As John Halet, 21, and Marcello Palazzo, 22, moved to a shadier location underneath some trees on the western edge of Dolores Park on Friday, Halet grabbed their trash — a beer can and a plastic food container.
“I’m gonna go throw this out,” he told Palazzo.
But there was no trash can on the nearby path, by the bridge to Church street. Halet looked up from his phone, seemingly perplexed. Then he resigned himself to walking all the way down to the cans on Dolores street, past another congregation of young people at a picnic table, bobbing their heads to hip hop, and a man ringing the bells of his ice cream cart on the sidewalk.
This walk took Halet a while, partly because he had injured his toe, so he wore a medical walking boot and was limping.
Halet, who is from San Mateo but visits the park regularly, said he was surprised by the scarcity of trashcans. “I thought there’d be more up here,” he said, pointing to the nearby path. “But the pisser’s a nice addition.”
Temperatures in the Mission reached the high 70s on Friday, and, as often happens on sunny days, Dolores Park filled with its usual characters. There were dogs roughhousing. There was a couple flying kites by the playground. There was more than one shirtless man reading a book. And plenty of folks had brought out their wine, beer and food.
It’s hard to catch people littering. Halet failed to notice he was being watched by a reporter. Most others picnicking on Friday all attested to being good citizens, but then again, it’s hard to know. The park regularly gets trashed – so much so that District 8 Supervisor Jeff Seehy has proposed legislation that would raise fines for littering in Dolores Park from $192 to $1,000.
Many park goers on Friday spoke in favor of the higher fine. Madison, 22, who declined to give her last name, was sitting on the hill facing Mission High School, sipping mixed drinks with some friends from out of town. She said she always makes sure she cleans up after herself.
But even when people want to do the right thing, the lack of trash cans in the park might contribute to the littering. The bins are located around the perimeter of the park, leaving out the western edge, which tends to garner some of the largest crowds.
One woman hovered near the stairs to the bridge when someone from her group yelled at her, “We have trash bags. You’re not going to find a trash can.”
The woman returned to the gathering of about 20 people on a work outing. Amid the tarp they had set up in the grass was a paper bag they used to gather their garbage, which they planned to throw out when they left. Henry Chen, a member of the group, thought this was a reasonable solution to the Dolores Park trash problem.
“It seems logical,” he said.
Most people in the park on Friday seemed to make an effort to clean up after themselves. But Palazzo, who was sitting with Halet, thinks there needs to be more of a collective effort to keep the park clean. Once, he said, he witnessed a group leaving mounds of trash behind. Appalled, Palazzo went to pick up the trash himself, and the litterers made fun of him for doing so.
Max, 24, who also declined to give his last name, was visiting his friend Hunter from Laguna Beach but used to live in the area. “A couple years ago, no one did that,” he said.
Then he reconsidered and, backtracking, admitted he had probably littered in the park. “Most definitely,” he admitted. “I will definitely say yes.”
Halet also owned up to leaving trash in the park when he was younger. “When I came here in high school and got drunk, I probably was stupid and did it,” he said.
Down the hill from them, closer to Dolores street, a picnicking trio sat in the grass surrounded by the remains of their lunch — wrapped sandwiches from Bi-Rite Market, a tub of guacamole, cans of beer and water bottles.
“I think it’s ridiculous to leave trash here,” one of them, who gave his name as David, said.
His lunch mate, Jeff, agreed. “Fuck people who leave trash here,” he said. “I don’t care what happens to them.”
And true to their words (or maybe because of our conversation), as they departed about an hour later, this reporter watched them from afar. They did not leave a trace.
Updated Saturday, May 20th.
Indeed, either SF Rec and Park cleaned up late Friday night or picnickers picked up after themselves. By early Saturday morning – before 6 a.m.– the park was in pretty good shape.