While the SFPD tries to solve the gang problem that they believe has led to recent shootings in Dolores Park, two other turf tussles have park-goers worked up: the relocation of both trash cans and the homeless.
On Sunday, Love Dolores, a campaign sponsored by the Recreation and Park department and two separate volunteer groups, joined to host “A Day Without Glass in Dolores Park.” The groups set up a table at the east entrance of the park, handed out recyclable drinking pouches, and encouraged people to exchange their glass for plastic.
“At minimum, we want people to pack their trash. But if they also don’t bring glass in the first place, that’s really a win for us,” said Madison Sink, 25, an outreach coordinator at Rec and Park. Sink also wants picnickers to know the danger glass poses to the park community (barefoot walkers, children, and dogs) and the harm it has on the ecological footprint.
Dolores Park follows “Leave No Trace” principles, which means park-goers are encouraged to take out the trash from the feasts they bring with them.
As a result, trash cans were moved outside of the center of the park in 2015 and pushed to the park’s borders. Hans Kolbe, a member of the Dolores Park Ambassadors, believes people should pick up their trash. But he also wants trash cans back in the park.
“We can wear a helmet and drive careful,” Kolbe said.
“There should be a few more in the middle,” Gloria Archuleta, a fellow park ambassador added. “People are inherently lazy.”
While the focus of Sunday was spent on beautifying the park, there have also been recent safety concerns regarding gang violence.
Because of an Aug. 3 shooting at the park that left three injured and an Oct. 5 robbery, the city invested $250,000 in security cameras last month. The SFPD had a permanent presence in the park until recently, when they relocated their patrol officers.
“They said it was not a priority,” Kolbe said.
Kolbe says he wants to reach out to the other daily park visitors, the dog owners like himself and the parents with children at the nearby elementary school, to look out for each other and the park.
Besides crime, also troubling Kolbe was a group of Spanish-only speaking men hanging out on the sidewalk near the trash cans – some whom identified as being homeless. Kolbe asked me if I spoke Spanish and if I would help him to communicate with the homeless men. He approached them and said they shouldn’t be hanging out on the sidewalk and they were playing music too loudly at night, which was upsetting the park’s neighbors.
Carlos Aguilar, one of the homeless men and a native Spanish speaker, was familiar with Kolbe – they embraced each other with the familiarity of old friends even though they barely understood one another. But Aguilar said he doesn’t play his music anymore – a Park Ranger took his speakers after one of Kolbe’s friends called the police on them.
While Kolbe was concerned about the volume of their music, Aguilar was concerned about Kolbe’s friend.
Aguilar said a man named Patrick, who lives on the third story of a house overlooking the park’s sidewalk and is involved in Kolbe’s organization, takes pictures and recordings of Aguilar and his friends while they’re hanging out. Mardoqueo, one of Aguilar’s friends, said Patrick follows the men and tries to get them arrested.
“One day he called the ranger on us because we were listening to music,” Mardoqueo said. “The ranger said we couldn’t be listening to music here. I said ‘ok, no problem.’ We stopped the speaker, and afterwards he [Patrick] just sat there. What did he do? He followed us until 19th and Mission taking pictures of us!”
When asked if they thought about reporting the man for following them, Aguilar said, “We would have, but the police believe him more, except right now because he’s made so many phone calls to the police about us doing these little things, now they’ve told him, ‘Calm down, leave those people alone’ because he’s doing it with malintent.”
The police response to this incident could not be confirmed.
When Patrick showed up at the Dolores Park event Sunday, I asked if he was following the men, but he refused to talk. He said he was “tired of talking about it,” and quickly left the park.
“Patrick is just rattled … he’s rattled and he doesn’t know what to do.” Kolbe said.
“He says it’s his park, but this park is for everyone,” Aguilar said.
Kolbe said many of the homeless men leave feces on the sidewalk, which upsets the park’s neighbors. But Aguilar and his friends said they aren’t the ones doing that. Aguilar said he and he friends are homeless and like to drink, but they don’t do drugs or defecate on the sidewalk.
Kolbe, when asked if he at least saw both sides of the debate between Patrick and the homeless, said he failed to see two sides to people playing loud music after 10:30 p.m. “I mean you’re homeless already, you’re a target enough,” he said.
While Kolbe’s relationship with the homeless men is friendly, he too can become frustrated with them. When a park ranger showed up, Kolbe tried to organize a special area so they could be moved off of the sidewalk. He acknowledged that his organization needed to do a better job of communicating with the homeless residents, but he was upset when he discovered that most of them didn’t have a cell phone or email address.
“You’re all adults, come on!” Kolbe said.
“Don’t talk too loud because they’re going to send you back to Guatemala, too!” one of the men joked back to Kolbe.
“What if he really wants to send me to Guatemala. What do I do?” asked Aguilar.
“Pack your bags!” joked one of the men.
The park ranger, Kolbe, and the group of men eventually decided that the friends could move up the hill to a spot near a row of benches, away from the sidewalk. But the park ranger later said that people complained when the homeless men sleep on benches.
Aguillar says that the entire 25 years he’s lived in the United States have been spent in the Mission, around and inside Dolores Park. Mardoqueo has been in the park for 15 years. Santos Zaldivar, 12 years. They say throughout the years they’ve been pushed to all the different areas of the park, and they don’t mind the spot near the benches.
They like the shade cast by the tall palm trees. It goes good with a can – not a bottle – of Budweiser.
“I’m not new here, the problems are new here, but I don’t why these problems started, I don’t know, it wasn’t always like this, I knew this park before,” Aguilar said.
“The problems started when he [Patrick] moved here.” Mardoqueo said.
“The problems are up the hill with the teenagers,” Zaldivar said.
“Those who did the shooting is another problem, I don’t know them. The police accused me of being in the MS-13, but I said I wasn’t MS-13,” said Aguilar, who said he was arrested after the recent shooting.
“I don’t own a gun,” he joked.
“[Pointing at his feet] right now I have my work boots on because I’m coming home from work, right now I’m just relaxing with these guys, to laugh, listen to music, ”Mardoqueo said.
“Even some of the young girls come and dance with us,” Zaldivar said. The men shared a laugh.
“I work in construction, I come here to relax a little bit,” Cruz said. “All these people come here to relax a little bit.”
As Aguilar said earlier, “We’re not looking for any fight here.”
Does “native Spanish speaker” imply “unable to speak English?” It’s an odd descriptor for someone in a predominantly English-speaking nation.
I don’t know, this seems like a good-enough description for a story that revolves around the frustrations of not having a shared language. The homeless guys speak Spanish but little English. The Dolores Park Ambassadors — “empowering all stakeholders of Dolores Park (neighbors, visitors, dog walkers, concerned citizens, etc) to take an active role in making Dolores Park a clean and safe environment for everyone” — appear to speak English and little Spanish.