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Reports of a Dolores Park Crackdown Are Greatly Exaggerated 

Wednesday, Jul 1 2015
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Dolores Park's joie de vivre lasted 48 hours. Just two days after its northern half reopened following a 15-month, $8 million renovation, park rangers either performed a necessary public service or inaugurated a new Dolores police state — it depends who you ask.

In the crosshairs was Chris Hirst (aka Robot Dance Party), a guy in a robot suit who roves around the park playing music and delighting giddy toddlers. On June 20, rangers cited him for amplified sound, thus unleashing a torrent of laments and beleaguered emoticons online.

The incident became a cause célèbre on local blogs including Uptown Almanac, which posted the June 23 story "Dolores Park 'Culture Shift' in Full Effect." The headline was a reference to Supervisor Scott Wiener's 2013 comment that a revamped Dolores would need "a culture shift ... to get people to stop trashing it." For Uptown Almanac, Wiener's remark betrayed an "apparent goal of reining in the free-wheeling community space that is Dolores Park."

Wiener says his words were taken out of context: "It's false reporting, if you can even call it reporting. I don't support the removal of the robot, or the removal of six-packs, or the removal of entertainment." And, for the record, he doesn't want to nix beach chairs or macaws from the park either.

In an email to SF Weekly, Uptown Almanac responded, "Wiener has routinely advocated for increased policing in Dolores Park. The recent crackdown on petty crimes that do not impact the littering situation ... was an obvious result of his push. If this came as a surprise to him, then his stunning lack of foresight should be concerning to all of us."

Such contretemps are the lifeblood of local blogs, but the 16-acre Dolores Park has played an outsized role in San Francisco's culture war. Its evolution from verdant ghetto to neighborhood jewel to hipster-frat-techbro colony parallels the city's recent socioeconomic turbulence.

For Robert Brust, co-founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Dolores Park Works, "the war is over and they have won" — they being the young, mostly white transplants who have embraced the Mission.

"The park is a little exotic living organism in the big, dirty city," Brust says, and "young kids have not been instructed how to deal with it."

Whether young kids are to blame or not, the city spends more than $1 million a year hauling away the 2 tons of trash left in Dolores every weekend. And since only three or four rangers are on duty at a time for the entire municipal park system (220 parks), rule enforcement can be haphazard and overzealous — something even Wiener concedes.

"There are some new rangers and they need training," he says.

Robot Dance Party posted on Facebook that he reached out to the city after the June 20 incident and received a positive response. (Wiener says the robot's ticket was revoked.) What this means for the park's long-range turf war is anyone's guess. Brust sees the whole episode as a nonevent that a few blogs blew up into a referendum on the park's legacy. His advice to outraged San Franciscans: "Calm the fuck down."

About The Author

Jeremy Lybarger

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