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


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)

“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.

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.

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.

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.)

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  1. All types of people go and hang out there. (not just hipsters) Some people act like they never did some of these things when they were younger.(drinking and partying) Dolores Park is meant to be a place of fun. Hopefully it doesn’t turn out to be that lame. Not everyone has a lot money to spend at the bars.But if there’s a fight or you are acting like A**hole then you should be dealt with. If your over 5 years old you should know to clean up after your self. So clean your garbage up.
    I guess there will always be a small percentage of people that ruin it for everyone else. The park does bring people together. If I lived right there I wouldn’t want it to be real loud every weekend either. Also think of this one, if you cant party there and hang out then a lot businesses will be effected in the neighborhood. (Less customers) Don’t let it turn in to a lame park like all the others.
    Keep the dream ALIVE Dolores Park!!!

  2. I love Dolores Park, consider it one of the largest perks of living in the neighborhood, but the tone of that letter SafeCleanGreen wrote was so aggressive! I wrote the local political reps responsible for DP in response because while I agree with a lot of the ideas… They don’t really seem to have a perspective on the neighborhood.

    I think the park is heavily used right now, and with that comes a lot more of the litter etc issues. Redoing the bathroom, already a plan & priority, will fix some of it. More trash cans, again already a plan, will fix some of it.

    I haven’t lived in the heart of the Mission, but really you’re saying Dolores Park needs this attention from the police & authorities more than say patrolling Capp, or S. Van Ness or, you know, muggings?

    Yes, everyone needs to be respectful of each other, everywhere. I fear that DP’s immediate neighbors, a not coincidentally more expensive area of the Mission, forget that the rest of the neighborhood shares the park too. I understand the way the park is used has changed in the last few years, I understand being involved in trying to influence the way it’ll be used. I don’t understand why these people are organizing and talking to the city officials rather than organizing and talking to the people in the park. Ask for volunteers from those using the park…. if the noise is bothering you, it’s probably not that far of a walk.

  3. Mayor Gavin Newsom should use some elbow grease and buff up the green patina he wants the city to have. Allocate some funds and city workers to make Dolores Park a shining example of a multi-use, friendly-for-everyone public green space. It’s a big enough space that everyone can stay in their ethnographic comfort bubbles while still enjoying big events. Here are some suggestions:
    -compost stations, monitored by city workers/volunteers until patrons get into the habit
    -low-flow faucets in the bathrooms. So much water is wasted with the antediluvian heads currently in use. Also, at times the lawns are watered in the middle of the day. Bad for the city’s water bill, bad for park-goers
    -how about a native plant garden or community garden plot while we’re at it?

  4. I’ve lived right on Dolores Park since 1991. The big problems today are noise, trash, illegal overnight use, and urination/defecation by people and dogs. I hope the signs to be posted will also advise that the Park closes at 11 pm (there used to be such signs). It’s great to see people using the Park (unlike its early 1990s days when mostly drug dealers used it and gunfire from their turf wars was not uncommon), but the 2 am loud drunken parties have got to stop. If people want to get wasted in the park I don’t care except when they shout at the top of their lungs and leave their trash and human waste. Most of those people just seem to want to party with no consideration for the park environment or the fact that many residences border the park and can hear everything they say.

  5. Official park planning would be worse than self-organizing/laissez-faire outcomes. Just look at the ridiculous takeover of my nearest part, Duboce, by dog owners who see the no-leash area as a sign that really the entire park belongs primarily to them. If no one polices them, they feel at liberty to ignore all signs.

    Dogs are more often off leash than on in every corner of Duboce park. While owners chatter away with each other, their animals defecate on the grass and it’s never picked up. I see it every single time I sit more than 20min in Duboce. Even when they do pickup after their pets, a messy residue is left behind, not to mention wet urine spots. The entire park is now a dog run serving maybe 200 pet owners. It sucks. The dirt only fenced dog runs are a far better solution.

  6. There is a reason why the gays have the best real estate up on the fruit shelf…we know how to have fun AND be responsible by cleaning up after ourselves! Cleanest second-class citizens I know 😉

  7. Great article thank you for publishing it. Dolores Park is a beautiful place and mostly has a great vibe to it.

    I don’t like being bothered by off leash dogs. There are two many dog owners who think they are the owners of the park and entitled to super preference. There are also way too many people leaving cigarette butts in the grass.

    Personally, I like the amplified events, especially many of the pirate dj events. I want to say thanks to those DJ’s that have spent the time to set up, and bring a lot of smiles and happiness into the park.

  8. The drunk, vulgar BMX rider pods in the park need to stop being so intentionally dirty and not leave a whole area of empty beer bottles in their wake. nobody wants to clean up after it or see it. also, if there is an empty beer bottle in front of you, thats a perfect and convenient place to put your cigarette butts in.

  9. It’s not just about picking up after yourself. I like to pick up after other people, too. I mean, why not? You pack a bag for your own shit, and throw a few other pieces in there, too.

    Like Lauren says above, people get sick of it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t DO anything about it. It’s not like we’re trying to change legislation, just pick up a few extra butts, poop, cans, whatever.

    There will always be those who don’t care (or maybe don’t have the wherewithall to care), so if you care, just do you + a little extra.

    I’m not talking altruism here. When I pick up two dogs’ poops, it makes me feel like sunshine.

    Stop bitching start picking. Or something like that. (Get Copy, Naming and Nomeclature on the phone.)

  10. I live facing the park and applaud the community coming together. It’s the city’s meeting place and I understand that, but we live here too. I’m cool with the noise and acutally dance along with Michael Jackson coming into my living room. But please, those bongos. 3 hours is enough ok? I love my neighborhood and welcome all our visitors. There can be a balance.

  11. I’ve been living in the DP area since 1980 and I walk my dog there twice a day. (Before the dog haters go off on me: I’m an obsessive poop scooper, don’t let my dog near the playground and my dog is muzzled when off-leash.)

    What I find most demoralizing is the lack of respect for the park itself. Unfortunately, the worst offenders are the people who consider themselves the “Hippest”. If you don’t beleive me, just go over to where the fixies hang out (just South of the tennis courts.) The ground is literally covered with bottle caps and cigaret butts – and I mean covered. There is trash everywhere. Apparently, fixies don’t give a shit about the environment – not even the place where they spend most of their free time.

    The poor gardeners do a tremendous job. But they have scant time to garden. They spend all their time picking up after the spoiled “hipsters” who have no concern for anything other their own parties. Everyone wants the Right to party at DP an no one is interested in sharing – or even acknowleging – their Responsibility to care for the place.

    However, Police and Rules won’t change this bad behavior. It has to come from within the communities that are using the park. Most people are responsible. But just being responsible isn’t enough. Everyone has to call out the offenders publically. Only concerted public shaming – from within their own peer groups – will be effective.

    Love DP and it’s party atmosphere? Well then, time to step up and call out the assholes who are ruining it for everyone else. Otherwise, the shit will come down.

  12. Thank you for filling us in on the behind-the-scenes of our favorite weekend hangout. It seems like the city is handling the issue reasonably, and I agree that more respect by park goers is needed. Hopefully the signs and public education campaigns will be enough. One thing that wasn’t mentioned- a lot of the cans and bottles are picked up by homeless or poor people to be redeemed at recycling centers. Maybe there is a way to encourage more of that, since it benefits everybody?

  13. It seems many people do not respect the children’s playground so why should families respect the riff raff. We went there last week and it was horrifying. Before you go off realize I am Berkeley born and raised. I am very used to the anything goes attitude. However as it is now people are not respecting the common sense boundaries. A rock band was playing 50 yards from some La Raza hip hop DJ party who were another 50 yards away from another ‘My Peoples’ raza hip hop dj party. Bums border the children playground screaming filth and the grounds are full of micro brew beer, cigarette butts andthe smell of weed from the wanna be hipster yuppie 20-something white kids. Give me a break. Crack some fucking heads and teach people some basic common sense

  14. There are too many off-leash dogs in the park. Their owners are politically organized, so there’s no fighting it. But a note to humans: You’re sunbathing in dog urine.

  15. I am sick of people discarding cigarette butts anywhere and everywhere. Cigarette butts are litter, and extremely toxic litter at that. There’s enough nicotine in a cigarette butt to kill a small child or dog that ingests one, and rather inexplicably they sometimes do. Throwing their cigarette butts into playground sand? People need to treat the parks with respect, they are for everyone. Throwing cigarette butts and other garbage on the ground is showing gross disrespect for the other people they are sharing the city with.