Neighbors of Dolores Park, from the adjacent Castro and Dolores Heights environs, gathered Monday evening for a contentious community meeting with the SFPD and D8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy to discuss what they see as a growing crime problem and gang presence in the park. The meeting follows on the brazen midday shooting that took place August 3, which injured three people and for which no suspects have yet been identified.
SFist received a list of questions for the police and talking points that circulated among neighbors of the park over the weekend, ahead of the meeting, and it reveals a community that is increasingly angry about the possible presence of gang members selling hard drugs, particularly on and around the 19th Street footbridge that connects Church Street to the park. And, naturally, they're still up in arms about all the drinking that happens in the park on sunny weekends, and the noisy party atmosphere that comes with it.
One of the shooting victims, 69-year-old Jeff Kelton, spoke out at the meeting, as the Chronicle reports. Kelton said he saw a "group of kids" on the pedestrian bridge and then shots rang out, injuring him and two others. He thanks police officers for their quick response, saying they saved his life, and said he hopes they will continue regular foot patrols.
As Mission Local reports from the meeting, Kelton continued to say that he knew 24/7 patrols weren't possible, but he added, "There should be some leaking out into the surrounding streets of the park. It’s not just Dolores Park it’s the neighborhood, the whole system."
SFPD Chief Bill Scott addressed the 100 or so gathered at the meeting saying that the August 3 shooting was "a huge, huge event for the city, and particularly Dolores Park. When we get to the level of violence when someone is shot mid-day, it is cause for serious concern."
He explained that investigators believe the shooting was gang-related, and possibly connected to a victimless shooting a month before, though the investigation is ongoing.
Criminal activity surrounding this pedestrian bridge isn't anything new possibly because of the cover it provides for the area by the Muni tracks below it, and the proximity to getaway cars on Church. As we reported two summers ago, in July 2015, three suspects shot two men on the footbridge and fled, and it's unclear if that shooting was ever solved.
Rec & Parks director Phil Ginsburg acknowledged that rethinking the pedestrian bridge, which doesn't even have a crosswalk associated with it, was not part of the park's redesign two years ago, and maybe this could be "the next step in environmental design."
The talking points circulated among neighbors, in addition to addressing perceived gang activity around the footbridge, also pointed out what they say is a growing "homeless encampment taking root at the 18th Street Muni station [and the adjacent hillside]. Park rangers and SFPD regularly drive by these 'campers' w/tents and multiple bicycles around them. They are openly 'injecting' a substance and smoking from glass pipes. The smell is not marijuana." The neighbor who composed the memo suggests that more enforcement, and arrests for such flagrant drug use, are necessary in addition to more foot patrols to deter drug sales.
The memo also notes adults and ne'er-do-wells using the children's playground for illicit activities after dark, and, of course, it devolves into complaints about trash collection and the overall party atmosphere in the park that has existed, pretty much unchanged, for a decade. "The 'anything goes' attitude of Dolores Park weekends continues to be a concern," the neighbor writes. "The community now hosts a 'frat party' in Dolores Park every weekend the temperature is above 70 degrees. Too much of a good thing, taken to an extreme. The lack of enforcement around alcohol has led to keg parties, and unauthorized DJ’s in the park blaring music. Can we at least ask for common sense law enforcement around these issues?"
Monday's meeting, clearly, had bigger fish to fry, and focused on the shooting and police patrols.
Local grocery store worker 25-year-old Nick Derenzi, though, noted that most of the people at the meeting were older and white, and he told Mission Local he wished more young people and people of color had been there those who might not appreciate constant foot patrols by cops. "My fear is that SFPD has had so many problems in the past with communities of color..." he said.
For now, suffice it to say your edibles sellers and the rum-and-coconut guy should be on alert for busts, and/or you should be careful about bringing glass into the park, which is Rec & Park's biggest no-no that they like to bust you for.