The real parks problem is shrinking funding for department 

Noisy critics of The City’s Recreation and Park Department are forever complaining about events in San Francisco’s parks. Most recently, their target is the Dew Tour, a skateboarding, bicycle and motocross event being held through today in Civic Center Plaza.

But while such criticisms are all too rampant, the solutions proposed to solve this alleged problem are in very short supply.

As the money flowing from The City’s general fund to Rec and Park has been slashed from nearly $48 million to just $36 million in recent fiscal years, the department has wisely ramped up its efforts to find alternative sources of funding.

For instance, permit documents indicate that the department grossed $310,336 from the 16-day shutdown of the plaza and surrounding area to accommodate the Dew Tour. And $273,504 of that amount was profit.

All told, such special events permits, including private, ticketed events in parks, brought in $1.9 million last year. The department raised an additional $1.25 million through an agreed-upon special fee from the financially and artistically successful Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival.

These extra funds from special events increase the money available for the department to operate its sites, including parks in low-income neighborhoods. But even with all this extra revenue, this department has not fully replaced the amount it has lost year over year as our city’s elected representatives cut the funds that devoted to The City’s parks, playgrounds and playing fields.

The self-proclaimed champions of San Francisco’s parks are quick to jump up whenever new events are held, usually to complain loudly that public land is being “privatized.” But isn’t it dishonest when they do not acknowledge that these occasionally private events are actually filling a budget hole and thus helping to keep open public spaces for the rest of us?

Of course, we believe that such special events should always weigh the total public good against any potential negative impacts. Consider the Dew Tour, an event that not only is generating city revenue but also providing an exciting sporting event that the public can watch for free. This trade-off for the two-week loss of an urban plaza in The City’s center clearly falls on the positive side of the ledger.

If the critics of these events truly believe that their public good does not outweigh the negatives, then they should step up and advance a workable, realistic solution for funding San Francisco’s parks.

How should our city’s underfunded Recreation and Park Department continue to keep parks open to people of all income levels throughout The City? And where should events like the Dew Tour be held in San Francisco? Or would they prefer to see them held in Oakland or San Jose?

These nonsensical complaints about the so-called “privatization” of parks have crept into the rhetoric of the people campaigning against Proposition B, a parks bond on the November ballot. They say the defeat of the bond will send a message to the parks department that people do not want their parks closed for public events. Actually, defeat of the bond would be catastrophic, as would be cutting off the funds that the department receives from special event permits.

But, of course, the real catastrophe is the continual reduction in year-to-year parks funding. Until the department’s critics propose a solution to that problem, everything else is just talk.

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Sunday, Dec 28, 2014

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