Money for parks

Just how big an impact can Prop A's $185 million make?
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sarah@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY A broad coalition of politicians and activists is supporting Proposition A, the $185 million parks bond on the February ballot, with the rare unanimous support of the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

But just how big an impact can this bond, which requires 66 percent voter approval, make? The city has spent the $110 million bond that voters approved in 2000 to repair parks and recreation centers, and an independent 2007 analysis identified $1.7 billion in backlogged park needs.

"This is one of an ongoing series of measures that we need to do every five or so years," board president Aaron Peskin told the Guardian.

The bond allocates $117.4 million for repairs and renovations of 12 neighborhood parks that were selected, Recreation and Park Department director Yomi Agunbiade told us, according to seismic and physical safety needs and usage levels.

The bond also earmarks $11.4 million to replace and repair freestanding restrooms. Noting that his department added 35 custodians in the last budget cycle, Agunbiade said, "So when we fix a bathroom, we'll have staff to keep it open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week."

Some aren't keen on the bond's inclusion of $33.5 million for Port of San Francisco land projects, including the Blue Greenway, a continuous walkway from Heron's Head Park to Pier 43. San Francisco Community College trustee and Sierra Club member John Rizzo supports the measure but raised concerns about projects on Port land, particularly improvements at Fisherman's Wharf.

But Peskin sees the Port lands inclusion as overdue: "For the first time there's the recognition that the Port should not be treated as a stand-alone enterprise that has to do everything itself." As for the improvements around Pier 43, which is in his district, Peskin said, "Fisherman's Wharf, like Union Square, is one of those geese that lay the golden egg" in terms of revenue from tourism.

The bond also earmarks $8 million for improvements to playing fields. Agunbiade said many fields are in terrible shape and in desperate need of work, "but this bond only affects about 7 percent of the city's park land."

Some Potrero Hill neighbors are sounding environmental alarms about plans to install artificial turf at their local recreation center, but Agunbiade said there are also environmental benefits to turf, including decreased water and pesticide use.

Arthur Feinstein of the Sierra Club and San Francisco Tomorrow told us he strongly supports Prop. A, largely because it earmarks $5 million for trail restoration.

"The evidence is not in on the ill effects of artificial turf," Feinstein said, "but its ability to be in constant use frees up land for other uses, such as trail reconstruction, which makes a huge difference not just for native species and plants but people too, who need nature, especially in densely urban areas."

Isabel Wade, executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council, says her nonprofit supports Prop. A, and she cited its inclusion of $5 million for an Opportunity Fund from which all neighborhoods can apply for matching funds for small park projects.

"A lot of little parks are not on the list because the capital costs of seismic repairs are so great, so how do you even get a bench or a toilet? Why not leverage money?" Wade said, observing that in-kind contributions, sweat equity, and noncity funds can be matched by the Opportunity Fund.

The bond includes $4 million for park forestry, along with $185,000 to do bond audits. This last item didn't quell the objections of the San Francisco Taxpayers Union, a small group of conservative real estate interests that filed the sole opposition argument to Prop. A, courtesy of Barbara Meskunas, former legislative aide of suspended supervisor Ed Jew.

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