City pulls plan for pricey Dolores Park permits

Following a public outcry, San Francisco Recreation and Park officials Tuesday suspended a permit program that allowed people to reserve lawn areas at Dolores Park.

The reservation system, which allows large groups to reserve lawn space, existed prior to the park’s recent $20.5 million renovation but was only reinstated as a pilot program earlier this month, Rec and Park officials said Tuesday.

The same system is used at other parks throughout the Golden Gate Park.

However, news reports on the system at the highly popular Dolores Park triggered objections from residents and officials including Supervisor Jane Kim.

Kim Tuesday said she would put forward a resolution urging the end of the pilot program:

“Our city shouldn’t be for sale — and it shouldn’t be for rent either. … I’m very concerned that not only does this limit access to a popular park; we could well be on a slippery slope where the very wealthy are the only ones who can fully enjoy public spaces in San Francisco.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the district that includes Dolores Park, said he spoke with Rec and Park officials after learning of the pilot program and worked with them to suspend the lawn reservation program.

The department will continue to issue permits for picnic tables.

Wiener said, noting that the lawn reservation system at Dolores Park is also not new:

“To be clear: reserving picnic tables and lawn areas is common practice throughout San Francisco’s park system and has been for decades.”

Despite that, however, Wiener said he shared concerns about reserving lawn areas in the park:

“… given that green space is extremely limited on weekends due to large crowds.”

This week is not the first time San Francisco’s park permit and reservation system has created a furor in the Mission District. In 2014, a confrontation between employees with a technology firm who had reserved a soccer field and local players using it triggered widespread backlash and ultimately prompted the Recreation and Park Department to drop reservations for that field.

Noting that the Dolores Park controversy highlighted an ongoing problem, Supervisor Aaron Peskin Tuesday introduced legislation that would restrict Rec and Park’s ability to issue picnic permits for open space areas in the park system, including lawns, meadows and natural areas.

It would also restrict the department’s ability to issue picnic permits for newly constructed picnic facilities except those already in the pipeline, including those funded by bond measure, but allow picnic permits for existing picnic areas with permanent structures and amenities like picnic tables and benches.

Peskin said at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting:

“When policy is made on an ad hoc basis depending on the backlash, I think we have a problem. … I think it’s time we make some systematic changes and ensure this stuff doesn’t happen again.”

According to Rec and Park officials, groups of 25 or fewer can picnic at city parks without a permit or advanced reservation, while groups larger than 25 can reserve a space for $33.

The permits help avoid user conflicts and ensure post-event cleanup, city officials said.

Rec and Park officials say they spent $750,000 last year cleaning up trash left by visitors to Dolores Park.