Was it the wine? There was wine. Was it the cheese and fruit plate? There was that as well. Was it the fact that nothing was at stake, at least in the short term? Probably that, too.
Nothing of last year’s food cart struggle (La Cocina’s Yucatan taco cart Chaac Mool could open any day now) is even alluded to at Thursday’s meeting, held in a room next to the Summit cafe. What is alluded to is even more critical — the park’s upcoming multimillion dollar renovation, which will play out over the next several years.
The location of the meeting is a function of the new power base emerging around the park. The meeting tonight is organized by Dolores Park Works, started by the software developer Rob Lord. In a lofted space above the meeting itself, rows of people renting table space from i/o ventures stare pallidly into their laptop screens. Among Lord’s goals — get the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department to the point where it routinely posts plans for the park on an easy-to-find place on the Internet.
The meeting itself runs like a little series of Ted Talks about Dolores Park, all timed to run five minutes or less. Peter Lewis, director of the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association, gives a slideshow of historic photos of the park, including a shot of it completely filled — end to end — with disaster housing right after the 1906 earthquake.
Nancy Madynski, steering committee chair of the Friends of Dolores Park Playground, talks about how the playground is one of the last “big kid parks” in the city. “I grew up in the Mission,” she says. (After the talk, she will say that people tend to assume that if she’s trying to make the playground nicer, she must be from Noe Valley.)
“I was one of eight children,” she continues. “This was our favorite park. I got involved because I wanted to drain the playground. I talked to the city, and it turns out that if you touch it you have to completely renovate it. How do you do that? You need a lot of money.”
The project is up for bid right now, she says, and she’s hoping it will come in under budget. She’s also hoping they can keep the boat. There will continue to be 20-foot swings, she adds.
Scott Wiener, who recently replaced Bevan Dufty as District 8 supervisor, describes himself as “honored” to be renovating the park, despite the fact that people warn him about coming to these meetings. Dolores Park hasn’t had a major renovation since the 1950s, and, he says, “We aren’t going to get 50 million again.”
He’s followed by the park’s manager, Eric Andersen, who says that the renovated irrigation system will be a huge asset, since one of the park’s 1.5 gardeners is currently working full-time just to keep the old system going. “We will get at least half a gardener back,” he says.
Meredith Thomas, executive director of the San Francisco Neighborhood Parks Council, gives a talk entitled “San Francisco’s Most Over-Loved Living Room.” “This park,” she says, “experiences a really different type of use than most parks.” She shuffles through slides that go from destructive uses — trash cans surrounded by coronas of garbage, people peeing outside of the porta potties — to more creative ones — the bike polo players and a middle-aged man on the aforementioned 20-foot swings, wearing nothing but a pair of bright purple thong underpants.
“Do we want to kick Santacon out of Dolores?” asks Thomas. “I think not. The people who love the park — the people who want to slide down the park naked on ice blocks — we want them to be there.”
Rob Lord, director of Dolores Park Works, closes the meeting with a shot of his baby clutching an empty six-pack of Heineken. “This is dispiriting,” he says, concerning the park’s at-times epic trash problems. But, he goes on: “We are neighbors. We are dog owners. We are children. We are 20-somethings, 40-somethings, 60-somethings. We like dogs. A lot of us have dogs.” He does some back-of-the-envelope calculations and concludes that, given all the people who spend time in the park, and given the property values around the park, the park itself actually generates $100 million worth of fun every year.
“Not,” he says, “that we should sell the park. But it puts some resolution on its value.”
“Please,” he concludes. “Have some more wine and cheese.”