When the Coastal Commission fails

Pub date June 4, 2013

The sensationalist title of the Bay Guardian article “Fornication loses to soccer fields” (5/15/13) overshadows the far-reaching implications of the Coastal Commission’s rubber-stamp of San Francisco’s Beach Chalet soccer complex. Lost in the article is the story of what really happened: powerful political interests leaned on the commissioners to abrogate their responsibility to protect the California coast.

Project supporters repeated the fallacy that seven acres of artificial turf and 150,000 watts of sports lighting next to Ocean Beach would stem the flight of families from the city. Notably, none of the commissioners acknowledged that the City of San Francisco’s own environmental impact report identified an alternative that meets the project goals — including the need for playtime — without any impact on the coastal zone. In fact, the “need” argument is a red herring to push through a pet project.

When the commissioners approved the Beach Chalet’s 150,000 watts of lights — situated only 500 feet from the beach — they did not even discuss the impacts from sports lights. They disregarded their own staff report — which said much of what opponents of the project have been saying for years — and ignored copious evidence from well-credentialed experts demonstrating the city’s faulty environmental analysis on the negative biological and aesthetic impacts of lights on people and wildlife in the coastal zone.

Only Commissioner Steve Blank seemed willing to uphold his duty to protect the coastline. Blank reminded the panel that its mandate is to uphold the Coastal Act and protect the interests of the 38 million Californians in our shared coastline. The California coastline has remained protected for decades due to the diligence of past commissions. The commission is supposed to transcend local politics. But the remaining commissioners failed to do this.

The approval of the Beach Chalet project is not just the acquiescence of the Coastal Commission to a single project but an all-out attack on coastal protections. Now, any developer who can trump up claims of local need for recreation can expect this commission to rubber-stamp its project.

Anyone concerned about the integrity of California’s coast should be outraged. We encourage you to let your elected representatives know that if the Coastal Commission members can’t abide by the Coastal Act, they should be replaced before they can do even more damage to our remaining coastline.

For those not at the hearing, the Bay Guardian headline refers to the claim that the Beach Chalet is a cruising ground for gay men, a claim used to sensationalize the issue and also to assert that healthy, all-American recreation field would make the area “safe for children.” This homophobic tactic was a recurrent theme during local hearings and has been deeply felt by the LGBT community.

The battle for our parkland is not over. There is currently a CEQA lawsuit in the courts; in addition, a broad coalition of groups is moving forward to continue to fight this project. Join with them — it will take everyone’s participation to win back our parkland, our beach and our coast.

Sue Englander is an Executive Board Member, Harvey Milk LGBT Club. Arthur Feinstein is chair of the Sierra Club, Bay Chapter. Mike Lynes is executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Katherine Howard is a member of the Steering Committee of SF Ocean Edge.