Golden Gate Park "homeless sweeps"/SF seeks new Parks Chief FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 25 Apr 1998 22:28:41 -0700 (PDT)


   Jason B. Johnson -  San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
   Wednesday, April 22, 1998 - Page A15

       Although he denied being dissatisfied with the way San Francisco
parks are run, Mayor Willie Brown yesterday said he wanted a nationwide
search for a new director of the Recreation and Park Department.

       Brown called the search an opportunity to conduct a thorough review
of the department. But the announcement raises questions about the future
of acting director Joel Robinson, the first person to ever rise through the
ranks to head the agency.

       Brown, speaking at his biweekly City Hall news conference, said the
search is a response to private sector donors who wanted to take politics
out of the selection process.

       ``They insisted that we do everything we could to remove the
perception of pure unadulterated politics,'' Brown said.

       Robinson drew Brown's ire in November when the mayor was forced to
make a rare public apology for denying that homeless people were making
Golden Gate Park unsafe.

       But after news reports highlighted the safety problem there, Brown
then launched a controversial crackdown on illegal camping in the city's
largest park.

       Brown said that Robinson, who joined the department 28 years ago as
a recreation director, will be considered as part of the search.

       For his part, Robinson said he wants to keep the job.

       ``What I do is a passion, not a profession,'' Robinson said.

       Robinson said the clearing of bushes and shrubs has reduced the
number of homeless people in the park.

       He also cited the expansion of the latchkey kids after-school
program and improved staff morale as major accomplishments since taking
charge of the agency 18 months ago.

       ``We have a great relationship with the mayor. I think we're on the
same page,'' Robinson said.

       Supervisor Gavin Newsom said the Golden Gate Park flap has played a
part in Brown's thinking, but that Robinson's performance since then has
been strong.

       ``Joel, in the last six months, is, I think, a very different
director than he was in the six months prior to that,'' Newsom said. ``If
the mayor still felt that strongly, then he would have made (a change) some
time ago.''

       And several other public park advocates praised Robinson's work
after hearing of Brown's announcement.

       ``Joel's worked very hard to keep things moving. I think he deserves
a lot of credit for that,'' said Lew Butler, the leader of the San
Francisco Partnership for Parks.

       The Partnership criticized Golden Gate Park as being plagued by
vandalism, the homeless and scant resources in a report last February.

       Butler said that while the department still has management problems,
there has been great progress.

       Isabel Wade, director of the Neighborhood Parks Council, agreed.

       ``There has been a great deal of change, and Mr. Robinson has
initiated a lot of those changes,'' Wade said.


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