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Esprit Park North Meadow. Photo: Luke Idziak

Esprit Park Renovations Pushed to 2022, or Beyond

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Plans to freshen up Esprit Park remain unsettled, with renovation unlikely to begin for at least another year. Enjoyed by people and dogs alike—as evidenced by the brown dirt patches and fenced off areas to allow grass to regrow— the almost two-acre green space in Dogpatch has been subject to competing visions over how it should be used. In simplified terms, some want it to continue to be a space where dogs and their companions can gather in largely unfettered fashion; others prefer off-leash animals to be contained in a designated portion. 

Meanwhile, San Francisco Recreation and Parks, which manages the space, appears no closer to issuing a final facelift plan than when the last View article on the topic was published, in February 2019.

Thus far, $7.75 million has been earmarked for the still undefined construction project, $5 million from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), $2.75 million contributed through impact fees on new development. 

“I hope we see construction start no later than 2022,” said Julie Christensen, executive director of the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District (GBD), which, according to its website, “will act as fiscal sponsor for the project and will manage disbursement of the UCSF funds…The goal of the renovation project is to make Esprit Park more resilient in the face of increasing use levels and to optimize the park’s usefulness to all types of users while retaining the park’s verdant character.” 

“Once conceptual design is agreed upon it has to go to the Rec Park Commission, then engineering and specifications, and then prepare a bid package, then do cost estimating, send out to bid, then various contractors have to have a reasonable amount of time to prepare their bids,” said Christensen. 

In last year’s article, the View quoted deputy director of communications for Rec Park, Tamara Aparton, “We expect to conclude the community meetings and concept design process by spring-summer 2019. We will then move into schematic and detailed design in order to begin the renovation in summer-fall 2020.”

“No renovation is happening in the next few months,” said David Fletcher of Fletcher Studio, a Dogpatch-based firm tasked with park design. “The next step is to have community meetings and the design has to be presented to the Rec Park commission. Once Rec Park approves, then renovations can start. The design itself has not changed for two years.” 

The plan calls for preserving the existing two meadows, divided as now by a partial line of trees, with the north meadow available for dogs, the south retained for non-animals. Three times around the figure eight path through the park equals one mile. 

“The project is scheduled to begin construction in Spring 2022,” said Madison Sink, a Rec Park communications associate. “There will not be access to the park while construction is active, and we anticipate that the project will take about a year to complete…Since [the View] last reached out on the renovations we have held five meetings with community groups, conducted an online survey, held a community workshop and a playdate in the park. We are working on finalizing the concept design and completing environmental review and hope to have that all approved no later than the end of 2020.”

“It’s been a long and tortuous process,” J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association president, said. “It’s time for Rec Park to come in front of the broad community and present it with options.”

“The reason it’s taking so long is because Rec Park has to burn up $3 million in soft costs,” said a person who claimed knowledge of the situation but only would speak off-the-record. “It could have been started a year ago.”

Soft costs consist of administrative and otherwise non-physical work. According to Sink, $252,000 has been spent so far. 

“I heard they were renovating but what are they renovating it for? It’s a great park just as it is,” said Mel, a Dogpatch resident who has been coming to the park with husband, Andrew, and their dogs for two years. “It’s very verdant, has lots of shade, and it’s very dog-friendly. We take the doggos up there and there are lots of very friendly dogs they can hang out with. It’s not too busy.”

Asked why they prefer Esprit Park to a nearby designated dog space, Andrew replied that the dog park is “dirt, concrete, and clay; not a nice place. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a hippy: I like that there’s a place where they can go be in nature, be in a forested area.”

“Families are overpowered by a very powerful and well-organized dog constituency,” said a Dogpatch resident who declined to be named.  “There are two groups, Toes and Paws for Green Space and Friends of Esprit Park controlling the narrative, both of which are majority dog owners. They don’t want playgrounds; they want to make Esprit Park a world class dog park. Children are afraid to go to the park because of the dogs. At what point do we need to fence our children in and let the dogs run free?”

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