New S.F. law gives military veterans free admission to popular park attractions

‘This law is just one small way we can help support their mental and physical health’

Swapping jackets and blue jeans for goggles and bathing suits, a group of veterans enjoyed a Saturday morning swim at the Sunset District’s Sava Pool, all without having to shell out an entrance fee. The discount comes courtesy of an ordinance that eliminates the price of admission to popular Recreation and Park facilities or veterans and active members of the United States armed forces who reside in San Francisco.

Authored by District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, the ordinance aims to support the mental and physical health of veterans by giving them access to city facilities such as swimming pools, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Botanical Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers and the Goldman Tennis Center. Veterans also receive a 50% discount for Camp Mather and a reduction in fees for wedding venues such as the Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda. Upon a certification of funds by the controller, the discount would expand to all veterans and active members.

“Our veterans have made enormous sacrifices for our country and are deserving of recognition and respect for their patriotism and service,” said Mar. “This law is just one small way we can help support their mental and physical health as they work to reintegrate into civilian life.”

Members of OneVet OneVoice, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to those who have served through pathways such as health care, housing, employment and education, backed Mar’s efforts to make popular park attractions more accessible. However, some members said the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department needs to do more to publicize the measure. It passed in December.

The ordinance was enacted Jan. 21. A day later, veterans Alan Wong and Hanley Chan tried using their free admission waivers to access Sava Pool, but they were held up at the entrance by staff who were not yet made aware of the law. After being shown a copy of the ordinance, the staff on duty let both men enter the facility. OneVet OneVoice organized a Feb. 5 rally to promote the law to other vets and active service members. They also wanted to ensure the law’s implementation by the Recreation and Park Department.

“We’re swimming at Sava Pool today to pave the way and ensure that all veterans are informed about this new law and can access our swimming pools and park facilities,” said Wong, who worked on drafting and passing the law as an aide to Mar. “I’m here to fight for the veterans that have disabilities, injuries, and (post-traumatic stress disorder). They served their country and deserve to be recognized and supported when they come back home. I don’t want any of them to be held up like I was.”

Courtney Ellington, OneVet OneVoice’s chief executive officer, joined her members during their rally outside of the pool because it was important to stand “in solidarity with my fellow veterans” as her role requires her to “serve veterans every day that need this law,” she said.

Supporters whipped out their swimming gear and were welcomed into Sava Pool without incident by the staff and lifeguards. Chan, a San Francisco Veterans Affairs commissioner, said, “I’m glad that this time (the Recreation and Park Department) got it right by informing their staff and letting us in. I don’t want to see any veteran prevented from using this law because the information wasn’t put out.”

The ordinance comes at a time when The City is looking to remove the price of admission to popular park attractions. Last month, Mayor London Breed proposed legislation to waive fees for residents to the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers. City residents currently pay $7 for adult tickets to those venues, while nonresidents pay $10.

Known as the “Gardens of Golden Gate Park” proposal, Breed’s legislation also seeks to combine admission, education and outreach programs at the two gardens and the San Francisco Botanical Garden, an attraction which already is free to S.F. residents. The ordinance is pending action from the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee.

While it remains to be seen what will become of Breed’s greater plan for all San Francisco residents, veterans and service members within The City can now take advantage of the wealth of facilities that waive fees. “The veterans community is proud to have rallied and organized to pass this ordinance,” said Ellington.

jsalazar@sfexaminer.com

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