Spat may delay Dolores Park upgrades

A spat over how to spend more than $1.5 million in private donations has supporters of a long-awaited Dolores Park playground renovation nervous about more delays.

Scheduled for an overhaul for a decade, the arsenic-laced and oft-flooded play area in The City’s Mission Dolores neighborhood has long been a source of frustration.

Some became so frustrated that they formed Friends of Dolores Park in 2007, which began collecting donations to rebuild the playground. Earlier this year, the organization announced a $1.5 million grant from the San Francisco-based Mercer Fund in honor of philanthropist Helen Diller.

Now, the group is ready to move forward with replacing the playground, but issues surrounding the public-private partnership are stalling the project.

First, after months of negotiations with the City Attorney’s Office, donor organizations have yet to sign a contract with The City that establishes the parameters of the project, since it is a public-private partnership. The donor organizations are concerned where the money will be spent; they want money spent on work above ground while The City doesn’t have the money to do the work underground. The playground floods during the rainy season, and the irrigation work needs to be completed before new equipment is installed.

The City is asking the donors to pay for the preliminary irrigation work with the promise that the organizations would be reimbursed to spend the money on the equipment. City officials say this is the best way to avoid delaying the project for a year, when The City will have the cash flow to pay for the irrigation.

Voters approved a parks bond measure this year, with money earmarked for the Dolores playground, but more than $13 million in bond funding will not be delivered for the playground until October 2009. Much of the bond money will go toward improving the irrigation system at the park.

However, it is not the first time money was earmarked for the park. In 2000, voters passed a $110 million bond measure for neighborhood park improvements, but the money was spent before the Dolores Park playground was renovated.

“It’s become an issue of lining up the parks bond money with the gift,” said Meredith Thomas of the Neighborhood Parks Council, which acts as a fiscal sponsor for the donor.

The City has also raised concerns about how the donors are planning the project. The donors objected to paying the prevailing San Francisco wage and did not seek competitive bids for the project, according to Matt Dorsey of the City Attorney’s Office.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose district includes Dolores Park, is applying pressure to get the project rolling. At a Board of Supervisors meeting last week, Dufty called for a hearing to look into the delays in signing a memorandum of understanding.

“We had a major donor come through,” Dufty said. “I think it is important that we make progress on this effort.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

$1.5 MILLION Amount in grants given for Dolores playground upgrades

$13 MILLION Approximate amount in city bond funds for playground repairs

2009 Year bond money could be available for use

2007 Year Friends of Dolores Park was formed

$110 MILLION Amount of bond measure passed by voters in 2000 for park improvements

My story

“If you put a new park on top of a drainage problem, all you’re going to get is a new drainage problem.”

Greg Bletson, 48, San Francisco

“The private donor’s heart is in the right place, but he’s got to understand it’s not his park.”

Bay Area NewsLocalneighborhoodsparksSan Francisco

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