At the end of a community meeting Wednesday night to demystify the renovation of Dolores Park, little was settled about whether it would take place in phases or all at once, but it was clear that those who attended consider the park nearly personal property.
“Dolores Park is such an amazing organism,” said Supervisor Dufty. ”People feel more passionately about their parks in San Francisco than anything else. There’s no park that inspires passion like Dolores Park does.”
The meeting opened with a round of introductions from everyone in attendance — about 50 people at the start of the meeting — and while a handful of them are involved in some city or neighborhood group capacity, most were people who simply lovingly and literally call the park their backyard or front yard.
People raised issues about graffiti and vandalism in and around the park and the difficulty of crossing busy intersections, mostly on 19th Street.
One man was concerned that the construction would negatively impact property values near the park.
“The issue is framed as a price tag for Dolores Park’s renovation,” the man said, “Dolores Park is our backyard in a way and therefore is part of our property value.”
Dufty responded that “the budget is what the budget it is” and that “there are things that go beyond the scope of this project.”
Dawn Kamalanathan, planning director of the Recreation and Park Department, stressed that while there is still plenty of time for discussion for designs and whether or not the park can be renovated in phases, there is no possibility of avoiding renovation altogether.
Voters in San Francisco gave the city the green light to identify parks and playgrounds in need of renovation when they passed the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhoods Park Bond. She said that because “lots of different types of park user groups can access it,” Dolores Park was prioritized on that list of parks identified through the bond.
“Mission Dolores [Park] is being loved to death,” Kamalanathan said of the importance of renovating the park.
She outlined ADA accessibility issues, a need to clearly delineate the off-leash dog area, a need to fix the bathrooms and irrigation and drainage issues, adding, “unless it’s raining, you shouldn’t be getting wet while sitting down on the grass.”
One part of the renovation that is no longer open to debate, however, is the Helen Diller Playground. Koch Landscape Architecture has already finalized a design and is now preparing construction documentation.
For those who have been worried about the constant flooding of the current playground, architect Steven Koch assured Mission Loc@l that will no longer be a problem with the new playground. He explained an old pond was improperly filled during the installation of the current play structure, but the entire site will be removed before construction begins on the new structure.
The new playground will be much larger to comply with ADA standards and safety regulations and will feature separate play areas for different age groups.
It was emphasized throughout the meeting that the schedules are loose. Current goals estimate that the playground will be closed between October 2010 and April 2011 while the rest of the park remains open.
After the playground is completed, it will remain open during construction for the rest of the park, which is not scheduled until January 2012, according to Kamalanathan.
“We have a lot of time between right now and when you see a fence at Mission Dolores [Park],” she added.
Dufty assured the audience that the nearby J-Church Muni line will not be rerouted or affected by construction.
As for closing the park in phases, no one budged when Dufty asked for a show of hands as to who wanted the park closed in its entirety.
But Kamalanathan quickly posed a question: “[What] if phasing it meant that there was construction going on some part of Mission Dolores [Park] three to four years as opposed to 8 months?”
There was general dissent from those in attendance, with one man shouting, “That’s ridiculous.” Kamalanathan said the schedule is based on similarly-sized projects.
Among those in attendance were members from the Recreation and Park Department’s newly-hired public relations firm, Davis & Associates Communications. Kamalanathan confirmed that they were awarded a contract in September 2009 with funds set aside by the Clean and Safe Neighborhoods Park Bond not to exceed $400,000 over the five-year life of the bond.
Also in attendance were two District 8 candidates for supervisor, Scott Wiener and Rebecca Prozan, whom Dufty acknowledged and allowed time for them to introduce themselves at the end of the meeting.