Bayview community helps reshape crime-ridden Mendell Plaza

Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. ExaminerBayview community organizers hope that hosting events will encourage neighbors to use Mendell Plaza and discourage criminals from causing trouble.

When 54-year-old Luther Robinson was shot and killed in Mendell Plaza in February 2012, the Bayview district community decided they had had enough of the violence plaguing their streets.

Within two months, a group of residents had mobilized to turn the plaza from a center of drug dealing and violent behavior into a community gathering space. A year later, the efforts appear to have paid off.

“We’ve definitely been a deterrent,” said Antoinette Mobley, founder of the community organization SF Art Everywhere. “I think they see the action, they see all the programs set up there and they think, ‘We better go somewhere else.’”

Now, instead of illegal behavior, Mobley and SF Art Everywhere host daily chess and domino games in the plaza, and there have been free concerts, Exploratorium pop-up exhibits, and an outdoor kitchen to teach youths how to run a restaurant.

Additionally, a mural is expected to be painted soon on a building in the plaza, among other planned events.
“The plaza is an amazing entity,” Mobley said. “I just want it to be successful where people old and new can come together and help beautify it.”

Police Lt. Troy Dangerfield said the activities, combined with an increased police presence, have reshaped the plaza.

“I think the problems are reducing by people actually using” Mendell Plaza, he said.

Dangerfield said the reduction in criminal activity is aided by the officers who patrol the plaza, which is at Third Street and Palou Avenue, at all times daily.

Crime statistics are not available for the plaza specifically, but according to CrimeMapping.com, an online database, there were eight assault calls, one report of a person with a gun and three strong-arm robbery calls from April 1, 2012, to April 8 of this year. Other calls included vandalism, noise and public intoxication complaints.

Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district includes the plaza, acknowledged that a lot has happened to clean up the area and make it more of a town center, but she said more needs to be done.

“We are certainly moving in the right direction,” Cohen said. “Now people are picking up after themselves and paying attention, taking ownership. Some say it’s not happening fast enough, but we are moving forward.”

Business owner Don Dodt, whose Mendell Plaza Presents hosted the free concerts until he handed over those duties to the Bayview Opera House, said if the community continues to use the space things will continue to improve.

“The key is consistency and collaboration,” Dodt said. “The neighborhood deserves a key location and town center they can feel comfortable with.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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