Emily Vasquez, 4, and Brandon Aguilar, 10, take a ride on the tire swing at Parque Niños Unidos last weekend. The park is one of many in the Mission where programs and hours have been cut.


Outcries over the 78 Recreation and Parks employees laid off last spring have been heard loud and clear—38 park directors, including six in the Mission, will be brought back September 19 thanks to budget add-backs from the Board of Supervisors, according to Recreation and Parks spokesperson Lisa Seitz Gruwell.

The cuts, part of an effort to close an $11.4 million funding gap in the department, have cost 11 Mission District park directors their jobs and led to slashes in hours at parks throughout the neighborhood.

“I feel that the city should be able to provide some basic services that everyone can use,” said Cynthia Lasden, Mission parent and Parque Niños Unidos regular who rallied her neighbors to act, flooding District 9 Supervisor David Campos’s inbox with calls to bring back the park’s assistant recreation director Fillipa Simone.

Emily Vasquez, 4, and Brandon Aguilar, 8, take a ride on the tire swing at Parque Niños Unidos last weekend.
Emily Vasquez, 4, and Brandon Aguilar, 8, take a ride on the tire swing at Parque Niños Unidos last weekend.

“She was the glue that held the park together,” said Lasden.

Simone has kept a few of her early childhood development classes going at the park located on 23rd Street between Folsom and Treat streets on a smaller scale since being let go on May 15.

She’s hopeful the restored funding will allow her to continue the program with a steady paycheck, despite the fact that she only worked at the department two years and the rehiring process is based on seniority.

“I’ve just kind of been keeping my fingers crossed,” said Simone.

José Guzmán was one of the lucky ones during the last round of lay offs, but while he was able to keep his job because an 18-year tenure gave him seniority at Garfield Square Park on Harrison and 26th streets, the cutbacks meant that Garfield’s staff went to two from four and programs disappeared.

Garfield Square especially misses the coordinator and amenities—including computers, equipment and snacks—provided by RecConnect, a partnership initiative of Rec and Parks, The Department of Children, Youth & Their Families and Mission Neighborhood Centers, that were pulled out in June. It’s unclear why, but the program was transferred from Garfield Square Park and Rolph Playground to Jose Coronado Clubhouse on 21st and Folsom streets.

Children from Bernal Dwellings, a public housing development across the street from Garfield Square, had used the center regularly. Nowadays, few drop by.

“It’s like we dangled candy in front of them and then broke their hearts,” said Guzmán, shaking his head.

This summer, the center drew about a third of the 30 or so kids that attended the free RecConnect summer program on a daily basis in 2008, said Guzmán.

Sean Joyce, who until June was the RecConnect program coordinator at Garfield Square Park, was instrumental in bringing in kids from Bernal Dwellings in large part because he knew their neighborhood—he lives there.

“You just see all the kids that used to be at the rec out on the streets now,” said Joyce.


“The kids don’t have anything to do—they took it all away from us.”

An emptier park has also meant that more homeless people and bands of teenagers have found their way to its periphery, said Guzmán. He requested that someone be brought in to work the evening hours with him. “That’s when you get more trouble-making people around here,” he said.

As of last week he hadn’t been told if a replacement recreation director will join him in September. Or if RecConnect would return.

The hope is that the positions that are restored this month will be safe through the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year on July 1, said Seitz Gruwell.

But that is still unclear as Mayor Gavin Newsom’s mid-year budget cuts, coming in December, could potentially jeopardize jobs, a Recreation and Parks supervisor told Mission Loc@l.

Even some of those who’ve held on to their jobs up to this point are anxious about another possible round of layoffs.

“Yeah, I’m worried about it,” said Keith Burroughs, who was transferred to the Mission Recreation Center on Harrison Street in May after spending 27 years as a director at Glen Park Recreation Center.

“The question is; is this department going to hold up?”

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Alissa studied everything Latin America in college and later spent a couple years helping homeless folks maneuver New York City's social service bureaucracies. So it's fitting that she now covers city services in the Mission District. She loves community reporting and eating burritos, and is very happy to be doing both here.

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