A city-supported plan to renovate the Beach Chalet soccer fields in western Golden Gate Park with synthetic turf and light poles has stirred up the ire of local conservationists intent on preserving the region's semiwild state — but in this grubby little corner of the city, things are already a bit too wild. Specifically, the plan's backers — mostly soccer players — would like to see an end to the furtive daylight sex that takes place routinely in the shrubbery adjacent to the fields, and if that means modernizing the grounds with fake grass, a bigger parking lot, and glaring late-night field lights, so be it.
The project could begin within months, and is expected to cost as much as $9.8 million. It will help to alleviate a "severe deficit in the city's playing field resources" while providing "a flat, level, and safe surface" free of gopher holes and mud pits, according to Dan Mauer of the Recreation and Parks Department's capital improvement division. But the renovation, conservationists say, violates the Golden Gate Park Master Plan, a long-term preservation plan adopted by the city in 1998 that mandates that the western half of the park — roughly beginning at Strawberry Hill — be left undeveloped and relatively natural. The document itself cites the decree of the 19th-century civil engineers who designed the park and declared that its western end should remain an urban wilderness.
Nancy Wuerfel, a Sunset District resident and member of the city's Open Space Advisory Committee, says the planned "sports complex" runs directly against the language in the document. Others have noticed as well. The Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, SF Ocean Edge, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, and other organizations have cautioned that the Beach Chalet renovation will irreversibly mar the area with its planned 60-foot light posts and the traffic and congestion that will likely follow the development.
But on Dec. 11, Douglas Nelson, a private landscape architect who coauthored the 1998 plan, responded in a written statement to the City Fields Foundation, "The rehabilitation of the Beach Chalet soccer fields with synthetic turf and lighting for extended use is in compliance with the Golden Gate Park Master Plan." That settles that, the renovation's backers say.
In any case, Golden Gate Park has become a bit wilder than its founding fathers ever intended it to be. Patrick Maguire, a Sunset District soccer player, says that anyone who dribbles a ball down the Beach Chalet fields knows what the crusty creeps coming and going behind the fields are up to. "People are having sex in bushes back there," says Maguire, who coaches kids' soccer teams just a couple of kicks away from the action. He believes that lighting up the area and increasing local foot traffic will push these sex cruisers out of the bushes.
But Wuerfel puts conservation concerns first. "We won't be doing our children any favors with this," she says. "This will be setting a precedent. Golden Gate Park is a very special place, and if we aren't careful we could lose it."