April 2014

Friends of Jackson Playground Seeking Money for Improvements

Keith Burbank

One winter evening five moms gathered with other Potrero Hill residents at St. Teresa Avila Church. It wasn’t a prayer meeting; the mothers wanted to know what improvements residents hoped to see at Jackson Playground. At the top of the list were safety improvements. 

“I stopped going to the park for a while,” said Meghan Sheedy, who recalled how last year parents found multiple syringes in the park’s sandbox, one of which stuck a toddler. Sheedy, along with Ayse Hortacsu, Katie Gudiksen, Briony Doyle, and Kathleen Doherty organized the meeting as members of Friends of Jackson Playground, which is applying for a Community Opportunity Fund grant to help pay for park improvements. Input from that meeting and two others will inform the mothers just what upgrades to include in their grant application.

“Obviously, the thing to get rid of is the sand,” said Bayview Station Captain Robert O’Sullivan, San Francisco Police Department. “That’s my biggest concern.” Some meeting participants favored replacing the sand with a rubber surface, which can be sanitized. Others asked if the sandy area could be covered and locked at night. Either strategy would serve to place any discarded syringes or other harmful items in plain sight. According to Steve Cismowski, park manager, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD), the department hasn’t found a cover system that meets safety standards. 

The Community Opportunity Fund is offering $1.2 million this year to support improvements to parks located on RPD land. Each project can secure up to $500,000, which must be used to permanently fix park property or reflect an investment in the park’s future. Three criteria are applied to evaluate proposals: they must either reduce maintenance or improve aesthetics; have broad community support; and a complete design, budget, and schedule must be included in the application. Cismowski said the department wants “shovel-ready” submissions.

Cismowski told residents that the department will start enforcing park hours soon. Though signs have indicated park hours for some time, they were unenforceable, Cismowski said. But last year the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law that makes enforcement possible. According to Connie Chan, RPD deputy director of public affairs, the department’s patrol officers will coordinate enforcement with the San Francisco Police Department. 

District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, who attended the meeting, said other City money may be available for improvements to Jackson Playground. If approved by voters this November, the City’s proposed soda tax could raise roughly $31 million, which would be split among RPD, the San Francisco Unified School District, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and community organizations. RPD would get 20 percent of the tax proceeds. 

“The last time the park was considerably renovated was 1959,” Cismowski said. The playground equipment is about 15 years old and at the end of its useful life. Cismowski said it’s likely that playground safety codes have been updated since the existing equipment was installed. 

In the longer term, Friends of Jackson Playground want to renovate the park’s clubhouse, which was moved to the playground in 1959; the facility had been located near the basketball courts. Roughly six years ago, someone noticed that part of the clubhouse’s floor was “really spongy.” It turned out that some of the piers or posts supporting the structure had been degraded by one or more of the underground creeks that traverse the area, and needed to be shored up. According to Cismowski, the shoring work was completed and the work passed inspection. But when asked when the inspection passed, Chan said the department doesn’t have a record of it. 

The park’s irrigation system hasn’t been updated since 1959. “So, it’s a real bear for us to maintain that,” Cismowski said of the park’s field. He proposed synthetic turf, an option that didn’t garner much support among meeting attendees. 

During the meeting Cismowski said he believed RPD has significant funds to dedicate to Jackson Playground. But after the gathering, when asked how much money would be available, he declined to say. He said the amount is speculative, depending on the economy and how much development occurs in the City, implying that the funds to which he was referred would come from development fees.

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