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.

City Plans to Demolish Trellis at Esmeralda/Winfield Mini Park, Has No Plan to Rebuild

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Uh-oh.

The delightful Esmeralda/Winfield Mini Park is suffering from old age, and an indifferent City bureaucracy has no plans to keep the mini-park in proper order. In fact, the City plans to tear down part of the park in coming days. Eeek!

This will be a great loss for Bernal Heights, so Neighbors Nancy and Joan catch us up on what’s happening, and how you can help:

The wooden structures at the MiniPark were built with community input in the late 1970s. The structures haven’t been maintained, leaving them to deteriorate into their current state.

Now the trellis is slated to be removed within a week! The planter box surrounding the big pepper tree is also due to be removed, timeline unknown. The remaining picnic table and benches haven’t been mentioned as part of the takedown, but they have rot as well.

With a kick-ass slide, a stairway that goes up to Bernal Hill, and a place to sit, rest and hang, the MiniPark is a real gem in our neighborhood. It needs a serious upgrade, but the City hasn’t committed any funds or created any plans other than a piecemeal teardown. SF Public Works sent out a memo to the neighborhood saying:

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Without our pressure on the City to make the rebuild a priority, the plaza will slowly disappear or be fixed in a haphazard fashion.

Please send an email NOW, to Supervisor David Campos at David.Campos@sfgov.org telling him his office needs to look into funding the replacement of the deteriorated structures at the Winfield/Esmeralda MiniPark.

Look for future Bernalwood posts to let you know how to stay involved.

This is sad and bad.

As a historical reminder, this announcement from 1979 tells us much about the community origins of the Winfield Mini-Park, and how the City once paired with Bernal neighbors to help make the park so lovely. Let’s hope that can happen again:

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PHOTO: Neighbors Nancy and Joan

This Is The City’s Plan for New Crosswalks and Stop Signs on Bernal Hill (and How It Could Be Improved)

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Do you remember that City meeting a few weeks back to review the proposed pedestrian-safety changes to the intersection of Bernal Heights Boulevard and Bernal Heights Boulevard at the southeastern side of the hill, near the glamorous Vista Pointe Minipark? Well, Neighbor Tom attended the meeting, and took great notes, and made some spiffy diagrams of new crosswalks and new stop signs, and he thinks the current proposal needs revision. Neighbor Tom says:

First, the facts:

Three Bernal residents spoke, of which I was one. No diagrams were presented or handed out, but two of us were able to look at a diagram (by request) before the meeting started.

Of the three that spoke, all approved of making some improvements. Two of us approved of the stop signs, one felt it unnecessary, but the crosswalk is good. As far as I could tell, there was no resolution on this, just the hearing of opinions.

I created a sketch of the plans from memory. (I don’t like recreating drawings from memory, because it’s inaccurate, but if they’re not going to give handouts, then…)

The yellow parts are roughly what their plans showed. Here’s a version of the diagram with other colors added by me to illustrate my personal opinion.

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My opinion is:

1. Locating the crossing at C will encourage people to walk the red path, with leads to a tricky crossing of Bradford (where a stop cannot be added, due to the #67 bus).

2. Locating the crossing at B instead would encourage the green route, which benefits from the pre-existing ‘stop’ on Bradford, and could be further improved by a cross walk.

The MTA say that the crossing must be located at C, since that’s where Parks and Rec have decided to put stairs.

Yes, stairs! I’m opposed to the stairs, since they will lead users to further steep loose ground, which they then have to ascend (or turn back). They therefore violate the principle of “don’t trick people into thinking they’re safe.”  I’m informed that the stairs will help reduce erosion. I suspect they’ll do the opposite – they’ll encourage more people to take the route.

ILLUSTRATIONS: Neighbor Tom

New Urban Agriculture Project Coming to College Hill Reservoir Site

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The Examiner recently brought news that the land next to the College Hill reservoir near Holly Park will soon become the pilot site for a new urban agriculture initiative. Reporter Mike Koozmin writes:

San Francisco residents four years ago called for more urban agriculture space in The City, prompting a pilot program that is now beginning to bear fruit.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission announced Tuesday that a new garden site is expected to open this summer in Bernal Heights and another site in Crocker-Amazon could be built out late next year. A planned community garden in Bayview-Hunters Point at the Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant was scrapped and instead gardening supplies were offered there and other locations.

Urban agriculture supporters in San Francisco have long looked to the SFPUC to show more leadership on the issue given its vast open-space portfolio.

Interest in the cultivation of land by residents is evident by at least one measurement. Last year, there were 750 people on a waiting list to use community gardens in the Recreation and Park Department’s portfolio. The department oversees 38 community gardens, which average about a quarter of an acre in size. It also has 33 garden plots and serves 53 gardeners. The SFPUC set timelines for when the Bernal Heights and Crocker-Amazon space will become active agriculture sites. The sites were selected in 2012 for an urban agriculture pilot program, which relates to broader issues of food security and climate change.

The College Hill Learning Garden in Bernal Heights is out for competitive bidding and is expected to become operational in the summer. In partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District, the 6,000-square-foot site will provide lessons for kindergarteners through fifth-graders. The site will include a bioinfiltration basin, rain gardens, green roofs and a composting toilet.

IMAGE: Google Earth

District Attorney Releases Report on Alex Nieto Shooting, Will Not Press Charges Against SFPD Officers

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The San Francisco District Attorney decided to release some important news late Friday afternoon, likely in the hope that you wouldn’t pay much attention over the holiday weekend. So Bernalwood brings you this news today, in the hope that you are now paying very, very close attention…

Last week, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that the four SFPD officers who participated in the March, 2014 officer-involved shooting death of Cortland resident Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill will not face criminal charges as a result of the incident.

Henry K. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle summarizes DA Gascón’s report:

Gascón’s report said all four officers had “continued to believe their lives were in danger … until Mr. Nieto’s head and weapon went down.”

The four — Lt. Jason Sawyer and Officers Roger Morse, Richard Schiff and Nathan Chew — had responded to witness reports that Nieto, a 28-year-old Mission resident, had a gun and was acting erratically on March 21.

The officers “saw what appeared to be a gun as soon as they encountered him on a hill,” the district attorney’s report said. “Mr. Nieto refused to obey orders to show his hands and, instead, immediately drew and pointed his weapon at the officers.”

At a news conference, Gascón added, “Given the circumstances, I’m not sure this was a preventable shooting.” In such instances, he said, “a shooting is likely to occur. It is lawful. It is clearly constitutional, and I’m not sure there is much that could have been done to prevent it.” […]

Gascón’s report to [SFPD Chief Greg Suhr] provided the most detailed account by authorities of the shooting. It said that on March 3, less than three weeks before he was killed, Nieto was accused of firing a Taser at the estranged husband of a friend.

On the day of the police shooting, prosecutors said, several dog walkers at Bernal Heights Park reported feeling threatened by Nieto. One witness told investigators Nieto had pulled what looked like a pistol from his holster and pointed it at his dog — the animal had taken interest in a bag of chips Nieto was eating — before realizing it was a Taser.

“When he turned it into profile and aimed it at my dog, that’s when I could tell that it was a Taser just because of the size of the muzzle area,” the witness said.

The witness said he begged Nieto not to shoot his dog with the Taser, telling him the dog wasn’t aggressive and “just wants some chips,” according to the report. Nieto aimed the Taser at the witness and yelled expletives, the report said, before the witness left the park, while warning others about Nieto.

After Schiff and Sawyer arrived, in uniform, and ordered Nieto to show his hands, Nieto allegedly walked toward them, lifted his sweatshirt to expose a black holster, and shouted back at the officers, “Let me see your hands!” Nieto then “squared off with them in a defensive stance,” the report said, drew what turned out to be the Taser and pointed it directly at officers.

Schiff and Sawyer, who was then a sergeant, opened fire, authorities said. Nieto fell to the ground with his hands in front of him, police said. Schiff reported seeing a red light coming from the object Nieto was carrying and “thought it might be a laser sight. Both officers believed Mr. Nieto was still trying to fire back at them, and continued to fire,” the report said.

For better or worse, Gascón’s long-overdue report now stands as the most detailed official chronology of the events that took place on Bernal Hill on March 21, 2014. You can read the complete text of Gascón’s report to SFPD Chief Suhr right here (PDF); It paints an unsettling picture of the scene that evening. An excerpt:

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Responding on behalf of Neighbor Alex Nieto’s family and friends at the Justice4AlexNieto website, Ben Bac Sierra says DA Gascón’s report is not credible:

Scholarship student and security guard Alex Nieto never pointed a taser at San Francisco Police Officers Sawyer and Schiff. There is at least one witness who saw everything and emphatically confirms that Alex Nieto never pointed a taser at officers. This witness was never interviewed for the district attorney’s report.

But for one moment let’s forget the witness. The district attorney’s report accepts the police department narrative: two veteran San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) police officers have their weapons drawn aiming directly at Alex Nieto who is eating a bag of chips walking down the hill. Both officers KNOW he has a firearm. These two READY police officers then allow Alex to square off with them, reach into his holster (they KNOW he has a gun), and they allow Alex to point this “gun” directly at them BEFORE they finally make the decision to start shooting at him 59 times.

This tale is ridiculous and unbelievable, yet they expect us to accept it.

There was no reason for Alex to have been shot at 59 times! This entire sham is a cover up to hide the SFPD’s incompetence, lack of fire discipline, and illegal and intimidating investigation. They will not take responsibility for killing an innocent, promising young man, Alex Nieto, our brother.

While no charges will be filed against the SFPD officers, other aspects of Neighbor Alex Nieto’s case are ongoing. Mike Koozmin from the San Francisco Examiner describes the next steps:

Gascon said today that he recognizes that Nieto’s death was a tragedy and has offered to meet with Nieto’s family members, but that they have so far declined to meet with him. While the district attorney’s office has concluded that the police officers believed they were in imminent danger when they discharged their weapon, Gascon wrote in his letter to the chief of police that his office did not examine issues such as compliance with the policies and procedures of the San Francisco Police Department or ways to improve training or tactics. The letter also does not address any issues related to civil liability.

Gascon has also recommended the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for further investigation.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the Nieto family against the city for violation of Nieto’s civil rights, on the grounds that police officers allegedly used excessive force against him, is pending.

 IMAGE: Photo illustration by Telstar Logistics

Awesome Volunteers Help Make City-Owned Land Look Gorgeous Again

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Remember the volunteer work party that joined forces with the San Francisco Department of Public Works last Saturday to spiffify that (formerly) neglected City-owned lot on Ellsworth at Bernal Heights Boulevard?

By all accounts, the effort was a big success. Neighbor John sent this note to Jerad Weiner, DPW’s community liaison, to celebrate the glorious collaboration:

Jerad,

Many thanks for the email and for working with us to fluff the garden. It looks 1,000 percent better already! I am going up tomorrow morning to finish smoothing the mulch out and doing a little more pruning. The birds have never been so happy – there were many of them alighting on the fresh mulch.

Other than that, the project is a complete success. Thanks to DPW for the chips and for hauling away the debris. And thanks to you for your help – we couldn’t have done it without you.

Bravo, Citizens! Bravo DPW! Way to take charge, take names, and look sexy while getting it done.

PHOTOS: Top two, John Blacburn. Bottom, John Cremer. With thanks from Bernalwood

Saturday: Join the Volunteer Effort to Clean Up that City-Owned Lot on Ellsworth

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Remember that squalid-ass patch of City-owned land at the top of Ellsworth near the summit of Bernal Hill? The lot teeming with overgrown plants and assorted organic yuck? After Bernalwood wrote about it, several lazy hard-hitting local TV news crews stole the story without attribution followed-up on Bernal neighbors’ concerns, so the neglected lot is now getting some love.

Tomorrow, Saturday, January 17,  from 9 am to noon there will be a volunteer effort to clean up the spot and make it unyucky, and you’re invited:

Join your neighbors and San Francisco Public Works to help spruce and prune the lot at Bernal Heights and Ellsworth. Please wear work clothing and closed toe shoes.

DPW staff will provide tools, gloves, mulch, and other supplies to the work day. Call 415-641-2637 to RSVP or with any questions.

UPDATE: In the comments, bernalkc makes a clarification:

Incomplete reporting here!

After you wrote this, a city crew of four spent a rainy day cleaning up the lot. They did a decent first cut at excavating a lot of the overgrowth. Another round of work on the lot will be useful. But give credit to the city for responding to the heat applied here and by the media.

Thank you bernalkc, and thank you All-Weather, All-Terrain City Workers!