Why environmentalists and neighborhood groups are opposing more money for parks
Other departments, like Recreation and Parks, provide free services, funded by taxpayer money. In theory, the department creates and maintains open spaces for public use. The recreation side offers services like classes and after-school activities, many of which are centered in recreation centers and clubhouses in parks throughout the city.
These have been staffed in the past by recreation directors, adults who coordinated and supervised play, in many cases becoming beloved community figures.
But some city officials want that mission to change. In a time of tight budgets (and facing significant cuts to its operating funds), Rec-Park has been looking for ways to increase revenue by charging fees for what was once free.
In fact, in a 2010 Rec-Park Commission meeting, interim General Manager Jared Rosenfeld said, “the sooner we become an enterprise agency, the better off we will be.”
In August 2010, the department fired 48 recreation directors. In their place, Rec-Park hired part-time workers who were paid to put on programs but not to staff neighborhood rec centers. The department also hired six more employees in the Property Management Division, tasked with leasing out and renting parks property.
In 2010, the commission also approved a plan to impose a fee for non-residents and require residents to show ID to enter the Arboretum. The once-free public garden was on its way to becoming a cash cow (operated in part by the private San Francisco Botanical Society).
A fledgling group formed to fight the fees – and its members soon connected People from SF Ocean Edge, the Parks Alliance and SPEAK who were not pleased with a proposal to install artificial turf and floodlights at the Beach Chalet soccer field and people who opposed the leasing of clubhouses.
Mosgofian, a member of the Labor Council and worker with Graphic Communications International Union Local 4-N, helped bring together many disparate groups who, they realized, have a common goal in halting the privatization of the parks system.
“It started with a number of different people who were involved in a number of different efforts to get the Rec and Park Department to do the right thing running into each other and eventually getting together,” said Mosgofian “People from these groups found themselves listening to each other’s efforts and got together.”
Subhed: The empty clubhouse
One of the turning points was the fight over J.P. Murphy Clubhouse in the Sunset.
In July 2010, Rec-Park quietly began taking clubhouses, previously free and open to anyone in the neighborhood, and putting them up for lease. Nonprofits, some of them offering expensive programs, took exclusive control of public facilities.
For Rec-Park, it was more money. For neighborhood residents, it was a sign they were being cut off from the resources their tax dollars built and funded.
“They would put a notice on the clubhouse door for a hearing, they would have four or five concerned mothers show up, and they would lease the facility,” said George Wooding, then-president of the West of Twin Peaks neighborhood group that got involved in opposing the clubhouse privatization.
The J.P. Murphy clubhouse in the inner sunset had benefitted from the 2008 bond. The building was renovated at a cost of $3.8 million. But when the shiny new rec center was finished, Rec-Park tried to put it up for lease.
Wooding helped organize strong opposition to the lease. They had already paid for the clubhouse through taxes and bond money, the opposition figured—why shouldn’t it be kept open to the public, free?
“I’d had enough. We felt, this is our park, they just spent a ton of money. They fired the rec director. When Rec-Park came to rent out the facility, we just said no way,” Said Wooding.