The proposed charter amendment for Rec and Park would increase its funding by $3 million a year in the first 10 years. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Consensus outstanding around park funding measure

Discussions continue Thursday around the details of a proposed charter amendment that would automatically allocate city revenues annually for the Recreation and Park Department.

While boosting funding for parks is a popular notion among voters, details are being debated that could determine whether there is a political consensus behind the measure, improving its chances for passage.

The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee holds its first hearing today on the measure, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell and is slated for the June ballot.

Farrell is expected to make several amendments to the measure today to address some of the concerns raised recently by members of the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC), as well as those by Supervisor John Avalos, who chairs the Rules Committee. Avalos has met with Farrell leading up to today’s hearing.

One amendment confirmed by the San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday is to eliminate the provision that funds in the open space acquisition fund could also be used for construction costs. Open space advocates worried construction expenses would quickly dry up the fund and limit land purchases.

Other concerns expressed are the amount of the measure, an increase by $3 million annually during the first 10 years. The set aside would continue for another 10 years with a formula-based amount.

“Our parks need literally billions of dollars of capital repairs and considerably more maintenance than they have been getting,” said an email to the board sent by longtime park advocates Isabel Wade and Anne Halsted. They said the proposed amount “is simply inadequate and will spoil the opportunity to seek what we really need with voter approval for at least a decade.”

Farrell said there are arguments on both sides in regard to the amount, but he believes he has struck the “appropriate balance.”

Other concerns include the need for stricter rules on the spending to ensure a certain portion goes toward the thousands of backlogged maintenance needs and preventive maintenance; and a greater oversight of the spending with an audit every year not every four years.

Richard Ivanhoe, who sits on PROSAC, said in an email to the board that more time was needed to improve the measure, arguing the measure lacks “any means of ensuring that any funds are used for deferred maintenance.”

Farrell said he didn’t want to be overly restrictive and noted that the “funds are going to be subject to the annual budget process.”

Avalos said Wednesday he supports the proposal in “concept” but called it a “work in progress to get to a more consensus measure.”

Among Avalos’ main concerns is funding equity. He explained that the less affluent parts of town, such as the neighborhoods he represents, District 11’s Excelsior, often receives less investment in public spaces from both public and private sources.

It’s unclear exactly what that would look like. “Equity would be something to offset how parks in wealthier neighborhoods get Cadillac facilities compared to parks in not so wealthy neighborhoods,” Avalos said. He said private donations coupled with public funding have resulted in land acquisitions like the Francisco Reservoir, which is in Farrell’s district, and the Noe Valley Town Square and private funding has created “gorgeous facilities” in other parks in the wealthier parts of town but not in areas like Visitacion Valley, Bayview or the Excelsior.

“I’m open to making sure this ballot measure addresses equity concerns,” Farrell said.

Farrell has already secured support from other members of the board. Supervisors Norman Yee, Eric Mar, London Breed, Malia Cohen, Scott Wiener and Katy Tang are in support, according to Farrell’s office staff.

The committee is expected to amend the proposed measure and then postpone a vote on it. Farrell expects a vote by the full board late next month or early next year.

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