When a police command van started showing up on weekends in Dolores Park this spring, some park goers saw it as a crackdown on fun. For others, it gave hope that their many concerns — from the carpet of cigarette butts to the dogs crashing their picnics, and sound systems rattling their cupboards — might finally be addressed.

If the tenor of online discussions is any indication, the park’s many territories seem to be embattled in some kind of culture war.

Dolores Park bottle collection with police in the distance (Photo by: Heather Duthie)

Dolores Park bottle collection with police in the distance (Photo by: Heather Duthie)

“They are down on dogs, big events, drinking and drugs — things that absolutely make Dolores Park the bastion of freedom and fun so many of us know and love,” the Mission Mission blog wrote this weekend about SafeCleanGreen, a neighborhood advocacy group that wants to change the “anything goes” attitude in the park.

One reader responded: “It doesn’t matter if it’s drunk hipsters trashing [Dolores Park] or drunk Latinos from El Trebol pissing up your street. When you’re invested in your neighborhood, it gets a little tiring seeing people trash it and the city not doing anything about it.”

But some residents wonder if the whole debate needs a reality check. What most residents want is simple: less trash, more green grass, less amplified noise, and more of a voice in what’s going on, said Robert Brust of the Dolores Park View blog.

“This is not scary, radical stuff,” said Brust, who lives a block away from the park and belongs to several neighborhood groups. Even the police are inclined to go easier than some would like, handing out warnings rather than tickets for breaking the rules.

At an Aug. 7 meeting in District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty’s office, two dozen residents — convened by SafeCleanGreen co-founder Gideon Kramer — met with Mission Police Captain Stephen Tacchini and Dolores Park Manager Bob Palacio.

Trash, noise and big events were among the group’s biggest concerns, according to Brust, who was present. But Dufty, Palacio and Tacchini came prepared with some answers.

Starting Aug. 31, Palacio said, a team of four additional gardeners will be assigned to Dolores for the next six weeks, tasked with planting two new flowerbeds, repairing broken sprinkler heads, and helping with general maintenance. The city will also add 16 concrete trashcans and a no-parking zone on the adjoining curb to make removal easier, as well as two signs clearly posting the park’s rules.

In addition, the city has revised its permit policy, restricting the number of large events to one per weekend and no more than two per month. According to neighbors, events with amplified sound have been happening nearly every weekend.

These are intended as short-term solutions, said Dufty’s legislative aide Nicolas King. The larger infrastructure problems will be addressed in the $15 million renovation of the park that will include a new playground, re-grading, a new irrigation system, and better bathrooms. Planning will begin Oct. 16 and construction will continue through the end of 2012, according to the most recent project status report.

Addressing residents’ concerns about law enforcement, Captain Tacchini detailed current efforts to station a command van with bicycle patrol officers on weekends — though some worried this sent too aggressive of a message.

Park goer sets up sangria competition on Sunday.

Park goer sets up sangria competition on Sunday.

The current enforcement plan is to emphasize education over citation, Mission Police Department’s street patrol sergeant Omar Bueno told Mission Loc@l. And according to what Captain Tacchini said at the meeting, limited resources and more pressing law enforcement priorities mean this isn’t going to change anytime soon, said King.

While the city is allocating more resources to park cleanup, it cannot take on the litter problem alone.

“[The city] could decide to pick up trash [at Dolores Park] every hour, but it would be really, really expensive,” said King.

Broke-Ass Stuart, the author of a blog and book about living cheaply in San Francisco, said that park users need to take the litter issue into their own hands.

“If it weren’t for all the trash,” Stuart said, “the cops wouldn’t be tripping.”

Indeed, many residents say they wouldn’t have a problem with people drinking if it didn’t result in so much garbage.

Stuart published a series on his website about Dolores Park etiquette that suggests a few basic rules: Clean up after yourself, watch and clean up after your dog, be careful with flying objects, watch your step, learn to share, and … don’t ask for sip.

“When we leave here today, the only trace will be ice,” said Stuart, as he helped friends set up a sangria competition table on a recent Sunday.

He suggested starting a positive “Love Your City, Love Your Park” campaign. It could be as simple as pointing out that empty beer bottles make the perfect ashtrays and brown drinking bags are their own mini trash receptacles, he said.

Stuart is not alone in thinking that addressing the litter problem should be at the core of citizen action in the park.

Paula Ginsberg, a loose SafeGreenClean member who teaches special education at Everett Middle School and who has lived in the Dolores Park area for more than 30 years, said that as an “aging hippie” and serious environmentalist, trash is one of her primary concerns.

Ginsberg wants to mobilize nearby students to help paint signs reminding park goers what it means to be a good citizen.

Rules for Dolores Park playground.

Rules for Dolores Park playground.

And she’s already had some experience. It’s her students at Everett who are responsible for the signs on napkin dispensers in cafes reminding that napkins come from trees, so take only what you need.

She and Kramer — who has been a longtime volunteer with local school garden programs — worked together with students at Everett to make the blue “Litter Me Not” signs, emblazoned with a forget-me-not flower, that are still posted around the neighborhood.

The biggest lesson the signs offer, she says, is to the kids, who “are litterbugs themselves when they start.”

Nancy Gonzalez Madynski, the chairperson for Friends of the Dolores Park Playground who has been coming to the park since she was young, loves the idea of creative signs made by kids.

Gonzalez Madynski said that just this week she collected two empty plastic bottles full of cigarette butts in the swing set area of the playground alone.

This makes her particularly enthusiastic about her fellow steering committee member’s idea for kids to decorate Altoid boxes for smokers as a reminder that they shouldn’t throw their butts in the sand. She also suggested having a volunteer “clean team” to hand out trash bags to picnickers.

There are already several groups who regularly clean up the park on a volunteer basis.

Dolores Park Dogs gets together once a month for coffee, donuts and communal dog poop cleanup, according to longtime member and 31-year Dolores Park neighbor Linsday Kefauver.

Broke-Ass Stuart say Curtis “the crème brûlée guy,” who operates a mobile crème brûlée cart, has also organized park cleanup days.

Dog gets her morning coffee.

Dog gets her morning coffee.

And if last Sunday was any indication, the city’s cleanup crews could use some help. The morning was chilly and gray, but it was clear from the amount of garbage still around that the day before had been a scorcher.

Brust stood in a circle of neighbors and their dogs including his pug, Cartman. Nearby, a Chihuahua fiendishly licked a discarded Starbucks cup.

Brust explained that he hopes a “permanent stewardship group” can emerge from the existing patchwork of park advocates.

Supervisor Dufty said he wants such a coalition to meet regularly so that he can address issues in a timely fashion rather than once a year when residents are in crisis.

“It was almost like he was calling us to the carpet,” said Brust.

A Guide to Dolores Park Neighborhood Groups
As it stands, there is no single umbrella organization representing a broad coalition of park advocacy groups. Instead, there is a loose collection of neighborhood groups based on geography and/or special interests. The short descriptions come from their websites:

Dolores Heights Improvement Club is a volunteer residential neighborhood association that works to maintain and enhance the neighborhood’s appearance, safety, communication, and value. Though Dolores Heights centers on the top of the hill at Sanchez and 21st streets, their official boundaries are Dolores, 22nd, 18th, and Castro streets.
Meets: Oct.17 block party, 1-3pm, Sanchez between Hill and 21st streets.

Dolores Park Dogs is a group of dog walkers at Dolores Park who advocate for off-leash dog recreation and host park cleanups on the first Saturday of the month. They are part of an umbrella group, San Francisco Dog Owners Groups (SFDOG).
Meets: Sept. 5 cleanup, 9:30-11am, Dolores Park.

Friends of Dolores Park Playground is a volunteer community organization that advocates for clean and safe playgrounds. The group has raised $3 million in private and city funds for a new playground that will start construction in spring 2010. They also sponsor social and educational events every other month at the playground.
Event: Music at the playground (social event), Sept. 12, 11 a.m.-Noon.

Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association welcomes members who live or own businesses in the neighborhood bounded by 20th and 22nd streets to the north and south, and Mission and Church Streets to the east and west.
Meets: Sept. 14, 6pm.

Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association helps facilitate completion of the historic survey work of the Mission Dolores Neighborhood and then have appropriate areas registered as official historic districts. Their region is bounded by Valencia, 20th, Sanchez, and Market streets, including properties along the west side of Church between 18th and 20th streets and the south side of 20th Street between Church and Dolores streets.
Meets: Sept. 9, 6:30pm, Dolores Park Church (Dolores Park not on the agenda).

SafeCleanGreen is a group of renters, owners and merchants of the Dolores Park/Mission Dolores neighborhood, brought together in common concern about serious safety and health issues in the community, and the desire to improve the quality of life for all residents. They define their neighborhood area as bounded by Church, Dolores, Market, and 20th streets.
Meets: Sept. 16, 7pm, 65 Dorland St., fourth fl. (Please RSVP to as space is limited.)