SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco park where three people were shot underwent a $20 million renovation last year and immediately became one of the city’s most popular destinations — and a magnet for drug use, gang activity and violence.
The new playground, additional bathrooms and improved amenities of the 13-acre park in a gentrifying neighbourhood of trendy restaurants and bakeries attracts dog walkers, families and young tech workers. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $10 million home overlooks the park.
But the 13-acre park with spectacular skyline views with a high school across the street sits in the middle of the Mission District neighbourhood still dominated by gangs and homeless drug users.
The shooting Thursday afternoon at the park that sent families and other visitors scurrying for cover appeared to be a targeted incident, and investigators are looking into gang ties, San Francisco police spokesman Robert Rueca said. The assailants wore red shirts and bandanas covering their faces, witnesses said.
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, whose district includes the park, called for a “top-to-bottom” review of security for the park and said a stepped-up police presence if necessary.
“We have to do everything we can to make the park safer,” he said.
Police said they are stepping up patrols of uniformed officers in the park.
Thursday’s shooting occurred on a bridge that connects the park to the neighbourhood and spans a train track. Police and others said the bridge is a source of many of the park’s problems because drug use can be easily hidden and it offers easy escape. A Feb. 9 police report showed two men told officers they were smoking methamphetamine under the bridge when two men walked up to them and asked “where you from” before one of the men shot one of the smokers in the arm.
Police said they couldn’t immediately provide the number of times officers have been called to the park this year and last.
The park has been the location of several recent high-profile incidents, including a group of young attackers beating, stabbing and seriously wounding a 23-year-old man on the afternoon of May 17. Fights erupted in the park the night after the city’s annual Gay Pride parade June 25 that resulted in a woman being struck in the head with a bottle and a man being stabbed.
A 20 -year-old man was stabbed on July 10 during an afternoon brawl involving about a dozen youth, police reported. Skateboarders and police clashed violently last month after officers tried to break up an unsanctioned skating contest at the park.
“Everybody in the community is concerned,” said Peter Lewis, a neighbourhood activist. “It’s getting worse.”
Naomi De La Rosa, 16, said she is often challenged by purported gang members when she visits the park to state her affiliation and tell them what neighbourhood she lives in.
Rank Diaz was tying helium balloons to picnic tables and laying out food for a company picnic Friday near the bridge where the shooting occurred.
“Of course, I panicked,” Diaz said about hearing about the shooting. “I have been planning this for months.”
Diaz, 43, said he went ahead with the picnic after police assured him uniformed officers would patrol the park.
On Friday, underneath the bridge, Ryan Murphy and Rose Sergeant walked the train tracks with trash pickers, picking up discarded syringes and needles. The couple spends about 10 volunteer hours a week picking up and disposing of used needles throughout the city. They said they found eight Friday morning.
“This is a place where we come often,” Sergeant said.
Paul Elias And Linda Wang, The Associated Press