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.
Those 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.”