The meeting was intended to allow city officials to update the community about construction plans for a park at the corner of 17th and Folsom streets. Instead it turned into a critique of the city’s outreach efforts.
Nearly 30 community members gathered inside the cafeteria of Marshall Elementary School on Sunday afternoon to voice concerns over plans for mural art and portable restrooms, among other items proposed for the park.
“We know these two departments don’t like to work with the east side of San Francisco,” said Marc Solomon, a Mission resident for more than 20 years, referring to the Recreation and Park Department and the Department of Public Works.
From across the cafeteria, parks department project manager Mary Hobson countered that the department takes outreach seriously. “That’s why we partnered with PODER to help facilitate this special meeting.”
PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights) has been working with city officials to involve community members in the park’s construction.
The exchange came after a discussion about a proposed mural of Mission Creek. Residents were surprised to discover that city officials have already identified a pool of prospective artists for the mural, and will be consulting the Arts Commission regarding various other themes and motifs for the park, including designs for the ornamental metal fences that will surround it.
“We didn’t even know about it,” said one young woman, standing to protest the city’s choice.
“It’s city policy,” responded Susan Pontious, director of the public art program, adding quickly that the meeting was the perfect occasion for the community to voice its concerns.
Residents took advantage of the opportunity. The city expects affordable housing to be built on the same lot as the park, so it has decided to hold off on constructing restrooms until the housing is finished. Many residents weren’t happy with that news.
“I think the city made a mistake with the design and didn’t take into consideration the needs of the community,” said Alicia Briseno, a 28-year-old Mission resident.
After asking others to save their comments for the end of the presentation, city officials outlined the proposed design in detail. It includes lots for community gardens, an outdoor amphitheater, exercise machines and an underground cistern. The room was then divided into three groups, each discussing how the plan could be improved.
Install a rubber playground, said one group. What about mats made with recycled tires, suggested another. Other ideas included separate play areas for pets and children, to prevent feces from soiling the children’s play area; a community garden without separate plots; harvest volunteers; and permanent restrooms.
“The porta-potties get too dirty,” said a woman. “We don’t want people going in the bushes,” added another resident.
“I’m in favor of restrooms,” said Solomon, adding that, despite the small planning errors, he can’t wait for the park to open in the near future.
Although a closing discussion was promised, officials decided there wasn’t enough time. Still, those present were able to share their opinions in the brainstorming session before trying out the proposed exercise machines on display after the meeting.
A meeting to discuss the final concept plan will take place April 19 at City Hall. Finalizing the park design will take another eight months, after which the eight-month construction phase can begin. The city estimates the project will be finished by spring 2014.