Since late last week, McCoppin Hub on Valencia Street has been completely fenced off. According to the Department of Public Works, it will be closed for three weeks to repair damage caused by vandals. However, neighbors familiar with the open space, think there’s other issues at play: pushing away the homeless who use the park.
Public works spokesperson Rachel Gordon explained that since the park’s opening in August, vandals have destroyed the sprinkler system, ripped copper wiring out of the plaza’s light fixtures, damaged the concrete, and stolen plants. And that’s not the end of it, she said. The plaza’s electrical box has been broken open and vandals have tapped into it for electricity. McCoppin, she added, also needs a “deep cleaning.”
“We knew it was going to be a challenging area, but the great news is that neighbors really want it,” said Gordon. “As long as the neighborhood uses it and doesn’t destroy it, it’s a great space.”
Neighbor Jessi Reid, who walks by McCoppin twice a day, doesn’t buy the official word. In an email to Mission Local, Reid wrote she “100 percent thinks that McCoppin is shut down because of the large amount of homeless people that have occupied it since its opening.”
Since the plaza’s opening, 311 call data indicates there’s been more than 200 calls from McCoppin Hub related to graffiti, garbage and other issues. About six of the them specifically note homeless encampments. Gordon says that while there’s been some behavior issues in the park, the temporary closure is entirely due to maintenance. “Our issue is vandalism,” said Gordon.
“The park wasn’t ‘very damaged’ at all,” said Reid, though she had recently seen the sprinkler system go off and flood Valencia Street. “Any graffiti that McCoppin Hub had (which honestly wasn’t very much at any given point) was taking care of by a cleaning crew the next week.”
Gordon said the public space has had a series of deep cleanings and maintenance, but the repairs are beyond the scope of what public work’s staffers can handle, so the department is bringing in a contractor to fix the issues. The scope of the repairs also require the park’s closure. The cost of repairs are budgeted to be below $20,000.
“We shut it down last week, put up fences, and we hope it will be done in three weeks,” said Gordon.
But in the first seven days of the closure, those construction crews haven’t showed up say the plaza’s neighbors. Public work crews should be getting to work Thursday, explains Gordon.
“There hasn’t been any construction, or anything for the whole week,” said Steve Anderson, who lives near McCoppin.
Over the last several days, neighbors and fans of the park a have been mostly incredulous or confused about the closure on social media, noting that the plaza frequently has cleaning crews working there, so why close it now for even more cleaning. Commenters speculate that the fences went up to scare away the homeless communities who had been staying in the park.
“Using “deep cleaning” as an excuse for its closing is ridiculous,” wrote neighbor Mark J. Murphy on McCoppin Hub’s community Facebook page. “Having just spent nearly nine months to construct this 40′ x 90′ space, and it’s only been open a few months, to also have to address ‘other maintenance’ issues all feels like a way to keep out the homeless who have been spending time there. WHY HAS NO WORK BEEN DONE THIS ENTIRE PAST WEEK?”
“I am extremely uncomfortable with the temporary fencing – it isn’t needed, and looks as if it is trying to keep the homeless out,” said Reid. “I am not comfortable with a space that is supposed to be for public use, being handled the way is has since opening. As nice as the area now looks, and I think we can all agree that it is great to have another public park, the way McCoppin is being handled is not okay.”
“There are things that need to be addressed,” said Gordon, stressing that crews should finish their work by April 22, if not sooner. “It’s temporary, we’re not fencing off the public or trying to keep anyone out.”
In terms of avoiding vandalism in the future, she said that public works is working with the Office of Work Place and Economic Development to bring more events and people to the plaza.
“The buzzword is activation. It’s a challenging area, but bringing more people to the area brings more eyes on the street,” said Gordon. “When more people come into area and celebrate it, as opposed to destroying it, then there’s some success.”
While McCoppin has hosted events in the past, such as those organized by the People in the Plaza project, some neighbors say that it was more successful as a space before the plaza was redone, when it was a more versatile, open space.
Standing beside McCoppin, which was part of the $9.3 million SoMa West Improvement project, Steve Anderson said more food trucks and events occurred before the plaza was finished. On Wednesday afternoon, the vandalism described by public works department wasn’t readily apparent. There was at least one piece of noticeable graffiti and some minor scratching from what looked like skateboards. Anderson felt irked by the currently fenced off public space.
“Two million dollars, for this?” he asked dismissively.