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City residents concerned about lack of care seen in city’s beloved green spaces

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Miguel Abril said he dreams of the day he walks onto the soccer field at Dolores Park and has lush green grass under his sneakers.

The Mission resident is just one of many soccer players who have complained to The City about the brown, muddy blades that make up the pitch at Dolores Park. A Web site run by the Neighborhood Park Council, a nonprofit park advocacy group, allows residents such as Abril to file their complaints directly to city staff.

Every quarter, the council compiles a list of park complaints and ranks The City’s "top problem parks," hoping that the Recreation and Park Department, which oversees the 225 parks and community centers in San Francisco’s city limits, will be able to address the problems.

In the past two years, residents have complained about issues such as mounting graffiti on park walls, stumbling over human feces at playgrounds and finding homeless encampments at Golden Gate Park.

In The City’s largest park, the Recreation and Park Department used its limited resources and staff to join forces with other city agencies and respond to residents’ concerns in a timely manner. Largely driven by residents’ complaints, The City began a program in Septemberto remove homeless encampments from Golden Gate Park and find shelter for people. To date, The City says it has successfully removed 100 people from the park.

However, city officials say the number of problems that can be fixed is limited.

"It’s like managing a household, you can only work with what you got," said Recreation and Park Department Spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis. "[It’s] very important to be clear with people that you are welcome to tell us what you want and what you need, but don’t think as a result of healthy dialogue you get everything and more, just based on your wishes."

Still, The City does take complaints, such as the dying grass at Dolores Park, into consideration when distributing its limited resources, according to Dennis. The department recently was able to reintroduce a full-time staff to Dolores Park and is aware of the fact that its sprinkler system at the park is out of date.

Issues such as graffiti, which the Neighborhood Park Council said is the No. 1 complaint about city parks, are dealt with quickly when brought to the attention of the department, according to Alfredo Pedroza of the Neighborhood Park Council.

Dennis said by far the biggest problem facing The City’s parks stems from vandalism, whether it’s people misusing park benches or abusing bathrooms.

"Vandalism is absolutely maddening and exhausting on the staff," she said. "Vandalism is a huge challenge for us because its not our fault. We [often] put back in what we put in the week before."

ParkScan users say the response times vary for maintenance issues but urgent complaints, such as those that pose a public health threat or require simple clean-up measures, are addressed quickly.

"It’s really super easy to input the problems. The response time is variable," Gillian Gillett said, adding that complaints she posted about syringes at Juri Commons were immediately dealt with by Rec and Park workers.

The department is operating on a $137 million budget this fiscal year, with as much as 20 percent of those monies already allocated to structural maintenance and Golden Gate Park upkeep. The funding is not enough to maintain The City’s parks, according to Pedroza. The department has to deal with closing a multimillion dollar golf fund deficit and $1.2 million in expenditure changes from the previous year.

The department, which recently began investing more money in technology, is hoping to launch a complaint system next year, possibly integrated with ParkScan, according to Dennis.

What’s the problem?

The most reported complaints about city parks in 2005

Type of Percent of

complaints complaints

Repairs needed

at park facilities 31 percent

Improved

landscaping 28 percent

Graffiti 19 percent

Janitorial

and maintenance 11 percent

Litter removal 10 percent

Art projects 1 percent

Source: ParkScan

Park Peeves

City parks registering a large number of complaints from residents:

LAFAYETTE PARK

Location: Octavia and Sacramento streets

Number of complaints: Five since October.

Major complaints: Eroding retaining wall and pillars that are "tipping over" from a recent rainstorm.

Response: Rec and Park began examining the damage and possible repair the same day the first complaint was registered.

EXCELSIOR PARK

Location: Russia Avenue and Madrid Street

Major complaints: Graffiti has popped up on bathroom walls, on park benches and across retaining walls. Some of the messages advocate violence.

Response: Rec and Park has not responded yet.

MISSION PLAYGROUND

Location: Valencia and Cunningham streets

Number of complaints: Five since October.

Major complaints: Dog, human feces spread on the small grass entrance of the park; mouse problem; overgrown branches near courts preventing the surface from drying.

Response: Rec and Park attempting to control mice and looking to trim the branches.

JACKSON PLAYGROUND

Location: 17th and Carolina streets

Number of complaints: Five since September.

Major complaints: A broken water fountain has caused minor flooding near a tot park; needles and syringes in the garden area of the park just outside of the men’s restroom.

Response: Working to fix the leaky fountain and Rec and Park responded to the issues of the dirty needles right away by asking its park supervisor to monitor the area and be aware of the situation.

PARQUE NINOS UNIDOS

Location: 23rd and Treat streets

Number of complaints: Five since August.

Major complaints: Bathrooms are not open, residents have told the Recreation and Park Department that they can no longer take young children to the park because they do not want them to be forced to use the bushes to relieve themselves.

Response: Rec and Park said it does not have the staff to keep the bathrooms unlocked at the park, which has limited hours of operation.

JURI COMMONS

Location: San Jose Avenue and Guerrero Street

Number of complaints: Five since August.

Major complaints: Concerns have ranged from damaged plants to broken sprinklers and padlocked entrances.

Response: Rec and Park has responded by fixing the problems.