Turf War at Mission Playground’s Soccer Field

Photo by Lydia Chávez

En Español.

The viral video first posted on YouTube and then put on Uptown Almanac late Thursday depicts a group of men, some wearing Dropbox t-shirts, telling a group of neighborhood kids that they have to leave the Mission Playground soccer field because they had reserved it. “We paid $27,” said one of the men arguing in the video.

The players object and there is a back and forth before the players leave and the others appear to take the field.

The video underscores some of the tension that exists among longtime residents who feel uncertain about all of the changes the neighborhood has experienced in the latest dot-com boom and new residents who find themselves confronting old rules that they don’t understand. The confusion between the two groups also raises questions about charging money to use public space in a neighborhood where public space is a scarce resource.

“The video plays into the resentment that already exist in the neighborhood,” said John Robinson, 49, who eats lunch and chats with players on the field three times a week. “The newcomers know how to get the permit and sort of show up expecting to play, but the field is small and there are other things coming into play here.”

The “other things” are the customs that longtime soccer players have developed. Those include a pickup soccer culture in which teams are formed and play each other until someone scores. Once one side scores, a new team plays the winner. This keeps turnover moving and gives everyone an opportunity to use the field.

This system has been in place at the Mission Playground even before  2012 when the asphalt field was upgraded with artificial turf.

“Why not just play among all of us?” said Victor Medina, 23, after watching the video. “We don’t discriminate here. If you want to play you are going to play regardless of how good you are.”

The department of Recreation and Parks defended its pay-to-play policy, saying that most of the city’s fields have a permitted-use option.

“The Department has long recognized that our City has limited open space for recreation, and we definitely lack playfields for both adults and youth to play,” Connie Chan said in a statement. “We encourage all our park users to respect one another and share our parks.”

Chan added that 96 percent of the time, the park has been used for drop-in play. The field is available for open play on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 4.52.27 PMThose hours are used. Players, she said, are guaranteed a minimum of 16 hours per week of free, drop-in play. They used 4,021 hours of the free play in 2013. Youth groups were not charged for another 734 hours of permitted play. In total, adults paid for only 185 hours.

In the video, a pick-up game of unpermitted play collided with a group that had a permit to use the field.

The Parks and Rec department ran into similar issues in 2012. Back then, Spanish-speaking players, many of whom work in the service industry, felt that pay-to-play was unfair to low-income residents.

Some believe that is still the case.

Half of Dolores Park is closed, and the Garfield Square soccer field poses a threat for some Latino players who fear being mistaken for gang members, said Ian Phongsrisai, 25, who works in the service industry with other Latino employees.

“There is not a lot of open space,” he added, as three teenage girls shared a picnic on the side of the field.

Medina, who was playing on an empty field on Friday afternoon, said he had never seen a confrontation like the one on video. Once, he said, the soccer teams got annoyed when a group of 40 men tried to play football, but other than that conflict had been minimal.

Most adults, he said, yield to children who come and practice with their coaches, but he would draw the line when it comes to adults.

“Anyone who wants to play will play,” he said. “Unless they are intimidated by us.”

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36 Comments

  1. The bottom line: These men kicked kids off of a playing field.
    Anytime you see kids playing sports one should thank the good lord above because it reduces the odds that those kids will end up robbing you to support his/her addictions.
    Catch a clue losers.

    • My Take

      Local Hispanic kids kicked off a field by white adults with money who could easily drive their cars to some other field to play soccer.

      However, I’m sure the white guys are actually cool and just didn’t appreciate the implications of what they did and will take it into account in the future.

  2. Kb

    So the “neighborhood kids” refuse to follow park rules. Those evil “newcomers”. And a little bit of menace in those quotes by Medina. Sounds like a particular group thinks that they run the soccer fields and everyone else has to follow their rules – or else. Bullies.

    • peaceandharmony

      “Bullies” ??? Read the article, in full, again. There is no menace in what Media/Medina is saying, only tongue-in-cheekiness. I’m guessing when he says “… intimidated by us…” he’s referring to their soccer prowess. Go down there and play a pick-up game with them. They’d probably welcome the challenge. And, you might even have some fun.

    • szfofa

      its the code of the context, no one cares what your app or whatever permit says. Its like a chalkboard for a pool table at a bar. The bar’s culture is quarters stacked on the table edge instead. Even though theres a chalkboard on the wall, no one uses it. Newcomer puts his name on the chalk and then starts some drama thinking his (or her) turn is next. They might know the rules of soccer but not the rules of the field.

    • yes, 8yo chidren “bullying” 20-something adults 3x their size… Did you watch the video? We’re talking about children here. Please.

      You must be cut from the same clueless, entitled cloth as the Dropbox techies to not appreciate that there is a +20 year local tradition in play, regardless of whatever SF Parks and Rec rule has been created in the last couple of years.. And furthermore to not appreciate that these kids are economically dis-advantaged and can’t just play somewhere else, where as tech bros from all over the city coming to play a corporate match can easily hire out somewhere else to play.

      Gross.

  3. Mister Big

    Despite the ugliness of this, it could have been worse. Everyone was at least somewhat respectful of each other. The San Francisco thing would have been to have all played together. I can’t help but think that the city is selling itself off to the moneyed classes, though. Not everyone has a device with the app, or a credit card. Contrary to what the techbros think, this is not an APP world.

    • mission resident

      To reserve a field, you use the telephone. something everyone has access to. The problem I have with the article is that somehow people that work in the service industry are morally superior to everyone else. Why bring this up at all? Who cares? People are people regardless of where they work. Stop trying to make this a class war.

      Personally I agree that this particular field is too small and should not be available for private permit. Permits should only be allowed when there is enough green space for those without a permit to use. Dolores park is a great example where there will be a few permit areas, but the rest is open.

      Now, if they could only do the same park makeover for the park at folsom and 21st. That would be awesome.

      • Anna

        Wasn’t “service industry” was added to show that he was not a high paid tech worker? I didn’t read any “moral” issue into it at all.

        I hope that Mission Local would put focus on the gang issue as well. Because that too keep our kids from public resources, and from walking home safely from school. That is a more delicate issue, i think. And dangerous.

        (I feel this is more a newcomers against old timers issue. The techies aren’t at fault for the price increases. That’s just the capitalist market. But the sudden influx has made them the target. Unfortunatley, asking kids to leave a soccer field doesn’t help them “make new friends”. )

  4. Mrs.

    This is a good example of how not to go about introducing a concept like this to the community. Parks and Rec should have done a little more research and legwork to bring this reservation concept to an already sensitive community.
    I too resent the APP driven world that the mission is now. However, it is not unreasonable for parks and rec to designate times for reserved use of its spaces. This park is in heavy use–my 6 year old is always disappointed that he can’t play there because it always seems to be filled with teens and adults. It is understandable that some reserved times should be available for those who want to have some organized group play.
    But it is on parks and rec to head off these issues and communicate to the community more effectively and listen to concerns before introducing something like this. City agencies should be much more culturally sensitive.

  5. I think some here may be missing the reality. The place where the rubber of gentrification meets the road of society, aided by the machinery of the state.

    The pickup games emerged out of the organic practices of the community of soccer players. This developed over many years, and predates the upgrade to the field and playground. Only after the upgrade did the state (in the guise of the city parks and rec) create the permit process, directly in opposition to the organic process created by the existing users.

    When confronted with this discrepancy, unfortunately the dropbox bros were unable to adjust their worldview to encompass the reality on the ground. Instead they displayed the arrogance and rigid thinking of an almost conquistador mindset, acting in direct opposition to the larger community.

    But hey, they have horses, steel, and god on their side.

    Had they just stopped and did a small amount of dialectic analyses, perhaps they might have acted accordingly.

    Unfortunately most people in this town don’t do reality very well, especially if your paycheck and whole way of life is wrapped up in inflating your own worth like a big ugly balloon.

    • Valenchia

      Anyone who claims that people who want to play soccer should do “dialectic analyses” is the one “who doesn’t do reality very well”

      Really, the Dropbox guys were just following the rules and asking others to do the same. Why is that so wrong? Why must the organic practices of one segment of the community prevail over the rest of the community?

      It seems to me that you are very biased in favor of one group and rather contemptuous to the other. The community is more than just your friends.

      • Asking 20 somethings making 6 figures to be intelligent and organized enough to STOP. THINK and DISCUSS is lacking in reality? I am sure their Sandhill Rd investors would expect that at a minimum.

        As to the following of the rules touted in support of the dropbox bros, the question is who’s rules. Those arrived at by custom and agreement of the larger existing community. Or rules imposed by Parks and Rec that contravene those customs and practices.

        Which was kinda my point!

        • The age or income of the players is completely irrelevant. The rules are posted on the sign for everyone in the community to see and to follow. The players with the permit were had the right to take the field. These are the simple facts. If you have issues with the rules work to change them but don’t fault people for following them.

          Your bit about horses, steel, god, and ugly self-worth is nothing but melodrama. Don’t do that.

  6. JAB

    Who actually still uses the meaningless Nixon-administration-fabricated term “Hispanic”?

    Why “Sam” does, of course. The same “Sam” who is so proudly out of touch and unconnected with the Mission District Community but happy to be here commenting on every single article, day after day after day. Because rather than step outside of his lonely, pathetic, sad, insular world for one day and actually engage with flesh-and-blood human beings in the real world–he would rather sit on the computer all-day, everyday and tell everyone else how wrong they are and how right he is.

    The problem with this, of course, is because he only engages with the world via a computer screen, he actually has no clue what he is talking about and his uninformed opinions add nothing of value to any of the countless discussions in which he engages. He has no friends and no meaning in his life. He has made is life into a sad joke and he is the only one who is unaware of this fact.

    ::::::::::

    The media didn’t make an issue of this, Sam. Thousands of people saw and reacted very strongly to this video, based purely on it’s raw content, with no narration or comment, long before the media ever caught wind of it.

    No one who actually engages with the existing community in the Mission would refer to the neighborhood’s youth as “Hispanic kids” or refer to this issue as “tempest in a teapot,” Sam. It’s yet another infuriating and heartbreaking example of the shifts in the neighborhood that have made so many people so justifiably angry and sad.

    I am fully aware that you couldn’t care in the slightest about how the long-existing Mission community cares about this or any other matter. And this is precisely why you’re such a sad and lonely person, Sam. I sincerely pity you, brother.

    • I am fully aware that you couldn’t care in the slightest about how the long-existing Mission community cares about this or any other matter. And this is precisely why you’re such a sad and lonely person, Sam. I sincerely pity you, brother.

    • i LOATHE the word “hispanic.” it’s colonial spooge in our faces.

    • My Take

      I don’t really get why you feel infuriated or heartbroken about anything.

      The Mission is a wonderful place marred only by young Latinos gunning each other down and the thugs in the vicinity of the 16th Street BART station that the SFPD is bringing under control.

      I worry about de-Hispanization of the Mission because of the influx of gringo hipsters, but I never feel infuriated or heartbroken about it or about anything else in the Mission.

    • Ramón

      Re: Hispania
      Hispania is the pre-Roman, Roman and Visigothic name for the Iberian peninsula, composed of various tribal people such as Celts, Iberians, Carpetanians, Lusitanians, Western Aquitanians, Suevi, etc. The name was not used for the continent of South America.

      To JAB: Hispanic was not coined by Nixon; the term/name in it’s true definition serves to distinguish not only people of the Iberian peninsula, their descendants in the Americas, but also serves to distinguish groups from Lusitanians, such as Portuguese.
      Latino is an immense umbrella for peoples on various continents connected by language, culture and history, but not all Latino are Hispanic. The now dissolved Latin Union included thirty-five diverse nations such as Belgium, Switzerland, Romania, Equatorial Guinea, Italy, etc.

      Latinos are not monolithic; they come from all of Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, and of course the Americas.
      Latino has become popular because it embraces more people, so you hear the term in popular culture, particularly music going back a few decades by artists such as Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Oscar D’Leon, etc.

  7. Russo

    Shaddup already! This is a corporate function edging out local kids. News to you, Sam-John, but corporations aren’t people. Rec the Parks regularly fences off acres and acres each year for pay events, shutting the public out of public parks.

    • Valenchia

      Russo: Telling some one to shut up really doesn’t add to the conversation, so maybe you should cool off a bit.

      Really, JAB’s rant about “hispanic” was more than a bit bizarre and the nasty tone of message make me think he is fact the “sad and lonely” person.

      I tend to agree that this is a pretty minor controversy; obviously Park and Rec is trying to balance the needs of all potential users of the park. Maybe they haven’t got it quite right, but they are hardly ignoring any one group.

  8. Elizabeth Milos

    I raised my son across from Mission Playground for 15 years and there was never any problem with sharing the field the traditional way, pickup games. Parks and Rec is disrespecting our community by putting up a sign in English and artificially separating out the population that can use it by age groups, when in our community, everyone plays together intergenerationally.
    Its also pretty clear who Parks and Rec is catering to when they make it accessible to Apps. Has anyone ever tried calling Parks and Rec and actuallt gotten thru?
    Its pretty disingenuous and dishonest to claim that this is not an issue of inequality based on class and race.
    How much does a service worker earn?
    The IT professional?
    Who can more afford a gym or to go to other parks in the city?
    Did i hear a kid respond off hand to one of the newcomers that they could call the police if they wanted?
    Who wouldve the police sided with? Take a guess.
    The kids even offered to play with them, tho who would want to play with such d@#%ks is beyond me.
    I have a problem with high earners from companies that get tax breaks and other public amenities, that come to lower income neighborhoods of people of color, use the power of their money to raise the cost of living for all the rest of us then start whining about how something is “not fair” because he paid for it.
    Our kids exercised restraint and behaved with more respect than they showed them.
    Drop Box techies dont know who theyre dealing with. In the Mission, the kids have the whole community behind them and if they dont learn to play nice, their company will have a serious public relations problem on their hands.

  9. Dorian

    Playgrounds are for children. What kind of man kicks kids out of their play space?

  10. B. Reyes

    Cost per field per hour = $27 via phone . . break bread amongst 12-20 cheap@$$e$. And, sf parks and rec needs to communicate better to everyone the phone number and reservation info with proper signage at the park. With the extra funds we voted to appropriate to parks, we should be able to afford appropriate signage, right?

  11. BellaDancer

    How about some reporting on what has happened in the TWO YEARS since Mission Loc@l reported on Jaime Elias’ petition against the pay to play policy? This has been in place since Mission Playground reopened in 2012.
    http://missionlocal.org/2012/10/petitioner-fights-pay-to-play-in-mission-soccer/

  12. My Take

    Somebody asked me to research Filipina Vicki Manalo, and I was surprised to learn that she became an expert diver at the Mission pool in the 40’s and won two Olympic gold medals.

    As far as I know, there is no plaque or other recognition of her greatness at the pool and it appears that her feats have been forgotten by local residents.

  13. My Take

    You’re wrong, this incident is an example of the issue of the hipsterization of the Mission.

    Hipsters aren’t our enemies, in fact they’re the best people we have, but they need to be apprised of some of the negative effects of their increasing presence in our community.

  14. Mattie Scott

    Gentrification, racism and getting rid of poor people of color is the goal for our city. Take a look around the city, its even worse in my Neirghborhood the Fillmore, which is now renamed with several names (Alamo Square, Hayes Valley, Together Five, etc) since the arrival of folks who didn’t want to live next door to us, ride the 22 Fillmore, etc. The Tour buses now comes down Mc Allister andFillmore Street. Our children and families are not respected as long time residents for generations in San Francisco, the City of the saint it was named after, Saint Francis. This city is about the almighty dollar and getting paid. No Longer does the people who ‘s ancestors who worked to make the city what it is today matters. We Black and Brown people of color have to unite like Cesar Chavez, Dr. King, Mary Rodgers, Enola Maxwell, Dr. George Davis and others did to fight for justice together. These newcomers have no idea of the RAPE of cultural values and planned gentrification they are now part of in our city government to destroy and remove all people of color. My dad bought us here in 1965 from New Orleans to escape the racist deeds against Blacks and people of color. The Mission is where we landed and it was so wonderful to grow up, attend Horace Mann school, eat tacos and burritos on 24th street and go to the five and dime stores with such amazing diveristy of wonderful families. Now our children can;t even play in the playgrounds because everythins is being catered to the wealthy and the outward migration of Black and Brown families is increasing daily. Our cultural values are being destroyed and the diveristy that this once great city once boasted about is NO MORE! San Francisco is NO LONGER PEOPLE OF COLOR, CHILDREN OR FAMILY FRIENDLY. We must fight to keep what little we have left and call out to the powers that be who really are responsible for this. Shame on you San Francisco you no longer support families of color, their children and families.

  15. Fatima

    I’m a person of color, but writing as somebody who is now sitting on the administration side of things: why is no one explaining to these kids that the private-hours on Tuesdays/Thursdays may be paying for the field, either by recovering the costs of renovation or by setting up a fund for the field maintenance? Especially the tall brown guy seems to be very eloquent – why is he not recruited as a community liaison by the Parks & Rec, so that he can (a) sufficiently convey the process to the younger kids and (b) he can be used to do genuine community consultations before any future changes are introduced? He should be coached/mentored for a community leadership role.

  16. godzuki

    So shitty. Kicking kids off a public soccer field. I think this would’ve played out very differently if there were adults playing. If you would’ve done that with some of the pickup basketball games my family go to in NY, you might leave in an ambulance.

    I’m glad this story is blowing up and Dropbox is getting really bad press. The tie-ins to Columbus Day are creative, timely and gross all at the same time.

  17. Ex-mission Res

    settle this on the pitch: winner gets the field. Loser, paid or no, goes home.

  18. Trex

    Our company softball team let outsiders play in our team (some strangers who were watching the game just decided to join us) during a league play (us biotechies versus a group of lawyers) – didn’t occur to us to say no (they even joined us for our snacks and beers). Why can’t these dropbox techies share?

  19. TheGav

    This issue… the golf thing at Glen Eagle. Its clear that the leadership at Rec/Park is incapable of serving the growing/changing population of San Francisco.

    Mayor Lee.. time to replace Ginsberg. He’s running Rec/Park like the Tax Board.

    Thanks, the SF Community.

  20. Parks and Rec should not have changed the rules of the soccer field. Scheduling a field that ran well never scheduled is comparable to scheduling the children’s play areas. The members of the adult team should have taken a seat at the sidelines like everyone else. The regular players cede to kids teams. Why is it OK for new residents to change the way this park is used?

  21. Hector

    What a bunch of B.S. The rules are posted and quite clear. Typical complaint, your disrespecting us and our culture. However the crybabies are the ones with no respect for anybody else or the law. Lets all just complain and get what we want or will riot and loot and cause a lot of damage and not take any responsibility for our actions. Things change, get over it.

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