Advocates Consider Shifting Fields, Relocating Clubhouse, at Jackson Playground

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Last month, 50 Potrero Hill residents voted on three alternatives to remaking Jackson Park, with a majority supporting expanding the park onto Carolina Street. Concerns over parking dissuaded most voters from backing park encroachment onto Arkansas Street.

Voters’ top three concerns were increasing green and open space, expanding onto nearby streets, and parking and traffic. Under the favored plan, a new recreation center would be developed; a tennis court would be placed on the existing clubhouse, which would be relocated to Carolina Street; the baseball and softball fields would be reconfigured to increase the amount of open space; a dog run would be added; new playground equipment installed; with reduced fencing around the park.

Roughly 35 people and several dogs attended a meeting at Jackson Clubhouse at the end of April to discuss redesign options.  Attendees vetted their concerns, such as heavy use of the clubhouse’s bathrooms, crowding on the athletic fields, a need for higher fencing to prevent balls from flying into the children’s playground, and the challenge of accommodating dogs, ball players, and pedestrians on the fields simultaneously.

“I’ve been playing here for over 30 years,” said one attendee. “People need to keep a leash on dogs. You can’t just have a “everybody do everything” in one park. You could if everybody followed the rules, but that’s like everyone following the rules for the restroom.”

“Every single day there’s heavy drug use and drug sales and prostitution in these bathrooms,” said another. “Every male driver in the neighborhood uses them.”

“My feeling is this is the premier park for softball,” said a third. “It provides everything; the size, the space, the weather, the parking, and the access of the location.”

According to one attendee, who identified himself as a middle school teacher, the park should continue to serve as a safe place for middle and high school students to play ball games. “This is the only park that our kids can go to. Otherwise they have to get on a bus and travel halfway across the City. That’s dangerous,” he said.  The San Francisco Unified School District has a long-term arrangement with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department for sixth to twelfth graders to use the ballfields for practices and games.

Steve Cismowski, Rec and Parks manager for Park Service Area 2, said there’s a need for more recreation space. “Even with expansions, Jackson Playground will still not be enough park for the population of this neighborhood in ten years. Planning and Rec and Parks are looking at additional recreation space in the Eastern Neighborhoods,” he said.

Noting the concerns of Hill residents who’d like to see the fields used for more than athletic activities, Cismowski said the ballfields could be shifted to create more space for pedestrians and dogs. 

The three plans presented at the meeting were created by Fletcher Studio, a San Francisco and Los Angeles-based landscape architecture and urban design firm with an office on Third Street. David Fletcher, a principal at the firm, is also a professor of landscape architecture at California College of the Arts (CCA) which is located near the park. CCA is adding student housing near its Cooper Street campus and is one of the developers that may elect to contribute its impact fees to the park.

Fletcher Studio was retained by Friends of Jackson Park (FoJP), an association of Hill residents.  FoJP also hired Jude Deckenbach, a Connecticut Street resident, to serve as neighborhood project manager for the Jackson Park Renovation Project, including fundraising.  The San Francisco Parks Alliance (SFPA), a nonprofit organization that promotes civic engagement and philanthropy directed toward City parks, is FoJP’s fiscal sponsor.

FoJP has raised $3.61 million from developers, contingent on approval and entitlement of their projects. Related California, which is building the 1601 Mariposa Street project, has donated $2 million; Martin Building Company, constructing 88 Arkansas Street, has pledged $500,000; Walden Development, responsible for the Corovan Project at 1200 17th Street, has promised $1 million; Ronaldo Cianciarulo, erecting the 1301 16th Street project, has offered $100,000; Tom Murphy, putting together the 540 De Haro Street project, has vouchsafed $10,000.

Rec and Parks is holding an additional $1.64 million in impact fee revenues for Jackson Park.  “Some of the funds will be used by Rec and Park to fund the planning efforts,” Joey Kahn, Rec and Park spokesperson, said. “It is not distributed to Friends of Jackson Park.”

Related California has agreed to release an initial $100,000 before park plans are finalized to enable FoJP to hire third-party designers and consultants, according to the company’s chief executive officer, Bill Witte.  Related may also ask its general contractor, Nibbi Brothers, to undertake park renovations at cost.

“Any improvements that happen will have to be Americans for Disability Act-compliant,” Steve Schweigerdt, SFPA director of stewardship said.

A contentious issue that has yet to be decided is the presence of sand in the children’s play area. “Sand is not an accessible surface for people who have disabilities. It’s also a maintenance headache for Rec and Parks,” said Schweigerdt.

Sand advocates believe that playing with the material is soothing and entertaining. Some assert that children learn most when faced with open-ended questions and tasks, with sand a medium that’s inherently open-ended.

Deckenbach said differing opinions and priorities about sand and the ballfields have made it hard to reach a consensus. “But we’re in it for the long haul,” said Deckenbach.  “We’re trying to bring in the neighborhood as much as possible and get as much greenspace as we can. Then we’ll figure out what to do with that. With both those issues, Rec and Parks has final say, since it’s their land.  We can’t move forward without their approval.”

Deckenbach added that because more than 80 percent of voters want the park to expand into Carolina Street, FoJP would determine whether that option is supported by the San Francisco Department of Public Works, Fire Department, and Municipal Transit Authority. FoJP plans to meet with Rec and Parks, which has the ultimately authority, to secure their approval for the selected plan.

According to J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president, FoJP’s meetings have beneficially increased neighborhood conversations about the park. “It’s exciting that the community is taking a look at how we can make this park serve us. Jackson Playground should undergo substantial upgrades as development on the north side occurs. It would be nice for the whole of Potrero Hill to be served by this park,” he said.

A community meeting will be held on June 18th at the Jackson Clubhouse to continue planning efforts, with the time to be announced on the Friends of Jackson Park website.