Noe Valley Voice May 2006

Noe's Parks Better Than Most, But Still Need Renovation

By Lorraine Sanders

The report cards are in. Drumroll, please. The good news? Noe Valleyans have reason to be proud of the neighborhood's three parks. Both Douglass Playground and the Upper Noe Recreation Center scored As and Noe Courts received a B on this year's Playground Report Card, a citywide project of the Neighborhood Parks Council. In fact, District 8 scored higher than any other district for overall playground safety and maintenance.

But Noe Valley residents say improvements to the local parks and playgrounds are still needed. In fact, the A grade bestowed upon Upper Noe Recreation Center surprised Olga Milan-Howells, who has been working with the Upper Noe Neighbors association to pursue changes and upgrades at the Day Street center for over a year.

"I was a bit dismayed with the A," says Milan-Howells. "But I wasn't looking just at the play structure, but at the park as a whole."

Anyone who's lived in Noe Valley for any length of time knows that plans to renovate the recreation center have been bandied about for years. But lack of funding and the usual red tape associated with planning, designing, and constructing public spaces have made the process a slow one.

Milan-Howells, who used to take her two children to play at the center's playground until her son hit his head on a piece of concrete protruding from underneath the slide, has been organizing with other concerned parents to renew efforts for park upgrades. Through a combination of community funding efforts, volunteer labor, and the city's capital improvement program, Milan-Howells and other members of Upper Noe Neighbors would like to see general improvements to the ball field and playground, as well as additional amenities like a toddler's toilet, diaper-changing stations, child-friendly stairs leading onto the recreation center's stage, and better padding for the gym's vault.

The Recreation and Park Department is aware of the park's need for seismic and safety upgrades and has a $11 million multiphase project under way to address these needs. The plans call for renovations to the recreation center, its restrooms and basketball gym, as well as the outdoor play area. Included in the project are improvements to the entrances, which are now loosely secured with chains and quite easy for children to wiggle through, new playground structures, better surfacing, an expanded dog play area, softball bleachers with disabled access, new gates, and new fencing. An expanded dog play area was completed last summer. The city estimates construction will begin in July and continue through 2007.

Cleanups Continue at Noe Courts

Similar efforts are under way at Noe Courts park and playground, located at the corner of Douglass and 24th streets. Regular visitors complain that the lack of fencing endangers both children and dogs that frequent the park.

"I started taking my son to Noe Courts when he was a baby, and in talking to other people there, there was a kind of general sense of dissatisfaction," says Laura Norman. "Not only with keeping the dogs out [of the playground area], but keeping the kids in."

Norman joined with a dog walker and other residents to form the Friends of Noe Courts. Thus far, they have worked with the city to plan improvements that would increase fencing around the park, improve the landscaping and drainage system, and add a bathroom.

"We've got an approved design, and we've got a general idea of what it's going to cost," says Lizzy Hirsch, the Recreation and Park Department manager overseeing the Noe Courts project.

Not surprisingly, money is the crucial factor in whether the plans move forward. Although $175,000 has already been allotted for the project, Hirsch estimates that an additional $225,000 is still needed.

Fundraising efforts for the park facelift are currently under way through the Friends of Noe Courts. The group hopes to have enough money to begin construction by the fall.

In the meantime, dedicated neighborhood residents have spent several Saturday mornings this spring working to improve the playground and park.

"I like to see it look cared for," says Cathy Dompe, a longtime neighborhood resident who has been an instrumental volunteer in the park cleanup effort. "It's pride in your community."

Dompe and a faithful group of six or eight residents have weeded, spread mulch, and planted new plants. Bi-monthly workdays are scheduled until the end of the year. The next is May 13. Anyone is welcome to join the effort.

Parks Council Invites Help

At Douglass Playground, an extraordinarily wet spring has been the biggest problem. In addition to the soggy, muddy ground, a huge tree has fallen in the back of the park. At press time, the city had not responded to Voice inquiries about plans to remove the tree.

But similar problems are affecting many city parks. In fact, 14 city parks have been swamped in the recent downpours, according to the Neighborhood Parks Council's Helen Johnson.

She says there are many ways for Noe Valleyans to participate in improvement efforts at neighborhood parks.

Through the ParkScan program, residents can report problems at city parks to the Neighborhood Parks Council, which will then pass them on to Rec and Park. Just go to the web site

To join the Upper Noe Neighbors and learn more about their efforts at Upper Noe Recreation Center, contact Olga Milan-Howells at Anyone interested in joining the ongoing Noe Courts workdays may contact Cathy Dompe at For more information about the fundraising efforts at the park, e-mail noecourts@