SF Chronicle had this to say about the skirmish: “For many San Franciscans, the viral video showing a group of Dropbox employees trying to kick kids off a Mission District playground struck a chord because it’s a stark depiction of how little seems safe from the tech money pouring into the city — not housing, not retail space, not bus stops, not even neighborhood soccer fields.

“But for the people who play soccer in San Francisco, the surprising thing was that the conflict was so civil and understated. Marcelo Rodriguez, a longtime soccer coach who lives in Bernal Heights, said he has seen much worse behavior dozens of times at fields across the city. Part of the problem: Too many people want to use too few fields at the same time.”

“You have a great little neighborhood field now that everybody wants to play on,” Rodriguez said. “It could have been a bunch of Russian guys. It could have been a bunch of taxi drivers. It could have been anybody.”

On the ballot measures we just had:

Many hope the election’s results will settle a years-long turf war (Ed. Note: really?) between proponents of


A solitary protester attempts to stop construction after Prop I passes

A solitary protester attempts to stop construction after Prop I passes


the (measure) and a group of environmentalists and residents who have ardently opposed the project, alleging the turf in the city’s plans is toxic and that nighttime lights would disrupt bird migration.”

San Francisco’s inability to keep the decision simple made it into the New York Times:

“Here we have a project that is probably the most vetted soccer field in U.S. history,” said Phil Ginsburg, the city’s commissioner of parks and recreation. San Francisco’s planning commission, its board of permit appeals and the California Coastal Commission have all signed off on the plans. The project’s environmental impact review has been upheld in court. Mayor Ed Lee, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Nancy Pelosi all support it.”

The ballots are counted and San Francisco will finally begin converting Beach Chalet fields to turf and add floodlights. The highest opposition votes were from the areas immediatelyWalk No on I results

next to the fields — the Sunset and Richmond. People may not want the extra traffic. Or it may be concerns about the “elements” who play soccer. That has happened before. The vote when you look at it does not look like people concerned for athlete’s safety, or the quality of soccer, or preserving the park. To my eyes, it is a NIMBY movement where people don’t want more soccer in their neighborhoods.


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