Dolores Park: Keep the Culture, Lose the Mess

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about a law enforcement “crackdown” in Dolores Park, with one publication quite inaccurately attributing the “crackdown” to me. A newer post in response, by SF Weekly, does a decent job providing some much-needed perspective on the issue. I also want to provide my own perspective.

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(Trash in Dolores Park)

In short, I don’t support a crackdown in Dolores Park other than cracking down on extreme behaviors that are negatively impacting the park, like people dumping their garbage, vandalizing the park, urinating/defecating/vomiting on people’s homes, hauling in kegs, blasting music so loud you can hear it blocks away, and the like — behavior that undermines the park and the surrounding neighborhood.

I don’t support forcing people to remove beach chairs, kicking Robot Dance Party out of the park, forcing the macaw guy to remove his bird, preventing people from enjoying a six pack or bottle of wine with a picnic, or stopping people from playing music that isn’t blasting and is helping people enjoy themselves.

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(Robot Dance Party fun)

I don’t support a crackdown on people having fun in the park, but I also understand that there have to be some boundaries. A lot goes on and should go on in Dolores Park, but it’s not an anything-goes zone. When people are doing thing that damage the park, prevent other people from enjoying it, or leave bodily excrement on people’s homes, that’s a step too far.

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(People not remembering what mom taught us — that thing about picking up after ourselves)

It’s a balance, and Rec & Park and newly hired park rangers are moving toward that balance. I’ve spoken repeatedly with department management, including the manager of the park ranger unit, and we are all in agreement that balance is key — addressing the behavior that undermines the park while giving people plenty of space to enjoy themselves and show the creativity that defines this community. I’m confident that the department will achieve that balance, but there will be hiccups along the way. We will all learn from these hiccups, including the rangers.

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(The beach chair incident)

Also, very few citations have actually been issued. In the first few days the north side of the park reopened — with many thousands of people enjoying themselves — something like 4 tickets were issued. Thousands and thousands of people engaging in unending forms of fun and diversion in the park, and about 4 tickets issued. In the age of iPhone cameras, blogs, and social media, each incident where a park ranger overreacts — like rangers jacking up the guy with the beach chair — will go viral. That over-reaction was one incident in the context of so many thousands of people enjoying the park without being bothered by anyone.

I don’t apologize for seeking increased security in our park system. Our parks, including Dolores Park, suffer from significant physical damage— garbage dumping, vandalism including graffiti, and the like. We need to keep our park system safe and usable by everyone. Until recently, there were a whopping 2 park rangers on duty at any given time for 220 park properties. I’ve worked to increase the number of rangers, not to flood the parks with law enforcement, but to have a more reasonable staffing level. We’re now up to about 4 rangers on duty for the 220 park properties, and in the coming years, I can see us getting up to 6–8 rangers on duty at any given time.

So this whole debate — spurred by one exaggerated blog post — about somehow turning the park into a “police state,” and me somehow supporting that state of affairs, centers on whether we should have 2 rangers on duty for 220 park properties or 6–8 rangers on duty for 220 park properties. It’s important to have that broad factual context before jumping to conclusions.

This park is amazing, and it’s night and day from when I first moved here in the 1990s and the place was drug dealer and gang central. I love that so many people, young and old and those of us in between, gather here and have an amazing time. It’s a unique and diverse mix that reflects so much of our city. I’ve spent many an afternoon over the years hanging out with friends on the gay beach, taking it all in, and having a great time. I understand, first hand, why this park matters so much to so many people, myself included.

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(The macaw guy)

But, let’s be clear — Dolores Park has challenges. It’s not acceptable that people leave so much trash in the park that the City spends $400,000 annually to deal with Dolores Park trash and gardeners spend a full 50% of their time picking up garbage. There have been calls for more trash cans, but for several years, Rec & Park steadily increased the number of trash cans, and it didn’t do a thing to reduce littering. Rec & Park is currently experimenting with different approaches to trash, and I want to let the department experiment. But, regardless what the department ends up doing, people need to take personal responsibility. It’s never acceptable, under any circumstance, to leave garbage on the ground. People need to pack up their stuff and take it with them.

It’s not acceptable for people to engage in self-centered, jerk behavior when they are actually called out on leaving their garbage around.

It’s also not acceptable to urinate, defecate, or vomit on people’s homes. People need to not get so trashed that they do this kind of stuff. This is also a neighborhood where people live, and we all need to respect that. As part of the renovation we are nearly quadrupling the restroom capacity of the park, and that should help. But, again, it’s also about personal responsibility — respect people’s homes and respect the park community.

And, it’s not ok to blast music so it can be heard on the opposite side of the park, but it’s great to play it so that the people around you can enjoy it. Technically all amplified sound is banned in the park unless you have a permit. But, in reality, it’s a rule of reason. Just be reasonable about it.

So many people use and enjoy the park in so many ways, and so many people live around it and are lucky to do so. Let’s all of us — users, park rangers, and everyone else — just learn to treat the park, other users, and neighbors with the respect we all deserve.

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(Dolores Park on an exceptionally busy day)

Written by

CA State Senator. Urbanist. Environmentalist. Advocate for transit, housing, clean energy, criminal justice reform, health, ending poverty. Democrat. 🏳️‍🌈

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