Yes, we have a plan, says the landscape architect in charge, but those plans could change. The ones on display tonight are preliminary, to be finalized over the next two meetings.
“We don’t want to design something and get your response to it,” Steve Cancian, the landscape architect with Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abey (RHAA), tells the group of a hundred or so gathered in Mission High’s cafeteria. “We want to design it together. And so we want to thank you for spending another beautiful summer night inside, working on this.”
Cancian has another proposal: “If we did this meeting at a normal efficient pace, we’ll be here till 9. I could also facilitate, and we could leave at 8:30. But I will need to be more insistent. Who wants to take your time and leave at 9?”
A few hands go up.
“Who wants to leave at 8:30?” An overwhelming show of hands.
“Well, see,” says Cancian. “Democracy works.”
The meeting earlier this month lasted for two hours and ended with only one point of agreement: The park needs more bathrooms — specifically, more bathrooms on the northern side. Everything else — off-leash dog areas, picnic tables, landscaping — was debated passionately until the meeting ended and the crew from RHAA left to draw up their plans.
Now those plans are in front of the group. There’s a new circuit of pathways running through the park. A new park entrance on 18th Street. Two bathrooms — one by the basketball courts, one by the children’s playground.
The new paths, which will be ADA accessible, will come in two sizes: 10 feet wide and 12 feet wide. They need to be that wide, says Cancian, because on a 12-foot path there’s room for a truck and a person in a wheelchair to pass each other safely. On the 10-foot paths there’s enough room for a wheelchair and a smaller vehicle, like a Toro lawn mower.
The tennis courts will be bisected by a path, and also raised about three feet higher so that most of the gardening and maintenance building can be stealthily concealed beneath them.
Also in the plan: off-leash dog areas at the western side of the park, where off-leash dogs are most often seen already — but also at the lowest section of fixie meadow, the area of grass between the soccer field and the Dolores Street sidewalk. This does not go over well, because fixie meadow is so popular with humans, especially on sunny days. “We’ve noticed when dogs are attacking each other, people like it, but when dogs are attacking people, people don’t like it,” says Alex Chaffee, by way of explanation.
“We’re worried that it’s so close to the street that dogs will run out into traffic if someone throws a ball wrong,” a woman adds.
“We’re in favor of reintroducing the pissoir,” says Gillian Gillet, making the presentation for her small group. “It would be a huge amenity for the men of the park, and that whole area around where we would put it is essentially a pissoir, anyway.”
Also on the map: a court that will allow the bike polo players to return to the park. Last year a bike polo player told Mission Loc@l in an interview that he would fight to the death to bring bike polo — which has been played at Jose Coronado playground in the meantime — back to Dolores Park. Now it looks like either he won’t have to, or he already has, because the bike polo court seems a done deal.
“The field will also be suitable for inline skating,” says Joel Winter, tonight’s bike polo representative. “Anything you can imagine with pavement and a ball. We’re really excited.”
As for the clubhouse — which under the new plan is no longer a bathroom and maintenance storage shed — no one could quite decide whether to restore it to once again have a roof deck (the deck was covered and turned into a second story years ago), or whether it should become a community center, or whether it should be torn down to give the park more open space.
“We’re looking for something in between restoration and tearing it down,” says one man. “Something like nonstop ping-pong for people of all ages.”
“I’m saying this on behalf of my daughter Sheena,” says another, grabbing the microphone. “Sheena would like to change the clubhouse into an arcade room to bring all the kids out of their houses so that they have a place to hang out in the same room as each other.”
“I’ve got one more thing to say about this new path,” adds another man. “If you step back, it looks just like a swastika.”
There is murmuring. “He’s right!” someone gasps.
The meeting ends, on time, with an air of satisfaction. Not much has really been promised or agreed upon, but since the plans are in the early stages, nothing has been taken away yet, either. People stand around and chat, not quite ready for it to end.
“We could think of it as room to pass a truck,” Chaffee is saying to a man in a wheelchair, about the width of the new paths. “But it’s also room to race a truck.”
Earlier, while the group was tracing the route for the proposed path through the park, a group of punks drinking nearby overheard Cancian describing the renovation. They lurched over to the group.
“Bring back the BOAT,” yelled one man, referring to the sand-filled wooden boat that had been long been a part of the playground, before the playground was ripped up for its own redesign.
“Bring back the pirate ship,” yelled the man next to him. “Yeah! Bring back the [expletive deleted] BOAT. When I wake up tomorrow morning, I want to see that BOAT.”
“Can’t you just leave the park the way it is?” a third man asked Cancian, plaintively.
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Cancian. “You should come to the meeting.”
None of them are visible at the meeting later on, but it’s a reminder, says Chaffee, of how Dolores Park functions in the real world. “I find this process frustrating,” he says of the meetings. “I see people banding together, saying, ‘I’ll get my fiefdom, and you’ll get yours.’”
He pauses. Maybe it’s the way politics works, he says. But this park is not like those meetings. The park, he says, is an inadvertent case study. “It’s an example of anarchy actually working.”