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Prop. B would pump more money into city parks

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Proposition B asks voters whether city parks should receive additional funding. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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.

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  • Ragazzu

    The article should have mentioned that the Sierra Club also opposes this measure. Accountability of Rec and Park is reduced–it already has a record of controversial and expensive building projects in our parks.

  • Maurice

    This is utterly pointless, feel good legislation that is intended to give supervisor Farrell something to run on when he goes for Mayor in a few years.

    Does anyone in San Francisco think that park funding– and giving a huge budget increase to a poorly run department– is actually a good government thing to do? Should we maybe be talking about where the park department is spending that $160 million it currently gets?

    And yet, it will pass.

  • HMM burritos

    VOTE NO on PROP B. RPD does not follow resolutions that the BOS set. Check the Natural Areas Program. They erect fences, use pesticides and restrict recreation. Ginsburg tries to enact “rules” without public input. RPD does not have to say how the money is being spent.

    RPD has no accountability. They don’t listen to the BOS or the public. Vote NO

  • This article also leaves out the many, many supporters of NO on B, including:
    Sierra Club, League of Women Voters SF, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, San Francisco Tomorrow, SEIU Local 1021, San Francisco Tenants Union, Green Party, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, SF Forest Alliance, District 3 Democratic Club, Potrero Hill Democratic Club, HANC Board, Save the Palace of Fine Arts, Tenant Associations Coalition Political Action Committee ( TAC PAC), SF Taxpayers Association , SF Ocean Edge, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, Central City Democrats, D5 Action, District 8 Progressive Democratic Club, San Francisco for Democracy, SF League of Pissed Off Voters, SF4ALL and the SF Chronicle. SF Bay Guardian

  • Monique

    Park and Rec is like DMV badly needs an overhaul inside out. Golden Gate Park and a lot of other Parks should look nicer. I took a trip to Riga Latvia a couple of years ago and was surprised at how beautiful their parks are, why don’t our parks look like that, we have so much more money than them, where is the money going

  • Kathleen Mccowin

    The current Rec&Park leadership was successfully coerced by billionaires in the City Fields “Public Private Partnership” to tear out acres of grass and trees in public parks across the City, including 7 acres in Golden Gate Park, to install toxic waste based plastic turf. This huge waste of taxpayer money put children’s health in jeopardy, with over 200 players reporting their cancers and at least one local child dying.

    This flagrant Rec&Park misuse of public funds is now costing even more taxpayer money to clean up these dumps by replacing tons of the Prop. 65 carcinogen material, Carbon Black, installed in these fields with non-toxic materials such as coconut husks.

    With this deplorable record, why would any voter give the Rec&Park General Manager carte blanche to spend near unlimited public funds? VOTE NO on PROP B.

  • brookse32

    No On B!

    This so called ‘article’ is tantamount to propaganda for an out-of-control Rec & Park department that has abused it funds and authority so badly that nearly every neighborhood group and progressive organization in the city is opposing Prop B.

    This rogue agency has privatized and monetized access to our parks for profit, replaced natural grass soccer fields with toxic plastic turf, unnecessarily dumped dangerous carcinogenic herbicides all over our public spaces (seriously endangering children, pets, wildlife, workers and the general public) and – flying in the face of everything we know about the climate crisis – is clear cutting thousands of old growth trees in our parks which will devastate wildlife and release massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    Sierra Club, The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, the San Francisco Forest Alliance, and many other organizations have absolutely had enough of Rec & Park’s destructive impunity and oppose Prop B because it throws millions more dollars at a dismally mismanaged department, with no requirements whatsoever for how that money will be spent.

    Your article’s deceptive mention of only the Libertarian Party as opposing Prop B, when scores of progressive organizations and neighborhood groups are also vehemently opposing it, is at best poor journalism, and at worst, a purposeful attempt to fool the public into voting for this turkey of a ballot measure.

    Readers please join nearly the entire city in voting NO on prop B!

    Eric Brooks, Coordinator
    Our City SF