A week after a video depicting an argument over a Mission district soccer field went viral, rules over access to the park were changed Thursday.
Following pressure from hundreds of community activists, Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg announced that permits for adult play at the Mission Playground soccer field will no longer be sold.
Nearly 300 people rallied outside City Hall on Thursday morning before the Recreation and Park Commission meeting in which the policy change was adopted, and the teenagers who appeared in the viral video spoke to the crowd.
“I used to think the parks were ours,” said Hugo Vargas, a 15-year-old Mission resident who was in the video. “Knowing that they're selling our parks is not fair. … Mission Playground is not for sale.”
Now the field will be free to use for the community, Ginsburg said at the meeting. Youth soccer leagues will still be allowed to purchase permits to reserve fields.
“At the crux of this issue is a lack of play space for our kids,” Ginsburg said.
The decision to rescind pay-for-play soccer at Mission Playground came following a meeting with the teens from the video, he said.
“These youth convinced me and convinced my staff,” Ginsburg said.
The controversy erupted after a video went viral that showed an argument between adult tech workers and neighborhood Latino teenagers.
The tech workers had paid $27 for a permit to use the soccer field for an hour, where free pickup games had historically been the norm.
On the video, the Dropbox and Airbnb employees asked the teens to leave. The image of white tech workers holding up a paper permit to assert land usage over Latino teenagers touched a nerve in a city experiencing an ongoing struggle with gentrification.
The kids told the tech workers that the park was their neighborhood play space.
“Who cares about the neighborhood?” one of the tech workers replied.
Many organizers at City Hall on Thursday said they did not want to deepen the schism between tech workers and neighborhood families. The real fault, many said, lay in charging for use of public city parks.
“We cannot be a city where you need money to access public space,” Supervisor David Campos told the crowd. After the rally, the commission meeting was packed to the brim, with many left waiting outside.
Many activists likened the department's policy of charging for use of soccer fields to privatization of public space.
Since his appointment in 2009 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, Ginsburg has received flack for pushing for public-private partnerships to revitalize city parks.
The Rec and Park Commission was budgeted more than $163 million for the 2014-15 fiscal year to care for The City's parks and harbors, a $40 million increase in funding since 2011.
The League of Pissed-Off Voters noted that Eureka Valley Recreation Center used to be a safe space for LGBT youths, who were eventually bumped in favor of fee-based Latin dance and “Zumbatonics” lessons. Gene Friend Recreation Center, Victoria Manalo Draves Park and Botanical Garden were all once free for youth groups like United Playaz, but ultimately became pay-for-use spaces.
Also on Thursday, the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, which organized the rally, presented Ginsburg with a list of demands.
The group wants a full-time staffer at Mission Playground, better Park Patrol response to community concerns, equity in investments across city parks, and the creation of a Rec and Park community council that will determine programming and staffing in district parks.
Roberto Pena, a child welfare and attendance liaison as San Francisco Unified School District, said free access to parks keeps Mission teenagers away from gangs and drugs.
“I've buried over 80 kids” due to violence, he told the commission. “These parks are keeping kids safe. I've received little to no support until this video came out.”