The Mission Dolores Park Dilemma

Categories: Local News

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By Masha Rumer

What do babies, the homeless, dogs, hipsters, sports enthusiasts and garbage have in common? They all cram into Mission Dolores Park on sunny afternoons and create an overflowing salad bowl whose ingredients just don’t play well each other.

Well, score one for babies and kids. More than 60 neighborhood residents met Thursday night in Dolores Park Church to talk design of the new park’s playground, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Mercer Fund. The current playground, renovated more than 30 years ago, is not up to the safety standards (think arsenic) and isn’t handicap-accessible.

“It’s worn, there’s paint. It’s probably lead paint,” says Steven Koch, landscape architect, whose company was commissioned for the job. Rules for fall zones and surface types have changed, the old wood preservative may be toxic. The area floods on rainy days due to drainage problems.

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The playground’s current blueprint isn’t likely to change, but it could affect the look of a chunk of the 13.7-acre iconic park. Many residents, mostly young couples, demanded a fence or another barrier around the playground to guard against dogs that knock their kids over, against hazardous trash, and, in extreme cases, against unaccompanied adults.

Parents complained about used condoms, syringes, broken glass and cigarette butts in the sand. A local volunteer group, Friends of Dolores Park Playground, cleaned the area and Recreation and Park Department stepped up its services, but the problem remains.

Can parents let their offspring frolic to their hearts’ delight in a place that, come nighttime, turns into a real sketchy pumpkin? Even at daytime, Dolores Park draws the entire multifaceted Mission population, complete with food, poorly-aimed Frisbees and musical instruments.

Nancy Gonzalez-Madynski, chair of the group’s steering committee, just wants a clean safe children’s space. “I’d like it to be organic, sustainable, and last a long time,” she said.

Others want historic integrity, like Lindsay Kefauver, a longtime resident who does Tai Chi weekly in the park.

Project Coordinator Stacey Fletcher said the priority is “making the playground work within the park.”

It’s up to the community to decide how harmonious or isolating the new monkey bars will shape up to be. The third and final meeting is set for the end of August, with construction slated for spring 2009.

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But wait….

What about the overflowing garbage that, on weekends, takes on a life of its own and lines the pavement? “There are so many people that are flooding the park,” explained Bob Palacio with Rec & Park. He says the temporary exterior yellow garbage cans somehow “were being stolen.” The city has just installed new concrete ones, however, and they will be serviced, as of this week, four times a day.

And, speaking of public cleanliness and safety, how about the bathrooms? Porta-potties for tots are not on the menu with the playground grant. The public restroom plan won’t be tackled till late 2009 at the earliest, said Palacio, and will probably be constructed in 2011 with the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks bond money. It’s best to picnic with Vitamin Water, to go and, ahem, buy a sandwich at that fine establishment across the street, or to hold it till then.


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