Progress Made with Esprit Park Redo Planning, with Lingering Concerns About Dogs

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The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s (RPD’s) renovation of 1.8-acre Esprit Park, located at 19th and Minnesota streets, includes controversial plans to create a partially fenced, partly artificially turfed, dog-friendly zone on the park’s north side. More popular modifications include installation of exercise stations, construction of protection platforms for large trees and planting of native trees, bushes, and flowers. 

RPD hopes to finalize construction documents early this year and solicit contractors by spring. To overcome material shortages and inflation, seating areas may be built using found and natural materials, such as log benches made from California lumber and raw metal.

Esprit Park has a $ 7,710,700 renovation budget, comprised of $2,710,700 in development impact fees, $4,165,000 from a University of California, San Francisco grant, and a $835,000 UCSF grant managed by the Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District. 

According to David Fletcher, whose landscape architecture firm, Fletcher Studio, is designing the renovation, the plan is to create a multi-use meadow surrounded by trees and shrubs. There’ll be a central half-natural, half-artificial turf dog-friendly area on the north side, a dog-free space on the south. A primary challenge has been fully incorporating natural elements.

“Esprit Park started out as a park for corporate employees in the early 1980s. It’s become a place for native species, people, and animals to interact with each other. Our goal is for it to become a museum for flora and fauna in the City, one that stays wild at heart,” said Fletcher. 

Changes include inserting multiple entry points to make the park more welcoming; adding mounds to the north end to create an enclosed, slightly sunken, meadow; adding light fixtures throughout for wayfinding and safety; and offering more places to sit and relax.

A soil scientist is creating a long-term dirt plan. 

“Decades ago, this site was used for industry. There’s lead contamination.      That’s why the construction crew will need to excavate carefully, cover soil as they work. They will cap mounds that are built with fresh, clean soil,” said Fletcher. “About half of the species we want to plant are not commercially available. We plan to contract to grow those plants from seed with a local nursery, using soil from the site. This way they will acclimate better to the site. We expect them to thrive within one to two years of planting.” 

RPD intends to add roughly 80 new trees and remove 45 existing ones, many of which are in poor health. The park will be made more American Disability Act-accessible. 

Tamara Aparton, RPD spokesperson, said user conflicts should be minimized through deployment of vegetated berms and fencing in critical areas. 

“The dog play area will not be fenced in its entirety,” said Aparton. 

“Since we’re redesigning the entry points of this park, there will be a slight reduction in the size of the plaza. It’ll be like coming in a secret entryway rather than a big plaza. The new subtle rises in topography play into this. One exception will be the filtered entry at Minnesota Street and 19th Street. We will reduce the paving and walls to make that point of access more open,” said Fletcher. 

Janet Carpinelli, a Dogpatch resident, is concerned that artificial turf will muffle the “lovely, forested park feeling.” She also insisted that there are health and safety concerns related to artificial turf which RPD hasn’t adequately addressed, asserting that small “toxic” pieces could shed into the environment; that a robust maintenance plan hasn’t been developed, potentially inducing a surface that’s smelly and unsanitary; and that a management plan for runoff hasn’t been adopted. 

Whether or not artificial turf contains toxic materials that could pose risks to animals or humans remains an unsettled debate.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has indicated that some brands of synthetic turf contain toxins which’re known to cause cancer. 

The Recreation and Park Commission approved application of artificial turf as part of Esprit Park renovation last year. As reported in the March 2021 View, according to RPD project manager Kelli Rudnick, an all-grass dog area would have to be closed three to four months of the year to allow grass to regrow, while synthetic turf would be “irrigated daily.”

“[It gets] slippery when wet. Dogs and people can skid and fall, [causing] injuries,” said Carpinelli. “Maintenance and enforcement will be key to the success of the new design and uses.”

Carpinelli supported installing temporary fencing to prevent dogs from accessing park areas. Fencing would be minimally intrusive if plants are cultivated sufficiently to obscure it. 

“Artificial turf and dogs don’t mix well,” said Shireen Perry, a Dogpatch resident. “Today it seems the park has gone to the dogs thus I do not bring children in my life to the park. Also, artificial turf is not the best for small and visually impaired children. I would like to see the family turf area be larger than the dog turf area.” 

Noreen Weeden, a Potrero Hill resident and former Golden Gate Audubon Society board member, is also disappointed that RPD plans to install artificial turf. 

“The City has a biodiversity resolution to elevate biodiversity as a citywide priority. Artificial turf is not in support of that resolution,” said Weeden. “Artificial turf does not provide a habitat for birds or insects, including pollinators like bees and butterflies,” 

Bob Hall, a Yerba Buena chapter of the California Native Plant Society board member, said he wants the park to be as natural as possible.

“It’s obvious most of San Francisco has been paved over. Esprit Park represents an opportunity to bring a little bit of nature back,” said Hall. 

Philip Schwartz, a Minnesota Street resident, is worried that RPD won’t enforce leashing on the park’s south side. 

“There was no mention in the presentation about enforcement,” said Schwartz. “Esprit Park has always required dogs to be leashed but this has never been enforced. One of the reasons people come to the park with dogs, especially from outside the neighborhood, is because there have been social media posts that say you can let dogs off-leash here.” 

Schwartz would like to see signage warning of penalties for off-leash dogs in the family area. He’d also like onsite RPD staff reminding people to tether their dogs and City-sponsored web pages updated to specifically call attention to the leash requirement.

Donovan Lacy, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association vice president, said he hopes the park will become more family friendly.

“Right now, I know a number of families that won’t come to the park, especially with small children under five,” said Lacy. “But we can’t do everything with one park. I’m a fan of moving forward with the plan for the renovation that has been developed. As a community, we should look for additional small green spaces to develop into parks and recreational areas.”

“We’re headed in the right direction,” said Julie Christensen, Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District executive director. “People are beginning to see the advantages of improving the soil, being more careful about the species that are chosen, and designing the park for the reality of drought. When you look at many of the trees that are struggling to survive the sandy…soil in the park, it’s a testament to RPD’s effort that the trees are still standing. We shouldn’t stop here. We should keep advocating for what the neighborhood needs to make Dogpatch a livable place. This park is less than two acres. Yet we’re trying to put all our hopes and dreams into it. We should have proper children’s playgrounds, tennis courts, and a basketball court elsewhere in Dogpatch.” 

“I told RPD that it is their job to hear all voices regarding the park,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. “I look forward to what can be accomplished. It is always fresh, new and exciting anytime we get a revitalization of a resource in the neighborhood. I can’t wait until this project is complete.”