As 60 residents and community members talked in the Mission High cafeteria Wednesday night about the abuse of Dolores Park, hundreds of young people sat in the park, many drinking and relaxing on the unseasonably warm evening.
One threesome, with a hodgepodge six-pack of beers in tow, said they weren’t concerned about discussing enforcement issues at a community meeting, because they had yet to encounter much push-back on their activities.
“I haven’t run into any police officers personally,” said 23-year-old Justin, who declined to give his full name. “And what I’ve heard even from hearsay is not too obscene.”
He was unaware of the meeting at Mission High, but noted that if enforcement became more obvious, he might be compelled to get involved.
Jenni Thomas, a 28-year-old who said she’d never even seen a police officer in Dolores Park, was shocked to hear that officers have recently patrolled the grounds on Honda vehicles. “They should at least be on foot or something,” said Thomas. “Then maybe they could ruin just a couple people’s weekend, and not everybody’s.”
Though the two expressed no regrets about sitting in the park and missing the meeting, they had a lot to say about those who complain about the park being overused. “This is San Francisco, it’s a big city. They should expect this,” Justin insisted.
Thomas added, “If you don’t want people pissing on your front steps, move to Noe Valley.”
Meanwhile, in the high school cafeteria, steps from the nocturnal parkgoers, a crowd of mostly middle-aged residents discussed the merits of preventing such behavior. Discussion about enforcing bans on alcohol and drugs sparked some heated moments, but overall speakers generally adhered to calls for mutual respect.
“I hope I don’t get arrested for this,” said 21-year-old Zoë Leverant, one of the few younger park users to attend, “but I’ve been known on occasion to drink beer in the park. I am one of those people who knowingly breaks the law, but makes sure to clean up after themselves.”
Leverant laughed nervously as she shot a glance toward Police Captain Greg Corrales. She went on
to explain that greater education efforts over the “leave no trace” strategy might focus on park patrons from outside the Mission, who may fail to understand the stakes of maintaining the park.
Kevin Montgomery, local blogger from Uptown Almanac, was more pointed. “San Francisco has a tradition of not enforcing laws, everywhere from weed to immigration.”
Captain Corrales reacted strongly to Montgomery. “You’ll have to speak for yourself, sir. I have worked to enforce the law for the last 41 years.”
Montgomery urged readers of his blog to attend the meeting and defend themselves from “anti-fun warriors,” who he said packed community meetings last summer and prompted similar crackdowns.
“If you truly care about your right to enjoy an afternoon in the park with [sic] a squad of out-of-touch cops rolling through your park on dirt bikes,” wrote Montgomery, “make the effort to tell Captain Corrales to get with the times.”
Few young people attended, however, and many in the older crowd made the case for further enforcement of park regulations on curfew, drinking and smoking.
One neighbor bordering the park said she bleaches her front steps every weekend after inebriated parkgoers urinate and vomit on her property. Another, holding her baby, said the noise from nocturnal patrons has kept them up countless nights. And one woman expressed outrage, saying she called three times Saturday evening before police broke up a non-permitted “outdoor rave” with music that vibrated her walls for hours.
Crystal Vann Wallstrom, cofounder of Dolores Park Works and the meeting’s organizer, was among those who thought the tone would have been different if more young people had attended. “They were underrepresented,” said Vann Wallstrom, who explained she’d made a concerted effort to encourage youth turnout.
Robert Brust, another cofounder of the organization, expressed similar sentiments. Brust blamed the rare warm weather Wednesday night for the absence of young park patrons. “I’d rather be in the park tonight, too.”
But Leverant said she wouldn’t have chosen differently. “I’m glad I was here tonight. Most people with my position have no interest in community meetings,” she explained.
Though she said she believed at least some of her concerns were heard by park officials and police, she was disappointed in the lack of balance. “Had we not been here, it largely would’ve been an attack on the people who come into the park and like to drink and smoke.”