A week after a video of an argument between a handful of local teenagers and Dropbox and Airbnb employees went viral, hundreds of demonstrators protested at San Francisco City Hall, asking for the city’s parks to be freely open to the public. The city’s parks and recreation general manager acquiesced, dropping the reservation requirement at night for that specific park in the Mission District.
For background, a handful of local teenagers were playing a pick-up soccer game a few months ago, when a group of men in Dropbox shirts asked them to leave because they had paid to reserve the field for a league game. For years, when the Mission Playground used to be covered in cement, local kids would play seven-on-seven pick-up games and it was always free for drop-ins, unlike other city parks that required reservations.
In 2012, the park underwent a $7.5 million renovation and the city’s parks and recreation department instituted a new set of rules. As part of that, there was a new reservation system on certain nights of the week for a $27 permit. Parks and recreation general manager Phil Ginsburg said that his department made that decision after notifying 700 community leaders and all residents within a quarter-mile of the park in English and Spanish and holding three community meetings back in 2009. He said that the new system left the park open for drop-in play 96 percent of the time.
But that left the neighborhood children feeling slighted, because those evening hours were prime slots. They made this video recording after several conflicts like this had already happened over many months.
“This divide has been fueled by bad choices by the parks and recreation department,” said city supervisor David Campos, who is running to represent San Francisco in the state assembly in next month’s elections. “They created different expectations with folks in the community, who thought that they could reserve this field. We collectively on both sides want a policy that works for all San Franciscans. We cannot be a city where you have to have money to access public space.”
You can watch the video below:
What was frustrating to many viewers was not just the irony of a Latino asking a white man to see his papers, but a comment that one of the guys made in the background — “Who cares about the neighborhood?”
Both Dropbox and Jean-Denis Greze, an engineer at the company, apologized. Greze added that they were later able to work out an agreement where everyone got to play.
“This is a literal interpretation of our what is happening in our community — someone coming with a paper saying you need to leave,” said Edwin Lindo, who is a vice president for the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club. “We have customs and norms in our community with seven-on-seven games. The city’s policy is pitting communities against each other.” [Correction: An earlier version of this story attributed the previous quote to Gabriel Medina, who is a policy manager at the Mission Economic Development Agency and spoke right before Lindo.] San Francisco Latino Democratic Club also had a much longer statement here about the tensions this particular conflict ignited.
Juan Galvez, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School, was one of the teenagers who was there:
“We started playing soccer at the age of 5,” he said. “We would go play at Mission Playground when it was cement. I remember because of all the scrapes, cuts and bruises that I would get from falling over. Those were some of my best memories. They tried getting us off the field with intimidation, swearing, verbal abuse and threats. At one point, someone in the video asks, ‘Who cares about the neighborhood?’ And the answer is — we do.”
Greg Garcia, who is a student at Mission High School, said that arguments like these had been happening for a long time since the new reservation system was in-stated.
“We let it go a couple of times,” he said. “One day, we decided that we weren’t going to get off the field. We’re tired of this. You guys can’t just come. We’ve been coming here for a long time.”
Garcia said he wanted to meet with the Dropbox players to work something out. “We heard that Hot Box — I mean — Dropbox, made an apology to us. They said they, ‘We’re sorry.’ But like, if we can meet with them, we’d want to have a talk about this thing.”
One of the other kids, Hugo Vargas, said that Conor Welch, the Airbnb community support lead who came with the reservation papers in the video, later kicked him in the back after the cameras stopped rolling.
“After the video, there was an incident between the players. One of us kicked the ball and it ricocheted off someone,” Vargas said in a public speech in front of city hall. “Then later, Conor, the guy with the contract came over and kicked me in the back. Since then I’ve been having back pain. I play soccer and it affects me so much. I was stubborn, and I didn’t tell anyone. I thought no one would listen to me. I’m just a kid.”
Airbnb did not immediately respond to requests for comment and I have not been able to confirm this independently.
Ginsburg said that as the city’s population has grown, it has put increasing demands on local parks and services. He said the city has renovated fields over the past several years, adding 80,000 hours of total playable time to the city’s soccer fields.
“At the crux of the issue is the city’s lack of play space,” Ginsburg said. “But this has touched on larger issues of gentrification and displacement.”
On the ballot this November are a pair of dueling ballot propositions about whether to add artificial turf and stadium lighting to a park near Ocean Beach in Golden Gate Park. (This whole other dispute has its own convoluted, long backstory about the intersection of the city’s planning process and direct democracy.)
The policy and lack of field space has also been incredibly frustrating for tech workers who play soccer.
“Honestly, it’s been a huge issue for years,” said Linda Tong, who works for a mobile start called Nextbit and has played pick-up soccer three to four days a week for several years. “Deep down, I’m frustrated for both sides.”
She says with the current system, there’s no way to guarantee if a field has been reserved or is open. A few weeks ago, she drove out to Crocker Amazon field in the Outer Mission to play pick-up. She put all her gear on and then was kicked off by a league game 10 minutes later.
“You show up to a field that’s ‘usually’ open and pray,” she said, adding that she’s seen many fights over the years between leagues, pick-up and other people who aren’t soccer players.
In the middle of another game, a drunk man went and just laid down in front of a goal.
The lack of safety was echoed by a lot of other Latino soccer players and coaches at the demonstration and hearing today. They demanded bilingual park staff and someone dedicated to the Mission Playground where the incident occurred.
Antonio Medina, who is the dean of students at a charter academy called Leadership High School and who runs the youth-focused Bay City Soccer Club, says there are constantly crowds of people doing drugs and marijuana around his eight-year-old at the park.
“I am here as a concerned parent,” he said. “There is no supervision on these fields for all of these kids.”
Roberto Peña, who runs the club with Medina, said that leaving the nighttime hours for open play were crucial for keeping kids out of violence and gangs. While coaching a soccer game at Garfield Park last month, he was just blocks away from 14-year-old Rashawn Williams, when he was stabbed to death by another middle school student at a corner store on 26th and Folsom. Williams, a freshman at Sacred Heart Preparatory, had a 4.0 grade average, played football for the school team and had his sights set on attending an Ivy League University.
“These parks are keeping our kids safe,” said Peña, who is also a child welfare attendance liaison for the San Francisco Union School District. “I’ve buried 80 kids that I’ve worked with over the last 10 years.”