Dolores Park Works co-founder Crystal Vann Wallstrom envisioned tonight’s meeting about the park as a town hall where “a hipster, a parent, a dog owner, or a sports enthusiast” could speak and be heard about recent rules enforcement, traffic calming measures and park safety.
Instead, many park organization members and other concerned neighbors who plan to attend the 6 p.m. meeting at Mission High said they expect it to be an airing of strong opposing views on how to manage the drinking, drug use and trash that have become synonymous with a weekend at Dolores Park.
On one side are those who support the increased police presence and enforcement, including newly minted signs outlining park curfews and bans on drugs and alcohol.
On the other are those who want fewer police and rules.
“Almost all of us agree we don’t want trash in the park, we don’t want urine wafting up from under the bridge,” said Vann Wallstrom, who opposes the new enforcement and police presence. “I want to be able to go to the park and do whatever it is I want to do in the park for as long as I want to do it…. Be responsibly irresponsible and leave no trace, those are our goals as an organization.”
Gideon Kramer, founder of SafeCleanGreen, parted ways with Vann Wallstrom’s group, which he helped cofound a year ago, over philosophical differences. Kramer’s organization supports the new enforcement.
“Gideon’s more of the stick, and we’re more of the carrot,” said Vann Wallstrom.
In an e-mail, Kramer cited littering and graffiti as major problems. “That’s to say nothing of other problems like public drunkenness and urination, cigarette butts blanketing the turf, broken glass,” he wrote.
“The park is dying from overuse and abuse,” said Deborah Bueti, a teacher at Everett Middle School and member of SafeCleanGreen.
Bueti, who has lived next to the park for 19 years, said that while the scene once involved the occasional beer can sipped discreetly, it’s now the norm for her to see parkgoers lugging cases of beer along with them. “Early in the morning, when I go to work, the park is littered with hundreds of pieces of trash.”
“It takes three to four gardeners up to five hours to clean up the park Monday morning after a busy weekend,” said Eric Andersen, operations manager with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Of the 30 parks he covers in the Mission and Bernal Heights, Andersen said, Dolores Park commands the most time. He has only six gardeners to attend to all of the Mission’s parks.
Andersen acknowledged that some of the problems are due to the park’s outdated facilities, especially the inadequate bathrooms, which have only two stalls for each sex and are notorious for the lines that spill out and onto the lawn on weekends. Park officials, working with Dolores Park Works, have instituted some temporary measures, including installing portable bathrooms along Dolores Street and adding trash and recycling bins. But most of the major facilities problems will have to wait until the park’s renovation, scheduled to start next year, is complete.
Police Captain Greg Corrales of the Mission District Station said the disconnect between those who want his men there and those who don’t makes his job more difficult. “No matter what we do, somebody’s upset. We have to try to strike a happy medium while assuring citizens are safe while they’re using Dolores Park.”
Vann Wallstrom said police resources could be better spent on other problems in the Mission. “If we can police ourselves, the police can focus on other things, put the focus on something else that’s a little more pressing,” she said.
“They haven’t been able to self-police. I don’t understand how that would work now,” Bueti said, adding that she recently stopped two young women from urinating on a neighbor’s driveway. “I think we need to go back to square one, we need to revisit the rules.”
The increased police presence and enforcement are a direct result of community input, Corrales said. “I have a thousand fires to put out in the Mission District — drug dealing, gang activity, prostitution, street robberies. Certainly those are our priorities, but we have to be responsive to the community.”
Asked whether those who disagree with enforcement are part of that community, Corrales said simply, “I don’t think I have the responsibility to have a meeting with people who don’t want us to enforce the law.” But, he added, “I don’t rule out the possibility of there being legitimate concerns about the issue which might modify what we’re doing.”
Robert Brust, a board member of the Dolores Heights Improvement Club and cofounder of Dolores Park Works, said that the input police and park officials have gotten was limited. “Decisions have been made without the full community’s input,” he said.
The park’s new prominence as a destination comes with the territory of being a metropolitan city, Brust said. “It’s never going to be the quiet little Victorian oasis they want it to be. You’re getting people from all over the city, all over the East Bay, and even tourists from Dusseldorf now have to stop and come to Dolores Park to see the scene. We say we’re a big city, we need to act like it.”
Just what that means is unclear, but Vann Wallstrom is hopeful that tonight’s meeting will help flesh out what lies ahead for park patrons. “If we can build some sort of empathy for where everyone’s coming from, we might be able to build some consensus on what the future of Dolores Park is,” she said.