Mission: save Dolores Park

Park goers will still have access to their beloved green space- but change is gonna come


By Brady Welch


Local blogs were abuzz recently with reports that renovations of Mission Dolores Park would close the beloved green space for a full 16 months beginning in December 2011.

While the prospect of such an extended closure of this popular social hub — indeed, a veritable Dark Ages in the communal culture of Mission and Castro residents is troubling to consider — the Guardian has since learned that the construction will likely be completed in stages.

It turns out that 16 months is the maximum estimate for the project's duration. The makeover is still in the planning phases and there will be opportunities for the public to weigh in on how the work is done and how much of the park will remain open as the project is underway.

"We understand the desire is to have at least some portion of the park still accessible, and our team is taking that into account," SF Recreation and Park Department spokesman Elton Pon told us. "It's still too early to say how much of the park [will close]. Our hope is that we can certainly look at the phasing of the project so we can keep some areas open. Nothing is set in stone yet."

Those decisions can still be influenced by public input. Pon told us that all design proposals are still in their early stages and will be the subject of public meetings before the Recreation and Park Commission. And he said there will "absolutely" be opportunities for people to influence decisions on phasing.

The outpouring of concern over any closure of heavily trafficked Dolores Park is understandable, but its very popularity is no doubt the reason it so badly needs sprucing up in the first place.

On Feb. 5, 2008, almost exactly two years before the blog Mission Local first notified people of park closure (setting off waves of panic, or at least some snarky comments about where Mission denizens would canoodle, people-watch, drink brown-bagged Tecate, and buy "ganja treats"), 71 percent of San Francisco voters approved the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond, which budgeted money for repairs and renovations of 20 city parks and playgrounds.

Other sites scheduled for facelifts on par with Dolores Park's full makeover are Pacific Heights' Lafayette Park, beginning in January 2012, and Diamond Heights' gem Glen Canyon Park, beginning September 2011. Most of the projects consist of basic upgrades to irrigation, lighting, footpaths, trails, disabled accessibility, seismic preparedness, bathrooms, and other "overall reconditioning."

Although it's considered a separate project, Dolores Park's rehab also includes rebuilding the park's Helen Diller Playground beginning September 2011. Unlike the renovation of the surrounding park, only about half of the playground's $3.25 million construction is covered by the parks bond; the other half is being funded by a private donor.

Mock-ups of the playground are available on the Friends of Dolores Park Playground's Web site and it appears that little of the steep price tag will be wasted. New features include a huge slide, massive climbable pyramid structure, and what appears to be a shipwrecked boat.

We asked around to see if there were concerns from other neighborhood groups about the inevitable noise and upturned earth the construction will bring, yet few seemed to take issue with the construction and closures, regarding them as necessary.

"Our general position is that we have nothing against renovating," Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association President Peter Lewis told us, "as long as the historic dimension of the park is not diminished."