Southside Parks Grapple with Waste, Artificial Turf

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Franklin Square

A Pit Stop toilet may be coming to Franklin Square soon, to help relieve the rising homeless population in and around the park. During the first six months of the year, the City’s 311 hotline fielded 654 calls regarding encampments within a one block radius of Franklin Square. At a summer meeting with municipal officials, neighbors complained about increased trash, feces and hypodermic needles in the area, prompting District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton to ask the Department of Public Works to install a Pit Stop. 

The staffed mobile units offer toilets, sinks, used needle receptacles and a dog waste station. Ronen’s chief of staff, Carolyn Goossen, couldn’t provide a date when the facility will be installed, but commented, “We stressed to Public Works that it is something we want to see quickly.”

The Pit Stop program was launched in the Tenderloin in 2014; since then its expanded to 25 locations in 13 neighborhoods. Fourteen of those aren’t mobile units but involve either supplying an attendant to JCDecaux, the company that operates the semi-permanent large green public toilets or staffing a park bathroom. Attendants are hired by San Francisco Clean City Coalition, which provides transitional employment opportunities to low-income individuals.

The program averages just below 50,000 flushes a month citywide. It’s been recognized for innovation by the Harvard Kennedy School and served as a model for similar efforts in Los Angeles, Miami, Denver and Sacramento.

A prolonged construction project to redo Franklin Square’s north side pathway that’s a year past its originally scheduled completion date is also frustrating park-goers. “Part of the park has been fenced off. It hasn’t helped with people camping and leaving trash around,” said Mary Haywood Sheeter, a Friends of Franklin Square volunteer.

Jackson Park

Inspired by the Pit Stop program’s success, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department launched its own restroom monitor initiative, Park Stop, which by last winter had expanded to eight locations, including Jackson Park. Park Stop restrooms were chosen based on the number of 311 calls and maintenance and vandalism issues. Jackson Park’s bathrooms had allegedly been providing cover for drug use and prostitution.

“Many of our previous concerns were resolved with the introduction of the Park Stop program,” reported Briony Doyle, a Friends of Jackson Park board member. “The park is now much cleaner, and it has discouraged illegal activities in the bathrooms, which was one of the biggest concerns the community raised with us.”

Esprit Park

An altogether different issue has arisen at Esprit Park, which is slated for a $7.7 million renovation. Since the University of California, San Francisco donated $5 million toward park improvements in 2017, as part of its effort to cushion impacts of new development in the community, discussions have centered around using the funds to create areas for fitness, dogs and children. Tree maintenance and drainage also need to be addressed. Since then, another $2.7 million in development impact fees has been set aside for the effort.

Delineating specific park uses, however, is bucking up against Esprit’s history of being an open multi-use meadow. At a May meeting of the Esprit Park Community Advisory Group, a Rec and Park Department proposal to install artificial turf for an off-leash dog area was met with howls. Under the Department’s concept, a plastic lawn would be cordoned off by a splitrail fence, dense planting and retaining walls.  Dogpatch residents believe that use of the material and erection of barriers would stray from the park’s original intent. 

Gaynor Strachan Chun, a dog owner herself and longtime park user who has organized garden parties at Esprit for years, believes that the 1.8-acre commons, currently Dogpatch’s largest green space, should be kept as a single meadow that people can enjoy as they please. “The way the park is used now it is multi-use,” she said. “If a kid is having a birthday party at one end of the park, then dog users move to the other end.”

While allowing dogs off-leash is illegal at Esprit, like most open spaces in San Francisco canines are often given free reign. Some pooch people want a designated area for their animals; others like the park as it is. Toes and Paws for Green Space, which advocates in Dogpatch and the Hill for dog owners, supports a designated off-leash area but prefers minimal fencing.

Rec and Park fielded two proposals for the artificial turf area:  10,200-square feet on the western portion of the south meadow; and 19,400-square feet on the north meadow. The enclosure would feature decorative large stones and logs, as well as picnic tables. According to Rec and Park, a plastic lawn would require less expensive, less frequent and less time-consuming maintenance.

A public dog play area recently opened across the street, courtesy of the Avalon apartment complex, at 800 Indiana Street. 

According to Tamara Barak Aparton, Rec and Park spokesperson, public outreach will continue through the summer with a proposed plan likely to go before the Rec and Park Commission by the end of the year. Construction could begin next summer with anticipated completion by mid-2022.