Cleanup paying off for Lower Polk residents, merchants 

Lower Polk residents say the new landscaping, trees and lighting in the neighborhood has helped clean up the neighborhood that’s been plagued with drugs, litter and prostitution.

As part of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s $18.7 million Great Streets program, crews recently finished work along Lower Polk Street, between Sacramento and O’Farrell streets, installing lights and potted trees, said Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for The City’s Department of Public Works.

The Great Streets Program was started several years ago, targeting pockets of San Francisco’s heavily traveled neighborhoods, including Visitation Valley, Hayes Valley and Lower Polk. Each neighborhood is getting different improvements and attention based on what residents and merchants wanted, Falvey said.

The City first completed San Bruno Avenue street improvements, adding 120 new trees and installing community banners. The City is currently working on streetscape upgrades to Divisidero and Valencia streets, and Van Ness Avenue.

The Lower Polk Street portion of the program cost $1 million, with funds coming from federal and local dollars.

Residents are hoping the new trees, lighting and sidewalk improvements will be the start of revitalizing the area and making it a more inviting and safer place for pedestrians.

“Even the homeless people have praised it,” said Ron Case, a Lower Polk merchant and resident.

Case says there has been some criticism from residents who fear the changes mean gentrification of a neighborhood that prides itself on being gritty.

“Ninety-five percent of [Lower Polk] is rent controlled so it’s not going to push people out,” Case said. “We’re just trying to make it nicer.”

Police say the better-lit area will create a safer vibe in the neighborhood. In the long-term, it will likely reduce crime; people can’t hide or loiter easily in areas that are well-lit and clear of brush and debris, Lt. Colleen Fatooh said.

“I don’t see as many people on streets hanging out and some of the illegal activity,” she said of the Lower Polk area. “When an area looks nice, people respect it more.”

But all of these improvements will only do so much for the neighborhood, Case said. This year, the Lower Polk Neighbors have plans for more community cleanup days and creating a community business district to help pay for a cleaner, safer neighborhood, Case said.

“We are trying to get people to take more pride in the community,” Case said. “Unfortunately, especially on the weekends, it still gets trashed.”

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