The youths shown in a now well-known video refusing to leave Mission Playground’s soccer field when a team wearing Dropbox t-shirts comes on with a permit, had been frustrated for weeks with being kicked off their usual playing field and decided on the Thursday the video was taken to refuse to leave, according to Edwin Lindo, vice president of external affairs for the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club.
Lindo made his comments Monday night at a regular monthly dinner meeting organized by Engage SF, a group of tech and old residents formed a year ago to help bridge cultural gaps and defuse animosity.
Though one of the first group of soccer players was the person behind the camera, the video was not arranged ahead of time, Lindo said.
In the video, the team of youths refuses to leave only briefly while they wait for the adults to produce the $27 an hour permit. It is is clear from the video, however, that both sides are upset and confused – the young players by a system that boots them a free soccer field where teams generally rotate onto after one scores a goal and the adults by a city that has sold them a legitimate permit.
In the days following the video’s posting, Dropbox and some of the players have apologized.
Lindo called on those at Monday’s gathering, which was hosted by Urban Putt, to participate in a Thursday 9 a.m. protest at City Hall against the Recreation and Parks Department’s reservation policy.
Though the soccer field controversy instantly sparked spirited discussion on Monday night, most speakers seemed to agree that the problem stemmed from Rec and Park’s poorly planned policy rather than from the attitudes of either group of soccer players.
Founding Engage SF member Christina Olague said the lack of bilingual signage and access, a barrier to less technically literate or connected residents, and a lack of sensitivity to those who have limited access to open space were some of the problems with the current permitting process.
Anna Duning, a member of Engage SF since its early days, added, “I think this shows city government is having a hard time figuring out who to represent and how to move San Francisco forward.”
A group member who wished to be identified only as Diane because she sometimes works with the Recreation and Parks department said, “The issue is with Rec and Park. They’ve created this privatization issue.” She described the department’s approach to permitting as showing “a lack of forethought.”
A few group members briefly voiced concern that those without access to a mobile app would be excluded from booking the field, others refuted the involvement of any app, since the reservation process goes through the Rec and Park website.
“Whether there is an app [involved] or not, the issue is policy,” said core group member Chris Murphy. “Let’s not create a boogeyman out of an app.”
Lindo encouraged members to write to the Recreation and Parks department to voice their opposition to the permitting policy.
Erick Arguello, a member of the cultural corridor group Calle 24, which helped bring Engage SF together, said the conflict between players accustomed to a tradition of rotating pickup games and newcomers following the Rec and Park rules has been going on for much longer than the frustration at Mission Playground. He said the issue has been developing since many of the city’s parks began undergoing renovations, and is one of the many controversies that peak and then recede again. Whatever an improved policy might look like, he said, “the solution has to come from the community in general.”
Steve Fox, who owns Urban Putt and hosted the meeting, said he doesn’t have much of a stake in the discussion about a soccer field, but recognizes the tensions and changes in the community.
“It can be really polarizing, but I suspect that that’s not the intention on either side,” Fox said.
For their part, Engage SF leaders suggested the group could take a role in helping to mitigate the conflict before steering participants to mingle with one another before the discussion became too heated.
Murphy encouraged group members to “take ownership” of any events or actions they would like to plan at the beginning of the meeting, suggesting some kind of peacemaking game at the Mission Playground soccer field as one possibility.
Olague echoed him, saying, “maybe we can be the ones to extend a hand and offer to play together.”