Richmond District

City seeks feedback on Park Presidio Blvd. greenbelt

by Thomas K. Pendergast

While there was no consensus about what to do with the greenbelt strips running along both sides of Park Presidio Boulevard, plenty of ideas were tossed around at a recent community meeting.

At the Richmond Recreation Center on July 12 about half of the room was full of people who listened to a panel of City officials talk, asked questions of them and gave suggestions. One of the panelists was District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who mentioned that she used to walk through the greenbelt as a schoolgirl on her way to class at Sutro Elementary School.

“It’s not used that much by neighbors anymore, and I started to think about, ‘what can we do with that greenbelt?’” Fewer said.

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 The Park Presidio Boulevard greenbelt sits next to the busy street. Photo: Thomas K. Pendergast

She spoke to Phil Ginsburg, the general manager of the SF Recreation and Park Department (RPD), and asked him what he thought they could do with the greenbelts; however, she soon realized that they are more or less the front yard of the people who live on either side of the busy boulevard.

“I felt very uncomfortable making the decision myself,” Fewer said. “I said, ‘you know, I think it’s time to have a community process about the greenbelt’ … what we’d like to do with the greenbelt and how we envision this greenbelt to be a part of the neighborhood, but also serve the neighbors where they parallel the greenbelt, it is really their front yard, to hear from folks about what are some ideas, how would they like to use the greenbelt and what could we do to improve it.

“And once we know and the neighbors decide what they would like to do, then I can actually get the wheels in motion, to get the funding, to actually make it reality,” Fewer said.

Another panelist, Zack Taylor, park services manager for the RPD, confirmed there was a great difference of opinion on what to do about the greenbelt, even among the residents closest to Park Presidio Boulevard.

“We’ve tried to listen to neighbors because it’s definitely block by block how they feel about the landscaping,” Taylor said. “Some people want to keep it really dense and they don’t want to hear any kind of noise from the cars. But, a lot of people want to have it opened up so they can see inside and it’s not so scary. So, we tried to listen to everybody and come to a happy medium by leaving one side denser towards the roadway, and then opening it up on the Funston and 14th avenues sides.”

The subject of homeless people camping inside the greenbelt came up and another panelist, SF Police Department (SFPD) Capt. Michelle Jean, the commanding officer at the Richmond Station, gave advice on contacting police for problems involving transients. She recommended documenting the encampments by taking pictures and calling 311 to alert the City about the problem.

“We’re trying to put together a group of people to help these individuals, get them into services or do some sort of outreach to them,” Jean said. “We’re not just trying to displace it from one block to the next. We’re trying to solve the problems, basically, together with Park and Rec., park rangers and all these other services that we’re trying to gather together.”

Fewer noted that San Francisco has always had some homeless people living in the more neglected areas of the City but now those areas are getting built up with new housing and are being gentrified, which in turn is pushing the homeless population further into areas like the west side of town.

“As we build more and more and more, quite frankly, I think we’ll see more come out,” Fewer said. “Some of these homeless folks actually had homes here in the Richmond. I think we all know Nadine Wong on Ninth Avenue; (she) had a home on 44th Avenue and raised two daughters, has two adult daughters, worked for the post office and retired from the post office and can’t get it together to even pick up her retirement check.

“We have offered her shelter. We’ve offered her a room and she won’t go. This is a very complex issue. But, I also think that we don’t have a shelter on the west side and we have been talking to the powers that be about a shelter on the west side, especially for seniors, because we’re seeing many more seniors being homeless in our neighborhood.”

Peter Jacobs said he lives on 14th Avenue and he suggested a different approach to keeping the homeless from camping out in the greenbelts along Park Presidio Boulevard: plant thick shrubs along them and fence them off with locked gates.

“Around each block of the greenbelts, place a hedge about four to five feet high, very dense, and this would prevent the homeless from getting in there,” Jacobs said. “And, at each end of each block there would be a gate. This gate would be for maintenance purposes … this would prevent homeless people from being in there.”

After the meeting, a woman named Batshir, who declined to give her last name, was walking a dog along the greenbelt. She says she uses it at least twice a day and she did not want to block it off with hedges and gates.

“I’ve got very strong feelings about the way that not only the middle class but homeless people are getting tossed to the edges of our City, and this feels to me like another gesture in that direction,” she said.

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