The main lawn at North Beach's Washington Square Park was closed off for the entire summer and fall of 2019, as SF Rec and Park crews overhauled its underlying irrigation and drainage systems to conserve water and keep the grass drier for visitors.
When the park reopened in December after its nearly six-month closure, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin hailed Rec and Park for finishing the project early and hitting its expected $3 million budget. But just two months after it reopened, Washington Square's lawn is once again closed off.
The park reopened with brand-new, green sod. But once the winter rains picked up and temperatures dropped, the grass faded to brown and the central lawn started having puddling issues.
According to project manager Kelli Rudnick, the issue traces back to the beginning of the park's renovation, which was set for the start of June. But neighbors pushed for it to be delayed until after the North Beach Festival (June 15-16), and it ultimately started on June 20.
“That put our sod installation and [re]opening right at the beginning of the rainy season,” Rudnick said via email. The rain meant the sod didn't have enough time to aerate and break up the soil with its roots, causing water to pool in some spots.
As a result, Rudnick said, the lawn had to be roped off to prevent people from walking on the wet spots.
The pooling issues are expected to be temporary, Rudnick said. In March, when the grass comes out of semi-dormancy and the soil has had a chance to dry out a bit, Rec and Park will undertake a process that will “stimulate root establishment and therefore improve the drainage of water through the sod layer,” Rudnick said.
However, the brownness is here to stay — at least until warmer weather returns. Washington Square's sod mix includes bermudagrass, which is optimal for water conservation but goes semi-dormant and turns brown in cooler weather, Rudnick explained.
Locals can expect the grass to bloom green in the spring, but come next winter, it will turn brown once again.
Laura Mancuso, chair of the open spaces committee of North Beach Neighbors, told us that the neighborhood had been “warned ahead of time” that the bermudagrass would be more brown than green in the winter months.
She said she found the pooling issue to be disappointing, but she's trying to look on the bright side.
“My personal view is that apart from the aeration issue, the park is gorgeous,” she said, noting that the drought-resistant plants on the edges are thriving and the restored pathways look great.
“We’re all eager for the park to be back to full strength as soon as possible,” North Beach Neighbors president Danny Sauter said, noting that the neighborhood organization is now turning its attention to its playground.
The park’s playground was redone last year as part of the city's "Year of the Playground," but no safety fence was included for children using the playground, according to Sauter.
North Beach Neighbors has launched a petition to Rec and Park to get a new safety enclosure for the playground, which has nearly 400 signatures.
According to the petition, the playground’s former sand-box layout made it more difficult for children to run out into the street, but the “new fast rubber surface launches them into danger’s path.”
We'll keep you updated on any potential changes to the playground.