Overall, this was quite a night of local and city wide camaraderie. I had never before attended and glad I could get out to see it firsthand. The Neighborhood Empowerment Network event opened with honoring the lower Haight’s Merchants Association and ended with a tribute to the Bayview’s Quesada Gardens and its longest and game-changing supporter. Almost everything in between was about our neighborhood, The Portola.
The gentleman from Lower Haight accepted the glistening etched glass trophy and then quickly made a super humble and generous offer to provide advice and support to any other community organization in SF, for example how to organize an art walk, which has been a huge ongoing success for the Haight area. I shouldn’t tire you with the details of every single acceptance speech, but I cannot skip over a mention of the many highlights. Larry Winum, in accepting the Graffiti Watch award, gave a simple thank you plus this one line message: “as someone once said, the difference between art and graffiti is ‘permission’!” Thank you Larry and whoever you were quoting. There’s no truer, simpler statement about spray paint vandalism. The person nominating the Progress Park project in Dogpatch Potrero (D10), talked about their surprising and unexpected results. The goal was to beautify an empty lot under the DPW ramp, but what they also reaped was a great group of real life neighbors whose collaborations and value will continue on long into the future.
After the first couple awards, the evening quickly turned into The Portola Sweep, beginning with David Campos introducing Ruth Wallace to near roaring cheers and the lauded little Jack Olinger (a 12 year old Portolan who raised over $1300 for the CC Horticulture Scholarship in selling Garden Tour raffle tickets the last two years) appearing on stage in a sophisticated blue oxford and festive red bow tie (almost upstaging the city supervisor). John Avalos next honored the Ney Street Team in their remarkable SAFE Watch program (though certainly he should not have bothered citing 2008 crime statistics on this particular night reserved for kudos and progress. Boo Avalos.) Let’s counter with some of the many positives coming from this group: They are already underway with plans to add a brand new park space to their corner of the city, and in the last four years have exerted major influence on a local liquor store in becoming a better Congdon citizen. Way to go Ney Team! As Patricia de Fonte and Linda Cook accepted the award, they too offered to help out any other neighbor groups needing guidance or support. Wow. As if they haven’t already donated enough of their precious hours to making the 94134 more pleasant and crime free for all.
Darlene Zane’s message with the Green Community Project award was that before, a bare handful of people in THE PORTOLA could recognize each other.Today, “hundreds of people know each other on a first name basis!” (And everyone knows Ruth Wallace, the founder of the Garden Tour!). Mindy M took the podium for talking about Portola as the comeback neighborhood. You could see the excitement circulate through the entire rotunda. That’s when it became clear a good third of the audience was representing our ‘hood and the other two thirds were rooting for our success from the sidelines. It was pointed out that the Portola is finally up on the likes of Yelp.com and CDBG but there are still AAA maps and similar out there that don’t list the Portola locale. Mindy also touched on the redistricting process of last year and how the most important wish and goal was accomplished: that the Portola remained in tact and whole.
Next up was the top director at Rec & Park, Mr Phil Ginsburg, and I’ve never seen anything like it. His over-flowing enthusiasm and support for McLaren was a long sought blessing and one could tell he was indeed genuine. Help McLaren Park (Chuck and Trilce) were given the award for most outstanding park volunteer group, citywide, which Ginsburg said is the most competitive of all the NEN awards. Ginsburg went on to review for the entire audience all the splendid features of McLaren and its achievement in being bestowed with $12 million in new funding with the passing of Prop B. What we heard from the head man of SF’s park lands is that Golden G Park is of course the city’s iconic and historical resource-grabber, but “McLaren Park is the city’s future.”
When Supervisor Malia talked, we learned she was actually raised here in the Portola and her parents still reside in the Silliman/Colby home of her childhood. She followed on with another ship load of exuberance, making a big shout out for the entire audience to soak in, to the effect that the Lifetime Achievement award to Annette Y Smith and Quesada Gardens plus all of the Portola awards is “a win for the whole — adored, but often overlooked and misunderstood — southeast quadrant of this city!” Second that Ms Cohen!
With that the ceremony adjourned into the adjacent, large and carpeted, hall to enjoy a spread of wine, beer, lemonade, and a diverse array of finger foods while socializing with the “neighbors” and their newly minted honorees.