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SF neighborhood group installs planters along sidewalk once taken over by homeless encampment

By Web staff

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    SAN FRANCISCO, California (KPIX) — For the first time in years, many residents say they can walk a stretch of Harrison Street in San Francisco’s Mission District and feel at ease after several industrial planters were installed.

Last May, San Francisco mother Kristina Cahojova, who lives nearby, decided to record cell phone video of what a typical walk with her baby is like on Harrison between 18th and 19th Streets.

On this day, Cahojova told this reporter she was headed to a community meeting to address neighborhood concerns. The sidewalk appeared impassable, so she pushed her stroller into the bike lane to get around. She said at one point a person from the encampment became upset at her filming and threw alcohol on her.

Cahojova said she regularly sees this type of activity and open drug use on the block.

“These were some bad news tough characters,” said longtime resident David Dempsey. “Police were called down here every week if not multiple times a week, there were stabbings, they would kind of migrate, shift from one end of the block to the other, and we’re talking about for years.”

Dempsey took a walk down the same sidewalk Monday, something he said he hasn’t been able to do in years. A neighborhood group raised more than $20,000 online to install planters along several blocks of Harrison. He said particularly at night, the sidewalk often turned into an illegal bicycle chop shop or worse.

The group’s GoFundMe page read:

We’re a growing group of 50+ neighbors who want to make our street more beautiful. Harrison Street can be better! When we come and go from home or work, we can see beautiful greenery and attractive planter boxes.

This approach to neighborhood beautification was suggested to us by District Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office. We proposed several different methods and her office said this was the “best” solution because “they are too heavy to move and they compliment the streetscape.

But the city won’t do it for us, so we are taking the lead and doing it ourselves, and we need financial support. Each planter costs $675 and we are aiming to fund 30 of them, plus extra for maintenance costs.

“It’s unfortunate as a city with our $14 billion budget that the city can’t manage sidewalks properly to the point where neighbors have to come in with their own money and do something like this,” said Dempsey. But everyone in the neighborhood is thrilled. Again, I’ve lived here 25 years, I know everybody in the neighborhood, nobody has a problem with this.”

San Francisco Public Works said it supports neighbors’ efforts to green and beautify their communities.

“We have a specific director’s order that sets guidelines for planter boxes on the sidewalk. Our main concern is to ensure that an accessible path of travel is maintained and that the planters are well maintained. The planters on Harrison appear to meet the standards,” said Rachel Gordon in a statement to KPIX 5.

“Sidewalks need to be for our children to play in, our families, accessible for people in wheelchairs …” said President of the Inner Mission Neighborhood Association Francesca Pastine.

Pastine and steering committee member Lucy Junis, both longtime residents, advised the Harrison Street group on their project. The two helped place 150 wine barrel planters around the Mission District to make the sidewalks more inviting.

“This was a particularly bad encampment. I was afraid to get near it and for a long time I didn’t even want to drive down Harrison,” said Pastine. “When they just put the planters in, they didn’t even have all the dirt in, I walked down on that block … and it was just beautiful.”

While he appreciates the planters, Dempsey doesn’t know how long the sidewalk will stay clear.

“You can see people are tagging them already,” he said, pointing at one of the planters.

KPIX 5 reached out to several homeless advocacy groups regarding this project and did not get a response.

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