The park bond battle

Why environmentalists and neighborhood groups are opposing more money for parks 

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Fake grass in Golden Gate Park: Activists are angry about plans for artificial turf soccer field.

yael@sfbg.com

Recreation and Parks clubhouses are privatized and cut off from public access. Public spaces like the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park are closed to people who can’t pay the price of admission. Event fees and permit processes have become so onerous that they’ve squeezed out grassroots and free events.

It’s been enough to infuriate a long list of neighborhood groups who have been complaining about the San Francisco Recreation and Park  Department for years.

And now those complaints have led to a highly unusual coalition of individuals and groups across the political spectrum coming together to do what in progressive circles was once considered unthinkable: They’re opposing a park bond.

From environmentalists, tenant advocates, labor leaders, and Green Party members to West Side Republicans and fiscal conservatives,  activists are campaigning to try to defeat Proposition B, the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. 

The bond would allow the city to borrow $195 million for capital projects in several parks around the city. It comes five years after the voters passed a $185 million park bond. 

Environmental groups like San Francisco Tomorrow and SF Ocean Edge oppose the bond, and even the Sierra Club doesn’t support it because “In recent years, we have had many concerns with management of the city's natural places,” as Michelle Meyers, director of the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter, told us.  

Matt Gonzalez, the only Green Party member ever to serve as Board of Supervisors president, is part of the opposition, as is progressive leader Aaron Peskin.  Joining them is retired Judge Quentin Kopp, darling of the city’s fiscal conservatives.

The San Francisco Tenants Union wrote a ballot argument opposing Prop. B. The left-leaning Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council and the more centrist Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods both want the bond defeated.

Many of the people opposing Prop. B have never before opposed a city bond act. “This is very difficult for me,” said labor activist Denis Mosgofian. “Some of us always support public infrastructure spending.”

When we called Phil Ginsburg, the director of Rec-Park, for comment, his office referred us to Maggie Muir, who’s running the campaign for Yes on B. She sent a statement saying: "Unfortunately, a small group of individuals are opposing Proposition B because they disapprove of Recreation and Park Department efforts to improve our parks and better serve San Francisco’s diverse communities.” The statement refers to Prop B’s opponents as “single issue activists”

 So who are these activists, and why have they come together to oppose the parks bond?

 Many started with, as Muir put it, a single issue.  Journalist Rasa Gustaitis  didn’t want to see fees to enter the Botanical Gardens and Arboretum in Golden Gate Park.  West of Twin Peaks resident George Wooding was upset that Rec-Park has been leasing public clubhouses to private interests. Landscape Architect Kathy Howard took issue with a plan to renovate Beach Chalet soccer fields, complete with artificial turf and stadium lighting.

After a few years of fighting these small battles, people like Gustaitis, Wooding, and Howard started to see a pattern.  Park property was being privatized.

THE ENTERPRISE

Some city departments, like the airport and the port, are so-called enterprise agencies. They don’t receive allocations from the city’s general fund, and operate entirely on money they charge users. In the case of the airport, most of the money comes from landing fees paid by airlines. The port charges ships that dock here, and takes in rent from its real-estate holdings.

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