San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD) Has Banned Sand

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By James Sword, HANC Board

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD) has banned sand. After following this policy secretly for an unknown amount of time, it has finally become public. The ban of sand was not stated during either of two public meetings held about the Panhandle Playground (PP), and was only brought to light when specifically asked about by members of HANC.  Through various email conversations with RPD, the reason for a sand ban has changed from accessibility, to maintenance, and finally RPD settled on safety.

Through media outlets, a RPD spokesperson clarified “safety” concerns why  sand is banned as cat feces, needles, and glass (maintenance).  According to Lenore Skenazy, author, blogger and star of TV show “World’s Worst Mom,” the fear that cats are using America’s playgrounds as litter boxes is an urban myth.  As a regular PP visitor over the last 3 years, I have found broken glass once, and never a needle or poop.


What RPD has not publicly shared is: how often sand is cleaned and replaced; the long term maintenance budget for the new PP (turns out it is probably $0); how the 50% SFRPD budget increase (over the next 10 years) from Prop B will be used; nor what SFRPD’s own tests have found in playgrounds - if they have conducted any.

Sand is controversial. RPD stated that sand was a “hot topic” at last month’s HANC meeting.  Supporters and detractors are split pretty equally in online forums. Detractors cite finding needles, broken glass, and studies showing high bacteria count in playground sand; supporters citing how sand allows children to create their own play, it is non restricting, never ending, and usable by anybody (accessible and good for kids with Autism).  Parenting small children is terrifying and stressful, and RPD is playing on parental fears.

Is this issue about safety, or a lack of commitment by SFRPD to fund ongoing maintenance for playgrounds and other facilities?  SFRPD’s modus operandi is to use private funds (Parks Alliance), or bonds, to pay for infrastructure improvements (shiny things), and let the beautiful infrastructure decay over time because no maintenance plan is in place.  All you need to do is look at the Panhandle.  The repaving of the pathways was a fight that HANC and other neighborhood groups led, the initial money did not come from RPD, but from set asides by D5 Supervisor London Breed.

Ironically, other city agencies have recently installed sand in well received playgrounds.  Mission Bay Playground, developed by Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, was completed in 2016 and is held in high regard by parents throughout San Francisco.  It is not about safety of the recreational user, but a lack of proper budgetary planning and management.

Do not let SFRPD use fear to hide their lack of long term planning.  Are we planning playgrounds for children, or for liability and bottom lines? 

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