San Francisco parks are filled to the brim with visitors, yet funding for the park system has remained “stagnant” over the last 15 years, even as The City’s general fund continues to grow, city leaders say.
As a result, maintenance is rarely performed unless “the swing is completely broken, [or] the water fountain is literally spewing water into the air,” said Supervisor Mark Farrell.
The Recreation and Park Department has an operational budget of $160 million, with $64 million from the general fund this fiscal year, according to General Manager Phil Ginsburg. That number can fluctuate based on the needs of the department — and other departments — in San Francisco, as well as the money available to The City as a whole.
But a measure on the June 7 ballot asks voters whether city parks should have steady funding for the next three decades, beginning with annual $3 million increases from the general fund for the first 10 years.
Unless San Francisco experiences a budget deficit of $200 million or greater, Proposition B would set aside $64 million for Rec and Park next year to grow by $3 million annually until the 2026-27 fiscal year.
After that year, the annual increase would be based on a percentage of what The City makes.
“It’s a very modest increase,” Farrell said. “But it grows over time.”
Retired Judge Quentin Kopp, a former city supervisor, contends earmarking funding for Rec and Park would go against a 2012 ordinance passed by voters that prohibited setting aside future money for particular departments. The move would not be illegal since Prop. B is a charter amendment, however.
“Earmarks are the bane of good government,” Kopp said. “You don’t know what other departments are going to need. Suppose you have another fire or an earthquake.”
The percentage of The City’s general fund designated for Rec and Park has fallen from 2.1 percent to 1.2 percent in the last 15 years. If the percentage remained the same, parks would receive another $39 million per year, according to a Parks Alliance budget analysis.
That doesn’t mean the department has lost funding, however. A July 2015 Parks Alliance research brief presented to the Board of Supervisors found that some $40 million from the general fund was given to Rec and Park in 2000-01.
Prop. B would also extend by 15 years the Park, Recreation and Open Space Fund, one of the three sources of funding for the park system which comes from property taxes and was created by voters in 2000.
A third aspect of the measure requires Rec and Park to correct disparities at parks in low-income and disadvantaged neighborhoods, if any exist.
“The equity stuff allows us to view our budgetary and policy decisions through a really important lens,” Ginsburg said. “That is — how are we doing in neighborhoods that need our support and services the most?”
Alongside Farrell, the measure is supported by supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, Scott Wiener, Norman Yee and board President London Breed.
The Libertarian Party of San Francisco is against the measure, claiming that parks are underused and the funding could be better used elsewhere.
According to City Controller Ben Rosenfield, the measure would “have a significant impact on the cost of government.”
“As funds are shifted to meet the proposed baseline established in the amendment, other city spending would have to be reduced or new revenues identified to maintain current city service levels,” Rosenfield wrote in a letter to the city elections office.