Remembering Karen Huggins, Holly Courts Advocate

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Neighbor Sarah Rogers tells Bernalwood about the passing of Neighbor Karen Huggins:

Neighbor Karen Huggins died of cancer in mid-June.

Karen was an activist who lived in Bernal’s Holly Courts public-housing development, and she was committed to social justice on behalf of both public-housing residents and the larger community. She frequently worked with the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Supervisor David Campos and his staff, and many Bernal neighbors and groups. She served on the Ingleside Police Station’s community police advisory board and helped author the city’s 2011 ordinance on community policing. She was president of the Holly Courts Resident Council and a tireless advocate for residents of public housing.

Karen “fought fiercely for economic and racial justice, with a twinkle in her eye and great love and humor,” says neighbor Buck Bagot.

Karen “was one of the most incredible people I’ve met,” adds Supervisor Campos. “She was brilliant, driven, and passionate. She was also a character, with a great sense of style and class. She was the kind of person who made an entrance, someone you were bound to remember. She was one of a kind, a quintessential Bernal personality.”

“Karen had a vision,” recalls Bobby Cochran, a Holly Courts resident and sergeant-at-arms of the Holly Courts Residents Council. He first met Karen when he was sweeping up broken glass at Holly Courts, and she asked if he needed a push broom. “Everything you needed, she had,” he said. After he retired from his job, she persuaded him to join the Residents Council, even though he was reluctant at first, having never participated in local politics. “You’ll learn,” she told him, advice she gave many others at Holly Courts.

Soon, he found himself traversing San Francisco to attend and speak at hearings and “meeting people I never thought I’d meet.” Karen had a vision for making Holly Courts a place that was truly a part of the surrounding neighborhood, in its appearance and in its level of safety and civility. She worked tirelessly to get safety-related issues like broken lights and security gates repaired, and she helped get the units repainted. Karen had memorized all housing-related bylaws and knew how to navigate government departments and work with city officials and staff. “I learned a lot from her,” Cochran said. “I wish she was still here to teach me more.”

Karen was “a force to be reckoned with,” said Ailed Paningbatan-Swan, director of community engagement at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. But Karen also had “a nurturing and loving side that radiated from her, rejuvenating those around her. She shared with me her struggles with her sickness while also taking care of me while I was pregnant. She called me every week to check in and made sure I was doing okay with my pregnancy, and she couldn’t wait to meet my baby. I’m truly sad that she wasn’t able to meet my son.”

Nicole Hatfield, youth coordinator (and former youth participant) at the BHNC, attributed her career choice to Karen’s influence and said, “I will never forget her spirit and tenacity to continue working in public housing and striving for her communities to flourish.”

Karen did not want people to know how sick she was, so her death came as a shock to many who knew her. As her cancer progressed, she held an emotional meeting with the Residents Council, Cochran says, explaining that she wanted them to step up, to watch each others’ backs, to trust each other, and to always remember that “you’re not in it for personal gain. You’re in it for Holly Courts, the residents, and the greater community.”

“It’s hard to imagine the world without Karen,” Supervisor Campos said in a Facebook post after her death. “San Francisco certainly will not be the same without her. I feel lucky and blessed that I got to know Karen. And I know that the best thing we can do to honor her is to rededicate ourselves to social justice and to her passion — making sure that we do right by the residents of Holly Courts and all of public housing in San Francisco.”

PHOTO: Karen Huggins

How to Get Involved NOW to Help Rebuild the Esmeralda Slide Park Plaza

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Neighbors Nancy and Joan have been meeting with folks from Supervisor Campos’s office, and they bring an urgent update on the effort to rebuilt and revive the Esmeralda/Winfield Slide Park Plaza. Here’s how you can help:

Everybody is on board to rebuild the plaza structures. We do have initial support from DPW. The cost to rebuild the planter box, trellis, and benches is greater than the $20k generously allocated from Campos’ office to DPW for the rebuild. DPW has agreed to go back to the Mohammed Nuru (the Director of DPW) to see what additional funds can be had, if any. Meanwhile, we’ve been advised to apply for the Community Challenge Grant. This grant happens annually and allows communities to apply for matching funds for community projects.

There is a Community Grant Workshop this Saturday, July 11.

Neighbor Joan will be attending with regards to the Esmeralda Slide Park Plaza rebuild. This grant is the best way for us to start moving forward with our community input to make the rebuild happen.

Please RSVP if you plan on attending.

If you’re interested in being actively involved in the Esmeralda Slide Park Plaza rebuild, please email nancy*AT*windesheimdesign.com.

We need volunteers to make this project happen… so please Get Onboard!

PHOTO: Esmeralda/Winfield Slide Plaza on June 16, 2015 (now removed). Photo by Nancy Wildensheim

Competing Petitions Disagree on New Lane Reduction in Bernal Cut

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Neighbor Chris from St. Mary’s recently wrote Bernalwood to say:

Wondering what you think about the new San Jose Ave exit on 280. It’s like a pinball machine there now, even on off commute hours. Two exit lanes still exit, but now they merge into 1 within 100 feet, and it’s always backed up way before the underpass so you also have to stop suddenly. I get that the car culture needs to change, but it has to happen subtly. My girlfriend found the person at MTA responsible for the new configuration and let him have it.

It’s true; traffic patterns northbound through the Bernal Cut have changed, and there have been multiple big accidents there as a result. Meanwhile, it seems Neighbor Chris’s concerns are not uncommon, because Streetsblog reports

The redesign of San Jose Avenue took a step forward a month ago when Caltrans removed a traffic lane on a Highway 280 off-ramp leading on to San Jose, a.k.a. the Bernal Cut. The plan is the result of decades of neighborhood advocacy for safer streets, but it is running into opposition from motorists who won’t stand for the road diet.

Supporters and opponents of the project are duking it out with online petitions, both launched a month ago. The opposition’s petition currently has a lead on the supporters’ petition. The SFMTA hasn’t released the results from its survey from last fall.

On the bright side, no matter which side of this issue you agree with, there’s a petition you can sign.

PHOTO: I-280 at San Jose Accident, June 19, 2005, by Neighbor Jeremy Ambers

Help Protect Bernal Hill on July Fourth; Help Clean Up Bernal Hill on July Fifth

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It’s Fourth of July Weekend, which is a joyous magnificent thing. Happy Birthday America!

There are two essential things for all Bernalese to keep in mind on this holiday weekend:

1) Morons Will Try to Burn Down Bernal Hill on Saturday, July 4

Well, they won’t deliberately seek to burn down Bernal Hill. Nevertheless, history teaches us that during the City’s big fireworks display on July 4, Bernal Hill will be a popular place to watch the show. Many of those spectators will bring their own fireworks, and they will ignite them amid much whooping and cheering on Bernal Hill. This is a moronic to do, because the grass on Bernal Hill is very dry this time of year, and it’s very, very easy to trigger a big brush fire. Like this Fourth of July blaze in 2013:

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Eeeek! So let us now recall the July Fourth Pro Tips that Neighbor Sarah shared last year:

Do not set off fireworks. Definitely don’t set them off on Bernal Hill, which is covered in dry grasses and brush. You may recall that [in 2013], some moron set the Hill on fire. Luckily, no one was hurt, but imagine if this had happened in an area crowded with people watching the downtown fireworks display. If you remember no other item on this list, remember this one. No. Fireworks. On. Bernal. Hill.

If you see someone setting off illegal fireworks on Bernal Hill, call the police. Dial 553-0123 if nothing is on fire yet. Dial 911 or 553-8090 if there is an active blaze.

Okay, with that squared away, let’s talk about The Day After…

2. There Will Be a Neighborly Bernal Hill Clean-Up on Sunday, July 5

Notiwthstanding the admonitions contained within Item 1 above, there will still be a lot of post-party trash strewn around Bernal Hill after all the fireworky boom-booms. It happens. Fortunately, some of your finest and most valiant neighbors are planning a massive Sunday morning clean-up on the hill, and they want to meet you. Neighbor Edie from the Bernal GO! Team tells us:

The Bernal Go Team will be holding our annual Hilltop Cleanup this Sunday, July 5th from 10am to 11am. What a great time to catch some sun, get a little exercise, and clean up our hill after the festivities on the 4th. Gloves, bags, and pick up sticks will be provided by SF Rec and Park. We’ll meet by the notice board in the parking area of Bernal Heights Boulevard on the south side of the hill near Anderson.  With questions, call or text me at 415 515-2397.

Do it.

Have a great weekend, Bernal Heights.

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Bernal Heights Celebrates Landmark Supreme Court Victory

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Neighbor Valerie just shared these photos; they’re a perfect way to celebrate today’s landmark Supreme Court decision that establishes nationwide legal status for same-sex marriage.

“Love always wins,” Neighbor Valerie says, and that right there is some pitch-perfect punditry for this most glorious Pride Week.

Congratulations, San Francisco! This took a long time, and lots of people worked very hard for it, but all that makes victory even more sweet.

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PHOTOS: Neighbor Valerie

YES! City Funds Secured to Restore Esmeralda Mini-Park

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Nice work, people.

Thanks in no small part to your vigorous nagging activism, Supervisor David Campos’s office reports that City funds will be made available to restore the endangered trellis at the Esmeralda-Winfiend Mini Park:

We are thrilled to report that we were able to secure funding for replacement of the Trellis through the City’s budget process. Thank you so much for bringing this issue to our attention. It has been a pleasure to see to the neighborhood so united over a common treasure and we really appreciate your advocacy. DPW has assured us that as soon as the funding is allocated to the department, it will replace the Trellis. The original structure is set to come down next week. The final City Budget is approved on July 21st. We will be working closely with DPW to make sure the replacement structure is built as soon as possible.

That’s fantastic news, so let’s all join hands for a collective woo-hoo:

Wooooo-HOOOOOOOO!!!!!

This is also a fitting tribute to the scrappy group of Bernal neighbors who rallied to build the trellis (and the secret Esmeralda slides!) in the first place, almost 40 years ago.

But who were these energetic Bernal ancestors? Who created the gift that is the Esmeralda-Winfield Mini-Park?

That’s them, in the world-famous photo up above.

Many Bernalese will recognize the photo, because to this day it stands as a defining symbol of Bernal Heights activism, engagement, volunteerism, and neighborly solidarity. The image is a magnificent time-capsule, so Bernalwood encourages you to zoom and enhance it at your leisure from the safety and comfort of your own computer screen to explore all the wonderful details it reveals.

The photo was taken in 1978, just as work on the slide and mini-park was wrapping up. Back then, Neighbor Michael Nolan was one of the chief organizers of the project, and you can see him in the photo on the far left:

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Today Neighbor Michael still lives in Bernal, where is often seen leading the pom-pom squad for the Elsie Street Glee Club and contributing to the Bernal Heights History Project (among many other things):

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To help modern-day Bernalese understand all the dedication and bureaucratic wrangling it took to create the Esmeralda Mini-Park in the first place, Bernalwood nagged asked Neighbor Michael to give us a behind-the-scenes view of the project’s creation-story:

In the wake of a fun-filled though unsuccessful run for District Supervisor in 1977, I threw my surplus civic energy into making the Esmeralda Mini-Park happen.

I won that campaign. The Northwest Bernal Block had worked mightily for years on the project, believing that between Precita and Holly Parks, there was no area for children to play. But various bureaucratic and legal snafus had stymied the project, even though there was sufficient city funding and support.

Getting the Board of Supervisors to “vacate” what was still officially a “street” and turn it into a park was crucial, because that’s what was required to limit the potential liability of adjoining homeowners and win their okay.

I convened a dedicated crew of nearby neighbors who worked with landscape architect Andrew Butler and Planning Department liaison Lu Blazej .  Tom Chiosso of DPW brought tools, materials, and community development grants from the City.

Bernal neighbors volunteered to prepare the land, build the double slide, erect a play structure, and install the planter boxes and trellis on the Winfield Landing.

We’d hoped that our popular Mayor George Moscone would inaugurate the double slide, but we lost him and Harvey Milk in the tragic assassinations of that fall. In early 1979, Mayor Dianne Feinstein and District 9 Supervisor Lee Dolson did the honors.

Here’s what that moment looked like, when Di-Fi took an inaugural slide:

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So that brings us to today.

Though our funds are (fingers-crossed) secured, we still have a ways to go until the Esmeralda-Winfield Mini-Park is restored to its proper glory. Let’s stay focused, let’s stay engaged, and let’s do whatever it takes to make sure this mini-park remains glorious for another 40 years.

Bernal Neighbor Describes Intense Encounter Outside Planned Parenthood

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Neighbor Mary visited the Planned Parenthood clinic on Valencia last week, and the scene outside was very unpleasant. She tells Bernalwood:

I have been lucky to not encounter anti-abortion protesters since my college days in Boston. I never saw anything like what I saw today.

Planned Parenthood Valencia has served me, a native of Bernal SF, for years. I have Uterine Fibroids and have been taking oral contraceptives since I was nineteen.

I work in SOMA. Swing shift, so I missed refilling my prescription. Planned Parenthood’s online patient portal came to the rescue. On Thursday, I decided to head to work earlier and hit up the clinic to grab my three-month supply and jet to work. Outside Planned Parenthood I encountered the most hideous, aggressive, protester.

She was cloaked in a fake lab coat and wheelchair. As she approached, she seemed mentally-ill. I’m compassionate, because I have a mother with mental illness and I’ve worked with the disabled population. She immediately asked if I was there for an abortion. I politely told her my reasons for being at Planned Parenthood were none of her business.

She then continued to share a laundry list of ridiculous inaccuracies about Planned Parenthood and it’s services. I was floored by her lack of boundaries.

She may be anti-abortion, but I’m anti-aggression, and she’s just lucky I don’t enjoy engaging with law enforcement. She was ripe for concrete-to-middle-of-the-street counseling. I should be able to pick up my anti-baby pills in peace!

The incident left me nervous and freaked out. The staff at Planned Parenthood were so sweet, and they got me out of there ASAP. I was afraid to leave — so were many of us that morning. Would love to hear more about what can be done about the harassment. I would never be allowed to harass people like that outside of a church or even a bar!

As previously reported, protest activity outside the Valencia Planned Parenthood took a darker turn last year, after the US Supreme Court invalidated a Massachusetts law that created “buffer zones” around clinics that provide abortion services, on First Amendment grounds.

GRAPHIC IMAGE WARNING: The un-hidden version of the photo at the top of this post is displayed here:

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PHOTOS: Neighbor Mary