Vandals blaze a trail of burned parks

Slides melted, trees uprooted, restrooms burnt, walls defaced, trash dumped … the list goes on and on. It’s not a war zone; it’s what authorities say is happening to some of San Francisco’s most beautiful parks.

Recently, arsonists melted a plastic slide at the Parkside Square playground. The slide was destroyed and the ground underneath charred. Next to the playground, someone wheeled a burning trashcan into the bathroom, ruining the interior and frying the electrical system.

The problem has become so unnerving that park officials and police called a special community meeting Monday evening at the Old Trocadero building inside Sigmund Stern Grove to search for a solution.

“We’re going to listen to what the community has to offer because we only have a certain amount of time and resources, and we need their help,” Sgt. Steve Quon of Taraval Station said.

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department has spent around $35 million on improvements to Stern Grove, neighboring Parkside Square and South Sunset Playground in recent years, spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis said. But the vandalism and illegal dumping is costing the department tens of thousands dollars more, she said.

The slide isn’t likely to be replaced for at least a couple of months, Dennis said. Another slide in nearby South Sunset Playground was also melted; the repairs took several months after exhaustive fundraising.

“We have to keep wasting taxpayer dollars on maintenance and repairs,” Dennis said. “It’s from a lot of petty crimes, and these things all just add up.”

Residents of the area are taking the vandalism especially hard. Local Matt Mitguard said people are loitering in places such as Stern Grove’s parking lot and the Goldman concert area, where graffiti is regularly sighted.

“I’m a big parks user … I’m always out there,” he said. “Unfortunately, only a few are ruining the beauty of these places.”

bbegin@examiner.com

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