Board to vote on privatizing S.F. golf courses

The City is on course to erase an ongoing deficit in operating public golf courses that could also land San Francisco residents with acres of public open space.

As part of its review of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed $6.1 billion city budget, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday sent to the full board for a vote a proposal to privatize three of the city’s ailing public golf courses, including The City’s premier course, PGA-approved Harding Park, as well as the Fleming and Lincoln courses.

The plan comes as city officials have increasingly pressured the Recreation and Park Department to improve its operation of The City’s six public courses, which this year ran in the red and required a $1.4 million subsidy from the operating budget.

The department projects a need of $1.29 million in operating budget subsidies during the next fiscal year, of which $907,000 is the result of a projected deficit at the Harding course.

Privatizing the golf courses has come under criticism by the labor union representing the course’s gardeners, park advocates and Supervisor Jake McGoldrick.

A private operator would achieve operational savings “off the backs of the folks who would be working there,” McGoldrick said. “I don’t think that as a policy that’s what we should be doing.” McGoldrick said there are other ways to climb out of the red.

The department supports the proposal, as it would eliminate its operating deficit of the courses as well as free up 27 gardeners at the three courses, who would be moved to work at neighborhood parks.

The department is in need of 212 gardeners to be able to maintain the parkland at acceptable levels.

As The City considers privatizing the courses, the Neighborhood Parks Council is asking The City to consider converting at least one of the courses to meet other recreational needs, such as soccer and hiking.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said, “It’s high time we help subsidize” a study to explore the conversion of at least one course. “I do not believe that we need as many golf courses as we have,” he said.

The full Board of Supervisors will vote on the privatization proposal July 10, when, according to Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, it has a “50-50” chance of passing.

If approved by the board, the department would take bids for golf operators and ultimately a lease would come before the board for a vote in about a year.

jsabatini@examiner.com


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