Food helps fatten San Francisco Rec and Park's lean budget 

A few years ago, a visitor to the Marina Green who came down with a case of the munchies would have just one option: the snack kiosk on Little Marina Green.

For a chart of Recreation and Park revenue sources over the last five fiscal years, click on the photo to the right.

Today, that hungry visitor has three options: the kiosk, the Beach Hut at the Crissy Field Center and a soft-serve ice cream truck that has a permit to operate at the park’s entrance.

And the culinary options could soon expand to five — the Vietnamese street food vendor Little Green Cyclo has applied for permission to operate a food truck, and the Recreation and Park Department is soliciting proposals for a restaurant in the old Marina Degaussing Station, a historic building on the site.

Marina Green is just one example of the growth of food vendors and other concessionaires in public parks, an effort Rec and Park officials say is necessary to support their budget. But it has some people concerned about the gradual commercialization of The City’s public parks.

Rec and Park spokeswoman Sara Ballard said renting public space to food vendors has helped bring in sorely needed dollars to support recreation programs and gardeners. In total, she said the expansion of commercial presence in parks has brought in $7 million in new revenue since 2006.

While the department’s budget was once entirely paid for through tax dollars, today about 70 percent of the budget is funded with internally generated money, according to Jim Lazarus, a past president of the Recreation and Park Commission. The department has continued to search for ways to generate income to make it less vulnerable to budget cuts.

Ballard said Rec and Park is not handing commercial interests a carte blanche.

“We have really high-traffic areas, but we’re really sensitive to saturating those sites and having a good balance of supply and demand,” she said. “There’s plenty of people who want to put their carts in our parks, but we don’t let them all.”

But Marina disrict resident Patricia Vaughey said she is skeptical of the efforts to make a buck off the parks, and worries that in the long term The City could “turn the Marina Green into Coney Island.”

“What is the real purpose of all this?” Vaughey said. “Are we trying to turn everything into a public-private benefit corporation?”

John Millar, president of the Marina Community Association, said he “wouldn’t want to see the Marina Green completely commercialized.”

“If it gets to the point where it becomes a destination for food service as opposed to a destination for what it’s supposed to be, which is a park, it becomes problematic,” Millar said. “A park is not a business district.”

Golden Gate Park is another site of considerable change — there are now seven food vendors there as opposed to two a few years ago. Also, a tennis shop complete with food-and-beverage service has been proposed for the courts complex in the park.

And at the foot of the park, a new restaurant is planned for the renovated Millwrights Cottage at the Murphy Windmill.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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Katie Worth

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Saturday, Dec 27, 2014

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