Purists want San Francisco Rec and Park to pull cash off trees 

California’s brand-new budget is set to shut down 70 state parks. Oakland has virtually abandoned dozens of its parks and San Carlos outsourced its park maintenance last year. In San Francisco, more than $14 million has been cut from Recreation and Park Department funding, and the department has lost some 100 employees since 2008.

Yet somehow 20,000 hours of new programs have been added during that same three-year period. As many as
69 additional gardener layoffs were averted and not a single park has been closed or abandoned.

How could this have been accomplished? Under Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg, a veteran staffer under former Mayor Gavin Newsom, the department has moved with unprecedented aggressiveness to solicit private grants and — especially — to go after more sources of revenue-generating business partnerships. A new Segway rental service is on track to contribute $97,200 in 2011-12 and bicycle rentals are projected to deliver $127,000.

In the just-ended fiscal year, carousel rides and out-of-towner tickets to the Arboretum earned $290,000. Food carts brought in $206,000. New parking lot leases for Zipcar and City CarShare will pay $150,000, while a Candlestick Park antique fair just signed up for $120,000. A number of shuttered and unused park clubhouses are leased for private uses.

Of course, the biggest income-producer of all is the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival — $1.1 million — now entering its fourth summer. According to Recreation and Park Department statistics, its total earned income from 2010-11 was $46.6 million — up $10 million in five years.

A reasonable person might think this is all wonderful news. If other city departments had similar opportunity to go after fees from concessions and leases, who knows how much The City’s deficit burden might be reduced. But no, this is confrontational San Francisco. The more success gained by park revenue-producing, the more wildly controversial it becomes.

A determined handful of reflexive anti-changers accuse Rec and Park of greedily handing out public spaces for privatization. At Dolores Park, protestors shouted down a proposed artisan coffee stand and a Yucatan-cuisine food cart. Now the diehard progressive foursome on the Board of Supervisors introduced a November ballot measure that would ban any new entry fees or new private-enterprise leases of recreation center facilities.

What are these people thinking, if they’re even thinking at all? Do they believe all the money needed for upkeep of The City’s parks can just be plucked off Golden Gate’s magical trees and rosebushes? Have these ultra-purists donated any money or organized any fundraisers for the parks?

San Francisco’s general fund won’t be overflowing with cash anytime soon. If we want our parks looking good, our recreation programs continuing and the department not losing more gardeners than it already did, Recreation and Park has no choice except to become creatively entrepreneurial. That is exactly what Phil Ginsburg brought to the department, and he deserves The City’s praise, not the rock-throwing of loudmouth hypocrites with a kooky agenda.

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