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In Mission meeting, SF officials seek safety solutions for Dolores Park

A cadre of San Francisco officials told a crowd of concerned residents Monday evening that the city is seeking collaborative, permanent solutions to address the public safety issues looming over Dolores Park and the neighborhood surrounding it.

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The packed community meeting at Dolores Park Church was convened by Supervisor Jeff Sheehy in the wake of what police are investigating as a gang-related shooting on Aug. 3 that wounded three people, one of whom remains in critical condition.

Representatives from the Police Department, district attorney’s office, parks department and public works highlighted the city’s efforts to enhance safety at the 15-acre park since the shooting, and fielded a range of comments and questions from residents.

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Many who spoke at the meeting — including Jeff Kelton, who identified himself as one of the shooting’s victims — expressed concerns about what they see as a rising tide of vagrancy, hard-drug sales and violent activity at the park that’s spilling into the adjacent Mission and Castro neighborhoods.

“Every year — the crime, the homelessness — the little things keep turning into bigger things,” said James Lewis, who said he’s lived in the Castro for 50 years. “It’s the same problems year after year.”

Sheehy, whose District Eight includes Dolores Park, praised the Police Department for stepping up patrols in the area but stressed the importance of acting on broader “strategies that we can implement together that will permanently change the trajectory of what’s happening at the park.”

“We don’t want this to be an episodic event where something bad happens, we respond, and six months later it’s back to where it was,” Sheehy said.

San Francisco Police Capt. Bill Griffin, who leads the Mission Station, said that more uniformed officers are patrolling the park seven days a week and that reports of major criminal activity have fallen since they began.

No suspects have been arrested in the triple shooting, said Police Chief Bill Scott, though the department is “working on a belief” that the incident is connected to another shooting a month ago in which “no one was hit.”

In recent months, the park has been beset by violent altercations that have rattled those who live nearby. In mid-May, a 23-year-old man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after he was attacked by five assailants who beat him with bottles and a golf club. Last year, a 25-year-old man was stabbed in the torso by a mob of 10 men. The victim didn’t know the men and told police he assumed some were gang members.

Kelton said he was walking through the park when he ran into a “group of kids” near a pedestrian bridge that connects Dolores Park to Church Street when gunshots erupted, hitting him and two others. Kelton expressed his gratitude to the police for their timely response, which he said, “saved his life.” He urged the police to maintain a constant presence at the park, or at least the appearance of one, to deter criminal activity.

Numerous residents referred to the bridge, calling it a magnet for criminal activity and homeless encampments. Recreation and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg recommended taking down the bridge, a suggestion that was met with scattered applause.

Lewis, the longtime Castro resident, said he would support mounting cameras around the bridge, “if they led to a solution.” He added that he’s routinely witnessed drug deals taking place at the bridge. “Are they swapping stories about the best steaks at Whole Foods up there? I don’t think so,” Lewis said.

June Castle, who lives near the park, said that while she was gratified there was a public dialogue taking place about the neighborhood’s problems, she felt shortchanged by what she saw as a paucity of concrete solutions by city officials. While there was much talk about fixing the park’s problems, Castle said, there was little offered in the way of specifics.

“I would have liked to have seen more concrete ideas and plans,” Castle said. “It all felt a little vague to me. Dolores is a beautiful place, but lately there have been a lot of issues.”

Dominic Fracassa is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: dfracassa@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @dominicfracassa

 

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