Parks bond faces powerful foes

The Recreation and Park Department is placing a massive bond measure before voters for the second time in four years, but unlike the last occasion, this proposition is facing opposition from a high-profile coalition.

The department is asking voters to approve a $195 million general obligation bond in November — on the ballot as Proposition B — that will go toward repairing and rehabilitating a network of aging and historically underfunded facilities. The proposition, which requires two-thirds approval, follows a similar $185 million measure that passed with more than 71 percent of the vote in 2008.

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The funds will go to community centers and neighborhood parks, swimming pool repairs, department programs and Port of San Francisco projects.

“Our park system is old and it’s vast, and it’s in need of repair,” said Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg.

The bond measure, which will help address the department’s $1.4 billion in deferred maintenance needs, has the backing of all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee.

Unlike past parks bond measures, this year’s proposition has serious opposition, which is spearheaded by Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez and Quentin Kopp, all former presidents of the Board of Supervisors. It’s also opposed by the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and the San Francisco Tenants Coalition.

Peskin, who co-authored the 2008 parks bond measure, said the department, which has shed staff in recent years, doesn’t have the means to maintain newly refurbished facilities. He pointed to the J.P. Murphy Clubhouse in the Inner Sunset, which received $3.9 million from the 2008 bond measure but has been closed since it was renovated because the department cannot afford to pay for employees at the site.

More acutely, Peskin said, there is growing concern among city residents about Rec and Park increasingly leasing out public facilities to private vendors.

“It is my belief that, if this bond passes, the Recreation and Park Department will take that as an affirmation of their privatization and monetization policies,” Peskin said. “And it will be open season after that.”

Mark Buell, president of the Recreation and Park Commission, said opposition to the bond is based on personal slights, and not on the content of the measure.

“The fact of the matter is that there are people who didn’t get what they wanted from the department and they’re coalescing around this measure,” said Buell. He said that due to The City’s capital priorities and the upcoming election schedule, another parks bond measure wouldn’t be realistic until 2020. Peskin said the parks bond was originally scheduled for 2014, and could easily be placed on a ballot before 2020.

Supervisor Scott Wiener said any criticism against the bond measure would be short-sighted, particularly given the immense needs of the department. Shifting management of facilities to outside groups has kept them open to the public at a time when other municipalities are shutting down park resources, Wiener said.

“I think the opposition to this is incredibly cynical and irresponsible, because they are taking the position that, ‘We don’t like Phil Ginsburg, we don’t like some of these operational decisions,” Wiener said. “‘So therefore kids should continue to play on broken-down playgrounds, people should continue to sit in puddles even when it is dry out because the irrigation systems in these parks are broken, we should continue to have substandard pools.’”

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