Noe Valley Voice May 2004

Ups and Downs for Two Local Parks

By Erin O'Briant

One Noe Valley park--including its dog run--undergoes a long-anticipated renovation, while dog walkers complain that another is stinky and swampy. Meanwhile, staff at Upper Noe Recreation Center gear up for summer but fear budget cuts could mean fewer recreation programs.

Those are the bare-bones headlines. Now here's a little meat:

Upper Douglass Wet But Wild

On April 14, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in its "Chronicle Watch" column that frequenters of the off-leash dog area in Upper Douglass Park--at Douglass and 27th streets--described the park as a "swampy, smelly mess."

According to Park and Recreation spokesperson Becky Ballinger, the park's irrigation system is scheduled for a revamping, but in late April she was so bogged down in the city's budget crisis she was unable to tell the Voice if or when the project would begin.

In the meantime, park users are trying to navigate carefully. "The area by the ball field is what gets really swampy," says Rick Carrington, a former 27th Street resident who takes his dog, Oscar, to Douglass Park. "And the part closest to the toilet turns into a marsh."

Douglass dog walkers agree the park is worse in winter, but even on a sunny day the soil in some areas is wet and spongy.

The dogs, however, don't seem to mind. "They don't care where you take them as long as they get to play," notes Marybeth Wallace, a member of the San Francisco Park and Recreation Department's Dog Advisory Committee and former president of the Friends of Noe Valley. "It's the people who care."

In Wallace's opinion, the drainage problems in the park make the area unsuitable for most other uses. "Upper Douglass seems like a good place for a dog run because of its problems," Wallace says. "It's not a good place for a ball field."

Or for a rugby field. "There are people who come here to play rugby, which would be fine except the field was so muddy and they were smushing up all the grass," reports Carrington. Such heavy usage leaves the area even swampier for pooches and their people.

The good news is that Douglass Park is still a beautiful place for dogs to romp, he says. The grass is green, the trees are gorgeous, and it has a secluded, away-from-the-city feel that makes it a pleasant retreat for humans and canines alike.

Spiffy Tennis Court at Upper Noe

Improvements abound at Upper Noe Recreation Center, located at 30th and Sanchez streets. In April, crews were hard at work revamping the dog run and installing a long, wheelchair-accessible ramp. Plans for the dog area include tables and chairs for the humans and a drinking fountain for everyone.

The center's tennis courts are also completed. "It's a really good court--one of the best in the city," says UNRC tennis instructor Lou Maunutau, one of the park's recreation directors. "I've got about a million people in my tennis classes." He's teaching 11 tennis classes a week, five of which are for children. The renovations are funded by a March 2000 ballot measure, which approved funds to upgrade parks throughout the city.

Maunutau hopes all sorts of activities will take place at UNRC this summer. "There's a girls' and boys' basketball clinic in the afternoons," says Maunutau. "We have three baseball teams right now. There will definitely be basketball [for children and adults], and the kids' gym is open Monday through Saturday."

Unfortunately, the Tiny Tots program is not available anymore because of budget cuts. "We won't have the staff," he explains.

The budget squeeze is indeed a big concern. "We have thriving programs now, and they may have to close," Maunutau says. "As of July 1, the parks system is in critical trouble."

City officials say upgrades at Upper Noe, at least, are safe for now. "The renovation will go ahead as planned," says Keith Kawamura, Recreation and Park Department project director.

But it's unclear how much the city's budget woes will affect the park's programming and staff.

To find out more about programs and classes at Upper Noe, call 695-5011. m