Jackson Park Renovation, Name Change Planning, Continues

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Potrero Hill residents met over Zoom in October to discuss new designs, public art opportunities, and potentially renaming Jackson Park. Participants generally wanted a greater amount of open space and an American Disabilities Act-compliant community center with interior and exterior bathrooms. 

There was also support to add a dedicated off-leash dog play area, a larger, more accessible learning garden, and reduce congestion on the playing fields.  Current plans are to relocate the clubhouse, which’ll allow the two fields to be separated, increasing the distance between home plates. The clubhouse and an addition would span 6,881 square feet.

Jude Deckenbach, executive director of Friends of Jackson Park (FOJP), a nonprofit that advocates for park improvements and associated funding, said draft renovation plans were developed before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Planning Department anticipates completing necessary environmental review by February 2022. The goal is to present the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission with the final design for approval this summer. 

“The project can’t be put out for bid until all money is in hand. Currently we’re waiting for Eastern Neighborhoods Citizens Advisory Committee impact fees, which are scheduled to be allocated for our project in fiscal year 2024/2025. Once we receive all the money, SFRPD will put the project out to bid…they select a contractor, construction can begin,” said Deckenbach. 

FOJP has design documents, urban planning documents that define the park’s layout and purpose. 

“Once (these are) approved, the architects will produce the construction drawings,” said Deckenbach. 

“Increased neighborhood usage of the park for community gatherings and a place to relax safely outside the home during the pandemic shows why the renovation is necessary. Softball and baseball have returned and are important uses of the park. Yet we have to carve out more space for unprogrammed uses,” said J.R. Eppler, president of the Potrero Boosters, whose members live in Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and Showplace Square. 

According to Lauren Ewald, director of Fletcher Studio, the landscape architecture firm selected to design Jackson Park’s renovation, plan changes could include moving, improving and expanding the clubhouse, relocating the ball fields, adding picnic areas, and asking the San Francisco Department of Public Works to install approximately 50 new “screen trees” around the park’s perimeter.

“There are currently 51 trees around Jackson Park. We plan to have 110 trees around the park. That’ll double the amount of trees that line the park. We want to take the perimeter wall around the edge of the property and make it thinner. That way we push out the space for the park. You’ll be able to easily walk into the park from any side,” said Ewald. 

The San Francisco Art Enrichment Ordinance requires that two percent of gross construction costs of new parks be allocated to public art, roughly $60,000 in the case of Jackson Park. Funds can be used to create panels near recreational courts and façades near the clubhouse. It’d be difficult and costly to preserve existing pieces, such as “The Child Sees: Big Snail Fish,” a set of glazed ceramic tiles set in concrete near the clubhouse. 

The artist approval process will occur in steps. The Commission will release an invitation to bid. Interested artists can submit applications with their qualifications and images of past work. A panel consisting of a Commission staff member and two arts professionals will shortlist artists for consideration by a larger team, usually composed of a commissioner, client representative, two arts professionals, and a community member, which’ll select three artists to develop site-specific proposals. 

The three artists’ proposals will be posted online for public comment, usually for two weeks. The larger team then meets to interview the artists, consider public comment, and recommend a proposal to move forward. The recommendation is presented to the visual arts committee, a subset of the full Commission, with the final decision rendered by the full Commission. 

According to Deckenbach, residents and FOJP are concerned that the park is named for Andrew Jackson, who engaged in multiple human rights abuses against Native Americans throughout his tenure as president.

Dr. Jonathan Cordero, Association of Ramaytush Ohlone (ARO) executive director and a visiting professor at the University of California Hastings School of Law, said ARO is discussing whether it’s interested in having Jackson Park renamed to reflect the identity of the Ramaytush Ohlone people, who inhabited the San Francisco Peninsula when the Spanish first arrived.

“We prefer not using words that have spiritual meaning. Yet if the park is renamed with a Ramaytush Ohlone word or phrase, the terms need to have meaning to us. Right now, as a group, we’re discussing what words might be appropriate. We want to be deliberate and mindful in what words we choose,” said Cordero. “We’re consulting with a linguist to examine the origin of a couple of the words on a list originally created by non-Native scholars because some may be borrowed.” 

“Surveys and community meetings are always helpful. Any type of engagement that gets more parks users to understand and agree on what needs to be done is important. The more members in the community that come together and speak loud and clear, the better,” said Briony Doyle, a FOJP board member. 

“Community action and staying the course are the biggest driving factors to keep the renovation on track,” Elain Sprague Stuebe, FOJP board member, said. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease. We keep reminding the City of what we want and that we’d like the work to get done soon.” 

Stuebe added that having meetings over Zoom has helped residents stay focused. 

“It’s great to be in person, but meetings can go astray. Holding meetings over Zoom allows us to eliminate obstacles such as getting the clubhouse ready, everyone getting parking, and arriving on time. This meeting was a milestone in seeing our vision so clearly through the series of organized presentations. We came together as a neighborhood and understand that the heart and soul of Jackson Park is having fun,” said Stuebe.

Photo, top: The proposed open space at 17th and Carolina streets will invite users into the park from the sidewalk while eliminating existing gradients at Jackson. Courtesy of Fletcher Studio