SF officials continue to grapple with vexing litter issue at Dolores Park

San Francisco officials continue to hammer out details of a proposal that would increase litter fines at Dolores Park to combat heaps of trash left behind by revelers.

While Supervisor Jeff Sheehy proposed legislation to crack down on what he said were people “with means” who leave “enormous amounts of garbage behind,” critics of the proposal worry about its impact on park goers without means.

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee discussed the proposal but ultimately continued the debate until Sept. 13, as Sheehy said he plans to amend the legislation to address concerns.

The board members all acknowledged there is a littering problem, but disagreed on how best to address the behavior in the popular 16-acre park that can draw up to 10,000 people on a warm weekend day.

Sheehy’s legislation would change the way offenders are cited, the most controversial piece of the proposal. It would also create a parkwide ban on people using glass beverage containers.

Recreation and Park Department officials said during the hearing that no litter fines were issued for offenses at Dolores Park during the past year.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who repeatedly had to ask for the litter citation data before getting the answer, said it may make more sense to figure out a way “instead of fining, requiring the people who are littering to clean up the park.”

“If it’s your understanding that there are people with such extensive means that are using the park then a $1,000 fine will make no difference to these people just as a $200 fine clearly wouldn’t make a difference — not that anybody is getting fined anyway. So this is a completely pointless exercise to begin with,” Ronen said.

Sheehy said “that would require the [District Attorney] to file charges and make that a condition of a conviction” and that Rec and Park “cannot compel someone to do labor.”

Still, Ronen said she was interested in exploring how that would be possible.

Sheehy’s fine hike runs counter to a recent effort by San Francisco to move away from harsh fines and fees being examined by the Fines and Fees Task Force under the City Treasurer’s Office.

“These fines and fees can knock people down so hard they can’t get back up,” a recent report from that task force reads. “Poor people and people of color are often hit the hardest. These financial penalties can make government a driver of inequality, not an equalizer.”

Sheehy announced at the hearing he was working with the task force to amend his proposal to “make sure that this does not impact low-income people.”

But he argued the fine needs to be steep enough to impact the behavior of the more wealthier park goers who treat the park like a “frat house.”

“If you make more than $100,000 a year and can’t clean up after yourself, I believe you should pay,” Sheehy said.

Task force representative Amanda Fried said ideas being explored include waiving or discounting the fine for those below the federal poverty level or being allowed to work off the fee through community service.

The proposal makes the litter citations an administrative citation, much like a parking ticket, instead of requiring prosecution. Currently, park code violations are punishable in court as infractions or misdemeanors. One conviction carries a fine of $100 and two offenses within a year $200.

The proposal would allow The City to cite people with fines up to $1,000 for littering in Dolores Park as an administrative penalty.

Robert Brust, Dolores Heights resident, said the department needs to direct its 41 park rangers better. “In my opinion the rangers need a little bit more direction, they need to get out there and start writing citations and then we can start worrying about the fee,” said Brust, who supported the proposal. “A lot of those guys do have a lot of money. This would really be a deterrent.”

Jordan Davis said the proposal would only give “park patrol more leeway to harass black, brown, transgender, queer, disabled and poor people as they always seem to do.” Davis added the “tech bros, who are assumingly very rich, get away with nearly everything.”

Sheehy’s legislation was introduced following particularly egregious littering during the first weekend of April when 13 gardners spent 44 hours cleaning up the park and stuffing 460 bags with trash that didn’t get properly discarded.

Rec and Park and Local 261, the union representing the department’s workforce, supported the legislation.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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