In San Francisco, the value of greenery means two different things to two different types of people. John McLaren, the superintendent of Golden Gate Park for over 50 years until his death in 1943, devoted his life to the green only found in a natural habitat. Current forces within City Hall and the Department of Recreation & Parks seem devoted to the green generated from the systematic betrayal McLaren’s promise. And if this is a world-class town, saving our world-class park may need some world-class attention.
This November, San Franciscans will be voting on two ballot measures that may seem similar at first glance but in fact represent this green dichotomy.
The first one mandates that any renovations to the western edge of Golden Gate Park at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields (an area of town that I have called home for over 10 years) protect the overall habitat, be done with natural grass, and forbid the use of 150,000 watts of stadium lighting that would remain on until 10pm 365 days a year.
Two neighborhood groups named SF Ocean Edge and The Coalition to Protect Golden Gate Park have been fighting a bloated and dangerous proposal to install the aforementioned stadium lights and seven acres of crumbified recycled tires (and all of the juicy little chemicals that lie within them) into the Park for years. The proponents of this project, led by the Rec. & Park Department, refuse to invest in any organic compromise, but nonetheless, won every bureaucratic hurdle, including a flawed Environmental Impact Report, a vote at the Board of Supervisors, and a thumbs up from the California Coastal Commission.
This proposal will forever destroy the entire premise of the Golden Gate Park and would likely be washed away by rising sea levels anyway, if you think about it. (The beach isn’t far from here at all.)
Once the pro-side knew our highly grassroots signature-gathering efforts to undo this project would succeed (it qualified on July 22), they countered with their own ballot measure to ensure the construction of these toxic fields, increasing the threat of even more park commercialization and less community oversight.
It was placed on the upcoming ballot by five supervisors, with full support from Mayor Ed Lee: David Chiu (a candidate for State Assembly), Mark Farrell (who represents the conservative Marina District), Eric Mar (a supervisor for the Richmond District, which neighbors the Park), Katy Tang (my representative here in the Sunset), and Scott Wiener (from the Castro, whom I nickname The Victorian Homosexual, but I will explain that another time).
The dual campaigns over the fate of Golden Gate Park have barely begun, but it will settle this question once and for all: Is environmentalism no longer a core San Francisco value but only a peripheral one at best?
To say that Rec & Park simply wants to astroturf the western end of the Park is something of a misnomer. Their actual plan is to mow down dozens of trees and other “useless” wildlife and cover the area with recycled crumb rubber provided through the Tire Incentive Program. Once the program started to roll out grants during the fiscal year 2005-2006, crumb rubber fields began popping up throughout the City. Green is alluring, but chemicals like arsenic, benzene, lead, and mercury that have been found in crumb fields like these are not.
Expect to hear What about the children? bantered around quite a bit throughout this campaign. Nevertheless, it is clear that this massive project is designed to generate big sponsorships and big dollars from big boys and girls employed by major soccer organizations throughout the country – perhaps even the world.
The main thesis of the argument will go something like this: Families are under attack in San Francisco. My children have nowhere to play, and this project is the only way to clean up the fields. Quit being a selfish NIMBY. Let’s get in on this World Cup action.
Huge development money will come pouring in to buy off endorsements, politicians, and their ambitious sycophants. Side-deals will be made for other controversial development projects; jobs will be promised; and slick mailers and out-of-state robocalls will be financed. And from this astroturf campaign will grow some organic moss, I am sure.
However, as everyday San Franciscans realize what the Rec & Park Dept. and City Hall want to do, we see a gut-level sense of disbelief and an Are you kidding me? look across various faces. This, not money, fueled our ability to turn this project into a ballot referendum, perhaps bringing Golden Gate Park back to what John McLaren intended it be, and remain, all those years ago.
Last year, San Francisco had a similarly confusing fight on Fisherman’s Wharf over whether or not to build wildly expensive and massive luxury housing called 8 Washington. This fight involved signature gathering, City Hall insiders obsessed with “development”, and charges of NIMBYism.
The 8 Washington deal was defeated overwhelmingly at the polls, but the fight to protect the westside of Golden Gate Park has its own unique challenges. Our coalition of progressives, environmentalists, and City Hall skeptics are going to need nationwide organizations like The Sierra Club to roll deep to get this campaign off the ground. Folks like myself will need to swing endorsements and liaison with campaign consultants, all the while beating back charges that we are just disgruntled NIMBYs, assuming you can even be a NIMBY if you’re only a renter of very modest means.
I have crossed the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields hundreds of times, quietly listening to bands like Broadcast and Stereolab, watching kids play ball with birds nearby, desperately worrying about money. For me, the lack of one type of greenery is made up for, in part, by a plentiful supply of the other. Try not to judge me too much: my first word was tree. This sort of thing is second nature.