Castro canine owners say local dog park stinks

  • by Sari Staver
  • Thursday March 23, 2023
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Marco Bass, standing, discusses the proposed renovation of the Eureka Valley Dog Play Area at a March 21 community meeting. Photo: Sari Staver<br>
Marco Bass, standing, discusses the proposed renovation of the Eureka Valley Dog Play Area at a March 21 community meeting. Photo: Sari Staver

When several dozen Castro dog owners came out on a stormy evening for a community meeting about improving the Eureka Valley Dog Play Area, they didn't hold back.

"It smells like a toilet," shouted Keith Folger, a gay social worker who takes his French bulldog, Teddy, to the dog park "at least twice a day."

Nobody argued with Folger. The putrid odor of urine and feces is a long-standing problem that has sent many Castro dog owners to other parks around the city.

The dog park is one of 35 in San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, which operates them. Volunteers at several parks have successfully organized campaigns to pay for renovations. Now, some local dog owners want to do the same.

"This is hardly the best [dog park] in the city," said J. Lee Stickles, a landscape architect whose firm, TS Studio, has consulted on renovations on a handful of dog parks in the Bay Area.

Members of the Eureka Valley Dog Owners Group, a nonprofit offshoot of the Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, had invited Stickles to the first of three community meetings March 21 to talk about redesigning the dog park.

Stickles, who has a degree in landscape architecture from Pennsylvania State University, and a master's degree in urban design from Harvard University, is volunteering her firm's services to help the dog owners come up with some practical solutions.

Based on her work developing plans for a number of dog parks, Stickles estimates that the cost of a typical renovation runs at least $1 million. The funds would probably be a combination of private fundraising and grants.

"It can be done," said Stickles, "but it takes time."

Some people said they avoid the dog park, which is adjacent to the Eureka Valley Recreation Center in the heart of the LGBTQ neighborhood.

"I don't go [to Eureka Valley dog park] any more," said Alex Lemberg, a local attorney who is nonbinary and president of EVNA. "I live close by but get in my car" to drive to other parks, they said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

EVDOG was formed in part to raise funds for improving the dog area.

At the meeting, held at the rec center, some 60 dog owners gathered in small groups to develop a wish list of priorities for the proposed renovation.

Among the ideas were upgrades to the ground surface with turf, grading, and irrigation; an interactive dog playground; shade structures and seating; new plantings; a dog/human drinking fountain; and a community engagement bulletin board, among others.

Several dog owners expressed concerns about the anticipated four- to 12-month closure of the park while any renovations were in progress. They wondered whether the city might allow the dogs to use the adjacent athletic field named for lesbian pioneer Rikki Streicher.

"Not likely," said Carol Sionkowsky, who oversees the management of the park for Rec and Park. The department is working with the dog owners on the proposal. The field has a sign indicating dogs are not allowed.

One person who was particularly upset about the potential closure is Susana Atwood, who takes her dog Woody to the park every day. She voiced her concerns in an interview after the meeting.

"I feel like I'm being evicted," she said. Atwood said a closure of even one day would be upsetting to her. "I vote for no improvements," she said.

Atwood belongs to another group of dog owners who also use the park, Collingwood Dog Park Friends (also the name of its Facebook page). Atwood said that group has bought and installed "many" canopies, chairs, and benches over the years. Atwood attended the meeting but didn't participate in the small groups.

Atwood said that daily use of the park has at least doubled since COVID closures caused many dog owners to work from home. The park is a resource "that has become a part of our daily life," she said. "The dogs have an opportunity to learn to be good dog citizens in a safe, fenced environment."

Atwood is happy with the park as is.

"I hope they fail," she said, referring to EVDOG's attempts to make changes.

EVDOG has scheduled two more community meetings, hoping to flesh out details of the proposed redesign. After the final meeting, the group will put together a proposal to submit to Rec and Park and begin fundraising.

Stickles was optimistic improvements could be made.

"It's not going to happen overnight. It will take a while," she told the B.A.R.

EVDOG is not advocating for any particular plan, M Rocket, one of its active volunteers, told the B.A.R. in an interview at the meeting.

"We hope to get input from everyone who uses the park," said Rocket, who estimates that about 100 people a day use the canine play area.

Rocket, who founded Bay Woof in 2007, said her organization isn't involved with EVDOG but she helps the group with community outreach. The Bay Woof Foundation, a nonprofit, publishes a free monthly emagazine and a directory of local dog parks.

Noting the importance of improvements in the park, Rocket wrote in an email to the B.A.R., "Outdoor space in an urban environment is absolutely necessary for everyone's health and well-being, dogs and humans alike. Parks can provide a safe space for pets and humans to get fresh air and commune with others, reducing isolation, providing exercise, and potentially, community engagement, which is the part I like ... folks coming together around a topic of caring for our dogs and each other, which can help people feel anchored in their neighborhood and their city. When the love of dogs is involved, people's hearts open up."

For more about the proposals, visit the EVDOG website or its Facebook page, which has the same name.

The next two community meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, April 25, and Wednesday, May 24, both at 6 p.m. at EVRC, 100 Collingwood Street. Interested people can take an online survey here.

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