Rec Park to Pave Parts of Esprit Park

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Plans V and W presented by the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks

After a contentious years-long debate over how best to renovate Esprit Park, the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, supported by the Potrero Boosters, among others compromised on Plan W, selecting it from six redesign plans offered for the 1.8-acre open space. Plan W calls for two meadows, the south designated “family” – dog-free – the north an area for dogs to run off-leash on natural grass.

Last month the Recreation and Park Commission largely ignored community preferences, and its staff’s recommendations, voting five to two for Plan V, with Commissioners Larry Mazzolla and Joe Hallisy dissenting.  Under Plan V roughly one-quarter of Esprit Park’s grass meadow would be replaced with synthetic turf.

The Commission’s recommendations now go to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which’ll consider whether to accept them and approve use of $835,000 from the Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District (GDB) and $4.65 million from the University of California to renovate the park. GBD funds come in part from tax assessments on neighborhood properties. 

In January, Rec Park announced the results of years of community meetings, surveys, public input, and at least a quarter million dollars already spent, presenting W as “the plan that best supports the goals of the community.” The day before the February vote, in a Capital Committee meeting, Rec Park staff recommended adoption of Plan W to the seven-member mayor-appointed Commission.

During opening remarks, Rec Park’s Kelli Rudnick stated, “In considering the plan, we heard three strong voices: “family meadow, dog play area, and natural grass turf.” 

At the Capital Committee meeting, commissioners asked that Plan V instead be considered, under which synthetic turf would replace about half the grass in the north meadow. Commission members also introduced the previously undiscussed idea to install fences around portions of the park. 

“At the Capital Committee meeting Rec Park commissioners started trying to redesign the park,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president.

The February Rec Park Commission hearing, conducted over video and phone, had poor audio quality, with not all speakers identifiable by name. Commentary was heated, with a dozen presenters expressing different perspectives, supportive of and opposed to off-leash dogs, strongly antagonistic to artificial turf, and favoring Plan W as reflective of community compromise. The lone public commentator who spoke in favor of Plan V also endorsed W.

“I would hate to see my favorite park turned into Astroturf,” said Shelly, who wanted the park to remain largely natural. 

The Commission allowed one minute to each speaker, cutting individuals off mid-sentence when time was up, while exercising no such discipline themselves, chatting, chuckling, and congratulating one another on achievements. Commissioner Kat Anderson, perhaps facetiously, complimented Rec Park on the timeliness and under-budget delivery of park projects. 

“I support W. No Astroturf,” said Paul Sears. “Reconsider the construction plan to close only a portion of the park at a time, don’t close it for a full year. Will probably take three to six months longer to construct.”

Jude Deckenbach, Friends of Jackson Park executive director, supported an “all-natural grass plan” and opposed fencing.

Community debate over how best to renovate Esprit Park has extended for years, with numerous outreach initiatives, ostensibly to gauge public sentiment and deliver a renovation that satisfies the park’s original green space vision, while making it more resilient in the face of increased use. 

Commissioners positioned themselves as representatives of the people, repeatedly praising themselves for the challenging work they’d undertaken. Budgetary considerations were raised; initial capital expenditures for artificial turf would be higher than for grass but would require less maintenance over time.

“Giving one minute to the public is very offensive,” said one commentator. “No Astroturf! The people have opposed this over and over. You are not listening to the people. I find this pretending to be interested in the natural environment to be very disingenuous and I hope you will finally listen to the people.”

With what seemed to be a well-rehearsed talking point to diffuse public opposition to synthetic turf, Rudnick noted that 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.”

Commissioner Mark Buell parroted this statement moments later.

Commissioner Mazzola moved to approve Plan W but was denied. 

“Artificial turf negatively affects the natural beauty of the park,” Commissioner Hallisy said in support of Plan W.

“The next step is to make sure that City agencies have an understanding of the needs of our growing community,” said Eppler. “It’s clear that commissioners, who come from more established neighborhoods, do not understand the concerns of neighborhoods undergoing more dramatic growth. I was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.”