Debate continues over proposed park funding ballot measure

The proposed June charter amendment that would lock in increased spending on San Francisco’s parks during the next 15 years signals a new era for the Recreation and Park Department.

But a consensus has yet to solidify around the measure, prompting the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee to postpone a vote on the measure for the second time last week, as the deadline looms to place it on the June 7 ballot.

The proposal would ensure The City wouldn’t cut Recreation and Park Department funding and would add to it during the next 15 years.

But there remain calls for including provisions related to equity and greater accountability of the spending of those dollars. Both topics were the subject of discussions during last week’s committee hearing on the proposal.

The committee is expected amend the proposal at a Jan. 14 hearing as conversations continue in the meantime. The board has a Feb. 23 deadline to place it on the ballot.

Supervisor John Avalos, committee chair, said he still wanted to “put some meat on the bones” as it related to “strong accountability measures.”

He pointed to a recent City Controller’s park maintenance report which gave city parks an average score of 85.2 percent for fiscal year 2014-15. The wealthier neighborhoods of District 2, Marina and Pacific Heights, scored the highest at 87.5 percent while the working class neighborhoods of District 11, like the Excelsior neighborhood, scored the lowest at 78.1 percent. The lowest single park score went to Bayview neighborhood’s Gilman Playground at 57.3 percent.

“Parks on the north side of the city actually have better scores than parks on the southern part of the city,” said Avalos, the District 11 supervisor. “Our charter amendment should create some mechanism to address that. We are close but we are not quite there yet.”

Another issue brought up was whether to extend the department’s open space fund for more than 15 years. Linda D’Avirro, chair of the Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee, said, “If we extend it now Rec and Park can potentially pass revenue bonds to acquire space now, particularly in District 6, before land is all gone and prices are even higher than they are today.”

Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents District 2 and introduced the measure, said he remains open to changes to create the most “broadly accepted” measure possible.

The San Francisco Parks Alliance, a nonprofit group which raises money for parks, is backing the proposed charter amendment. The group recently issued a report saying there is $1.7 billion of deferred park maintenance.

Rosemary Cameron, who sits on the San Francisco Parks Alliance board of directors, urged the committee to approve the measure last week. She called it “a well-crafted charter amendment to increase critically needed funding for our parks.”

The department’s current fiscal year budget is $179 million, with $98 million coming from The City’s general fund, according to the adopted budget. The measure would create a baseline of funding and require a $3 million increase annually, resulting in an increase of $49 million in funding growth between fiscal year 2016-17 and fiscal year 2030-31, according to the City Controller.

Ron Proctor, of the San Francisco Forest Alliance, said increased restrictions on the spending were needed otherwise “it’s just free cash to RPD without any charter mandate.” Proctor said specifically there was a need to require spending on hazardous trees.

Some called for a specific percentage allotment of the funding, such as 20 percent for open space acquisition and 30 percent for deferred maintenance.

The measure would require five-year strategic plans, an operational plan with an equity analysis of programs and resources, and a City Controller audit after four years.

Farrell noted that the money is allocated through the annual budget process, which undergoes hearings at the Board of Supervisors.

But Nancy Wuerfel, a park advocate, said “I’m deeply concerned the voters will not be getting the maintenance of our parks that has been promised to them with this new charter amendment unless the requirements to tackle the problems are specified in the legal language.”

Rachel Norton, a park alliance spokeswoman, argued there was adequate accountability. “Call me a Pollyanna but actually I do think that this amendment is going to introduce a lot of new accountability to the department. In addition to that it pairs that accountability to additional resources,” Norton said. “I think this really can usher in a new era.”

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