'We're Frustrated': Castro Neighbors Voice Concerns At Fix-It Workshop

'We're Frustrated': Castro Neighbors Voice Concerns At Fix-It Workshop
Community members direct their questions to a group of city officials, led by Sandra Zuniga. (Photos: Shane Downing/Hoodline)
By Shane Downing - Published on June 16, 2016.

“The neighborhood is boiling over and frustrated,” said a participant in last night’s Castro Fix-It Workshop. “We’ve put up with enough, [and] there’s gonna come a point where the neighborhood just has to do something.”

That was the sentiment of many who were in attendance at the meeting. As we reported yesterday, Mayor Lee recently created a new organization, Fix-It Team SF, which is intended to address quality-of-life concerns across San Francisco and address the lack of coordination between city agencies.

Headed by Sandra Zuniga, the Fix-It Team has been given full access to city agencies in order to address issues such as dirty streets, potholes, overgrown trees, graffiti, and poor lighting. Last night was its first official community workshop, held at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center.

Approximately 40 people were in attendance at the workshop, including representatives from numerous city agencies. Zuniga, who stepped into her newly created role on June 1st, told attendees that Castro residents have filed 2,200 requests via 311 in the past month, and only 10 percent of those requests have yet to be addressed, which she attributed to “issues of mis-categorization.”

The Fix-It Team will focus on one neighborhood per month, with Zuniga first assessing each neighborhood's specific issues through feedback from neighbors. Phase two is a walkthrough of the neighborhood, followed by the creation of an action plan.

“We’re gonna set goals of what success will be like,” Zuniga said. “After July, we’ll run reports again [for the Castro] and see if a difference was made anywhere. For my action plan, my target is to get 80 percent of the action items done. I think asking for 100 percent might be really difficult in a short period of time. I’m telling every agency, in a short period of time, let’s do 80 percent and go from there.”

Acting as the workshop’s facilitator, Zuniga broke the meeting up into three parts: public realm maintenance, community outreach, and public safety. Community members had the chance to voice concerns, as well as identify specific locations for those concerns, during each theme’s allotted time.

Many neighbors raised concerns over trash being strewn about the neighborhood, with some proposing the installation of large public dumpsters in the neighborhood’s two largest parking lots. One resident questioned why Recology can’t issue locking garbage cans to households and businesses locking garbage cans, but according to another attendee, the waste collection company charges a premium for those services.

Neighbors identified two other trash hotspots: Pink Triangle Park, where the bins were reportedly removed recently, and the 7-Eleven at 18th and Noe streets.

The library was another topic of discussion. “Lighting needs to be evaluated around the library area,” said a community member. “We need to trim the trees. We need to put in lighting. There’s been no change in that vicinity whatsoever. It’s a public library, and it should be open to everyone.”

Another attendee expressed concern at the ineffective lighting in the parking lot behind Walgreens on 18th Street. He said that the highest number of car break-ins in the neighborhood happen in that lot.

Some residents expressed concern not at the lack of streetlights, but their height. “They’re too high,” said an attendee.

Other concerns raised included unused newspaper racks, dog droppings, unsafe intersections and hazardous sidewalks. But it didn’t long for residents to steer the conversation away from from overgrown trees, burned-out lights, and trashed streets and towards the neighborhood’s homeless population.

“The problem isn’t a lightbulb that’s out,” said one attendee. “It’s addressing the street population that’s set up in our neighborhood. Until you find a solution to that, the issue is gonna stick around.”

“It seems like people are being pushed into our neighborhood,” said one woman. “I don’t see it in the Marina,” added another man. “I don’t see it in the avenues—I found three needles on the way over here!” Others shared similar stories of finding used needles and human feces on their blocks.

One community member stressed that participants refer to the homeless population as 'street-bound' instead of homeless. “Stop calling them homeless,” he said.

“It’s a completely different population,” responded another woman. “That’s why we weren’t complaining about it five years ago,” interjected another participant.

The overall consensus of the group was that the drifters being discussed at last night’s meeting—a younger demographic struggling with mental illness and substance addiction—are not the traditional “homeless” population. “We all know the three actual homeless people in the neighborhood: the lady with the dog, the man with the black suitcase, and the guy that sweeps the streets,” said one woman, to many heads nodding in agreement. “They’re a part of our community.”

“These are the symptoms of a disease,” added one neighbor. “Until we treat the disease, we’ll be right back here again in a month. All the resources of the city need to go to fixing the disease.”

“We need creative solutions,” said another. “This has been going on for years and years and it’s always the same issues, yet the disease remains the same. These people are mentally ill, they’re addicted, and they’re on the street by choice.”

“The idea is not to move people into other areas,” said Zuniga. “The idea is to service the people who are here, and provide next steps for them and an action plan, resources and support—not to move them.”

One business owner expressed concern that potential customers won’t come into her store because of a more aggressive street-bound population. “It scares people away, and it scares business away from the neighborhood. I want [those individuals] to get help, but I don’t want them to get help in front of my business.”

“We need to change laws,” one attendee told Zuniga. While asking the Fix-It director what citizens can do, another participant interrupted by saying “you make noise with your votes.”

“What you’re not getting is the feeling of frustration that is happening in this community,” one participant told Zuniga. “People are talking about moving away. Something drastic needs to be done to change our neighborhood."

The workshop lasted an hour and half, and wrapped up with a moderated Q&A. Attendees were encouraged to participate in a prioritization activity as they left the room, placing four red stickers on the biggest areas of concern that had been listed on pieces of paper hanging on the walls.

Zuniga’s next step will be compiling notes from last night’s meeting, and preparing for a neighborhood walk on June 30th with interested community members. The Inner Sunset is the next neighborhood on her list, followed by Mission, Chinatown, and Divisadero, respectively.

When asked how the schedule of Fix-It neighborhoods is being determined, Zuniga admitted that hosting the first meeting in the Castro was not her decision. “I only have 2016 figured out, and that’s a question that I need to determine: how I’m going to prioritize neighborhoods going into next year. We’re gonna do our best to be equitable and fair.”

We’ll continue to monitor Fix-It’s progress in the Castro over the course of the next month, and will keep you in the know on any events, action plans, and/or progress that we hear about.