Newsom weeds out park gardeners despite promising growth

Eight months after Mayor Gavin Newsom touted a budget infusion of $2.7 million into The City’s Recreation and Park Department for 15 new gardeners and 35 new custodians dedicated to improving the upkeep of The City’s parks, 35 gardening positions are on the chopping block.

Instructed by the Mayor’s Office to slash $5.5 million from its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Rec and Park is considering such cost-cutting measures as abandoning subsidies to golf courses, eliminating 30 to 35 unfilled gardening positions and increasing fees for the Japanese Tea Garden.

“They are going to cut 35 old, vacant positions that have never been filled. No direct services will be impacted,” Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said. “They will have zero effect on our parks. This is just cleaning up the books.”

The elimination of potential gardener positions will have an effect, especially in The City’s smaller parks, said Isabel Wade, executive director for the Neighborhood Parks Council.

“A lot of the mini parks, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, can’t afford to have a [full-time] gardener,” Wade said. “Because the department is so understaffed, gardeners can only get out to these parks about once a month, usually to pick up trash.”

In the budget that was passed in June, Newsom noted that “San Francisco aspires to be a ‘green’ city in many senses of the word” and said that the money for new gardeners and custodians would help “keep park grounds and facilities clean, beautiful and well-maintained.”

Along with the 30 to 35 vacant, but funded, gardening positions, the department is considering eliminating as many as 10 maintenance positions, and a handful of administration positions, which are currently vacant. The cuts would save $3 million, according to calculations. Increases in Japanese Tea Garden fees and concert permits would bring in an additional $475,000, according to the department’s budget report.

Last year, the department obtained $1.4 million in subsidies from the general fund to cover golf facility costs, a reliance on city money they would like to eliminate, department spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis said. Without the subsidies, The City’s golf courses could potentially be shifted to privately managed companies.

The Rec and Park Department must have a finalized budget submitted to the Mayor’s Office by Feb. 21, Dennis said.

wreisman@examiner.com

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