Improvement funds not being put into play

Unfulfilled promises from the 2000 Neighborhood Park Bond has left many parks advocates frustrated and questioning The City’s ability to manage money for park improvements.

Those questions come as San Francisco gets ready to spend $185 million in new voter-approved park bonds. Of that, $80.1 million is destined for projects promised nearly one decade ago, including renovations to the aging Chinese and Palega recreation centers and to playgrounds and recreation centers in the Mission and Glen Park.

Voters approved $110 million in park bonds in 2000, intended to help fund 69 projects that would be rolled out during the next decade. Of those, slightly more than half — 36 projects — were finished, while 33 remain in limbo.

“There was a little too much exuberance in 2000,” department General Manager Yomi Agunbiade said. “The capital list contained just about every park in The City, and they started doing as many projects as possible.”

However, 34 different projects not in the original plan received 2000 bond funds and are complete or in the works, according to reports from the Recreation and Park Department.

A $56 million shortfall in 2004 led the department to scale back three projects and put 19 others on hold, according to a 2006 audit from the Budget Analyst’s Office.

Most of those 19 are now in the works or finished, but others included in the 2000 capital plan were abandoned.

Others, such as renovations at Glen Canyon Park, were folded into the new bond. Those repairs could cost $30 million, parks advocate Miriam Moss said, but they’re only slated for $5.8 million.

Like Glen Canyon, Mission Dolores Park was promised a new playground with 2000 bond funds.

The Friends of Mission Dolores Park received a $1 million grant to bootstrap playground renovations, member Donald Bird said.

“Then Rec and Park got low on money, so they borrowed [the grant] and used it for other projects,” Bird said.

Mission Dolores Park is scheduled to receive $13.2 million from the 2008 bond for upgrades.

Other held projects are now under way, such as the Sava Pool at Larsen Park in the Sunset. Originally, the concept was to build a two-pool aquatic center for $9 million — impossible atSan Francisco prices, advocate Dick Allen said.

When the project seemed doomed, Allen and others approached supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom for funding. Crews now are putting the finishing touches on the $17.1 million pool, due to open in November.

The Recreation and Park Department will not veer from projects and initiatives approved by voters in February, Agunbiade said.

“This bond is about absolutely doing things differently,” he said.

Advocates find ‘disconnect’ with city on volunteering

The City’s recreational-space advocates have questions about what happened to park projects promised in a 2000 capital plan — but they’re also wondering why verbal agreements in the past to let volunteers help improve the parks have been ignored.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Recreation and Park General Manager Yomi Agunbiade received an earful from those advocates recently when representatives from the Neighborhood Parks Council gathered to rate The City on its progress improving parks.

Atop the list was the failure of the department to create work plans that describe how many hours of maintenance service each park receives, and how much each needs, council Director Isabel Wade said.

Volunteers also reported that their efforts to create and maintain parks have been met with resistance, Wade said.

Potrero Hill neighbors have spent the past decade dreaming of helping to build a 4-acre park along Channel Street, resident Tony Kelly said. But the parcel is slated as part of a land-swap deal with NORCAL Waste for a parcel in Little Hollywood, according to Recreation and Park Department documents.

Kelly blamed the problem on a “real disconnect” between the neighborhoods, the Recreation and Park Department and city officials.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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