Wednesday evening, along with a thousand other citizens
of San Francisco – yes, a thousand – I attended a hearing at City Hall
on Rec & Park’s draft dog policy. Like most of the other people in the
audience, I would love to see a genuine policy adopted, in place of the
anarchy that now prevails. But I suspect the proposed policy is only
going to make matters worse.
members of one organization – the San Francisco Dog Owners Group (www.sfdog.org)
– have spent months developing one that they believe will work more
democratically and economically than the one proposed by Rec & Park.
Sound familiar? Remember what happened to the Continuum of Care when it
collided with the “wisdom” of City Hall concerning homelessness? Rec &
Park seems to have attended the same school.
The department’s mission statement, epigraphed above,
would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. Look at the never-never land it
conjures up. A group of photographs just below give a clue. There are
six photos, depicting a golfer, an aquatic exercise group, a tennis
match, a basketball game, an outdoor theater performance, and Washington
Square Park, deserted except for one lone adult pushing a baby stroller.
Where are the old people? The kids running and tumbling
on the grass? The lovers? The dogs?
Banished, apparently, in favor of organized,
controllable activities that won’t disturb the parks’ “pristine” state.
Kinda sets your mind a-wondering, doesn’t it? Precisely speaking, the
pristine state of Golden Gate Park was mile after mile of sand dunes. Or
if it’s merely super-cleanliness that Rec & Park is after, what on earth
are they going to do with that dirty stuff the grass and flowers are
rooted in? To say nothing of those creepy earthworms that churn up the
soil and those messy birds that perch in the trees. Unless they’re
planning eventually to rip out all the unpredictable flora and their
accompanying fauna and pave over everything – save, of course, the
“Significant Natural Resource Areas,” which unruly humans won’t be
allowed to enter anyway.
that hasn’t happened yet. Assuming that human spirits visit the parks in
their present unpristine state, seeking rejuvenation, most of them –
more than 120,000 of them – are likely to bring canine spirits with
them, also seeking rejuvenation. Under the new dog policy that the Rec &
Park Commission unanimously approved Wednesday night, they may all
emerge feeling older instead.
Considerably older. Let Rec & Park paint the picture. In
preparing a new departmental “strategic plan,” staff members were asked
vision vignettes for a number of parks. Here’s what
they came up with for the area that includes Corona Heights and the
This beautiful, unspoiled place, where animals and
birds abound, inspires respect and reverence for nature. There is a
sense of arrival as you enter the park and see the striking city views
from the hilltop. The parking lot has been removed, and trams and
buses provide easy access.
Neighbors value the Corona Heights Park/Randall Museum
complex as a friendly, lively community center. There are many choices
of things to do here for all ages and for large and small groups. The
Randall Museum offers well-publicized, multi-lingual classes and
programs in environmental education, technology, skills building,
horticulture, drama, arts, and crafts. The museum also sponsors a
science festival, recycling fair, and animal exhibits, and hires local
teenagers for summer job programs. The buildings have been renovated
and are fresh and up-to-date; bathrooms are clean, safe, and have good
The park provides a variety of facilities and spaces:
playgrounds, basketball courts, rock-climbing areas, a children’s zoo
and farm, dog-walking areas, a demonstration garden, a pond, an
aviary, picnic areas, trails, and places for quiet reflection.
Neighbors volunteer at the park; senior and youth groups work together
to maintain the pond, and school children help take care of the farm
The Corona Heights Park/Randall Museum complex is a
model of a sustainable, environmentally friendly, beautiful
community-oriented place in the city.
Imagine! So many activities in such a small area! It
requires a tremendous amount of organization. One wonders if the “places
for quiet reflection” will have signs saying, “Sit Here” and “Reflect on
But imagine that you own a dog. You have just come home
from work and would like to give your pooch a chance to run around a
bit. To get to this transit-friendly park, a car is of no use; yet MUNI
has firm rules against dogs riding during rush hour. So the two of you
trudge … and trudge … and trudge to get there.
What do you find when you arrive? At 16.6 acres, Corona
Heights is barely above the dividing line between small and large parks
and might be able to squeeze in the minimum of 30,000 square feet
(approximately the size of 4.1 tennis courts) for its off-leash dog
area. But probably not. In addition to all the projected facilities,
this park contains a Significant Natural Resource Area, so that most
likely it will be treated like a “small” park of less than 10 acres.
If that’s the case, your dog gets to run and play, along
with all his canine pals, in an area of 10,000 square feet (a little
larger than one tennis court), surfaced perhaps with grass, more
likely with sand, gravel, decomposed granite, or synthetic turf. And if
you were considering a friendly game of catch with your daughter while
your dog romped, forget about it. The area will be fenced off from the
rest of the park, perhaps with a four-foot fence camouflaged by shrubs
Corona Heights Park doesn’t sound quite so idyllic now,
does it? What happened to “customer satisfaction”? Whatever that means.
Does the phrase imply that tax-payers should get their money’s worth out
of their city’s services. And if you don’t? Can you complain to the
robots – the phrase “employees that demonstrate our commitment”
suggests that these employees aren’t human – staffing the department? Is
there a method of getting your money back? Isn’t the customer always
The new dog policy is part of Rec & Park’s new
providing “strategic direction and specific guidance for enhancing parks
and facilities and recreation programs in anticipation of and response
to the changing needs of San Francisco residents and visitors into the
21st Century.” In case no one has noticed, San Francisco’s needs have
already changed because an increasing percentage of its residents are
either canine or canine-related. The strategic plan is a strange and
wonderful product of “staff forums” and “strategy teams,” using “idea
walls” and “vision vignettes” to create “technological tools” and
“marketing plans.” Its solution to the increase in the city’s dog
population seems to be an increase in regimentation, rather than in
education. In a democracy, recognition that the human population has
become more diverse elicits calls for training in citizenship for the
newcomers and in tolerance for the natives. Why not try a similar
approach to the burgeoning canine “community” in our midst. It might be
a better investment than dog runs.
shall we go the tried-and-true route and drive out the unwelcome
elements? First, the dogs. Then perhaps the old people. The kids running
and tumbling on the grass. The lovers. Me. You.
[Photos by Chris Lester]