Barbara Meskunas

 

Pork for Parks

By Barbara Meskunas

 

million dollar toilet on the panhandleCity Hall wants $185 million from property owners and renters to fix up the parks – a job City Hall is already paid to do.


In recent years, City Hall has relied on issuing bonded indebtedness to compensate for

a seeming inability to budget our over $6 billion dollar annual tax haul in a way that makes sense. Instead of planning for future maintenance and replacement of infrastructure and improvements, our infectious bureaucratic habit has been to spend every penny on bloating the city payroll, and then crying poverty when something breaks and needs to be fixed, followed by begging the taxpayers for more money to feed the habit in the form of a bond measure.


Until the year 2000, the Recreation and Park Department managed its facilities without resorting to this unsustainable fiscal formula. In 2000, the department made a case for what we thought was a one-time expenditure to catch up on deferred maintenance items necessitated by age and overuse – the voters approved a $110 million general obligation bond.


Since 2000, bond-related positions have been added to the payroll, and more “needs” have been identified. At the same time, TV reports have documented employee thefts of both time and materials – a couple of them were actually filmed loading up their trucks and driving home with plants that belong to the taxpayers – and those employees still work there.


Our parks are filled with homeless encampments. Trees haven’t been pruned in decades. It is a sick joke that only a handful of gardeners are supposed to maintain all of our city parks and fields while middle management positions and lucrative sweetheart contracts eat up the department’s operating budget.
Prop A will do nothing to address these problems – it will simply reward bad behavior. The Parks Department needs new management, not new tax money.


Prop A would authorize expenditure of $117.4 million to improve twelve playgrounds – none in District 7, by the way. It authorizes $33.5 million for potential projects at a number of waterfront locations, to be supervised by the Port; $11.4 million for park restrooms; $5 million for a “community opportunity fund;” $5 million for “nature trails,” and the rest for athletic fields and “park forestry.”


In regard to the $5 million for “nature trails,” a sizeable portion of San Francisco’s park enthusiasts, including the San Francisco Tree Council, have taken issue with the department’s plan to destroy over 18,000 “non-native” mature trees to make way for so-called “natural areas,” i.e. sand dunes and indigenous weeds and wildflowers to replace trees and picnic areas that are enjoyed by the San Francisco residents and their families who pay for them. Since when is City Hall justified in asking for tax money to destroy public assets?


According to newspaper accounts, the Neighborhood Parks Council (NPC) was poised to oppose this bond until the $5 million “community” fund was included to support NPC’s laudable public-private partnerships. There is no insurance that the NPC will ever see this money, however, since the bond oversight committee that will be created to spend the money will be stacked with political appointees who generally hate private sector, volunteer efforts that accomplish neighborhood objectives without city employees.
Do our parks and recreation areas need improvement? Of course they do. But we need to first ask, who’s minding the store? A restroom recently constructed on the Panhandle cost more than $1 million – does that mean we should buy 10 new restrooms with this bond (perhaps far fewer, with inflation) and pay for them for the next 20+ years with increased rents and property taxes? I’m sure we can all think of better uses for our tax money, and certainly, cheaper ways to provide restrooms.


The parks and playgrounds slated for renovation on this measure’s list have been allowed to fall into critical disrepair for purposes of this bond campaign. Neighbors of at least half of them can tell you that the Parks Director has repelled volunteer efforts to clean up these parks, or raise money for these parks, and insists on paid city employees supervising even trash pick-up efforts by neighbors.


Proposition A on the February 2008 ballot is a City Hall jobs program disguised as a parks bond and should be soundly rejected by property owners and tenants alike, since 50% of the increased property taxes can be passed on to tenants in this particular bond measure.


San Francisco voters have rejected the Pothole Bond and two housing subsidy bonds in recent years for critical flaws similar to those in this measure – poor management and no fiscal accountability.
Prop A deserves the same fate – vote NO and save your money.


Barbara Meskunas is Executive Director of the San Francisco Taxpayers Union

 

December 2007

 


 


TAXPAYERS BEWARE!

Propositions A & D will cost you, while Prop H will put money in your pockets.

 

Nov. 2007

 

This November’s ballot is hardly inspiring, but if you care about City Hall squandering your tax dollars, then there are a few important reasons to take the time to vote.

 

By now you’ve received the Proposition A mailer claiming your vote to throw tens of millions more dollars at the Muni (Prop A) would stop global warming and make Muni run on time.  Of course, it will do neither, but it’s not illegal to lie on campaign mailers.

 

Prop A was brought to you by City Hall Supervisors who want to be able to issue bonded indebtedness, raise fares and increase parking costs without asking taxpayers for permission.  Important fiscal decisions, including giving pay raises to Muni managers, would be delegated to an appointed MTA board, leaving no elected officials accountable to voters and Muni riders.  What little money that is currently directed to parking improvements would be given to Muni.

 

Prop A began as a terrible idea, and ended up even worse.  At the last minute, the anti-car nuts who control most of our Supervisors convinced Aaron Peskin to include a provision that effectively freezes out adequate parking spaces in new housing developments, and worse, stops a citizens’ signature initiative, Prop H, from being implemented even if the voters approve it!  The last minute change was even too much for the Mayor, who withdrew his support.

 

Proposition H, if it passes, and only if Prop A is also defeated, would allow new housing developers to build one parking space for every housing unit, except downtown, where it would allow 3 spaces for every 4 units.  Most rational people are amazed that you can’t do that now, but you can’t, and that’s why businesses, developers, and many neighborhood groups are supporting Prop H, (along with an intelligent Supervisor or two).  Prop H would also make it easier to build a garage in your own home, decreasing competition for street spaces.

 

San Francisco has lost thousands of parking spaces in recent years, and the impact on our small businesses has been profound.  How many times have you circled a block in a shopping area only to drive home in disgust?  Prop H will begin the process of restoring balance to San Francisco’s parking policies that, in recent years, have been focused on getting people out of their cars by any means necessary, regardless of whether their physical needs or family size require private transportation to maintain an acceptable quality of life.

 

If you’re tired of having a lousy Muni and no place to park, vote NO on A and YES on H.

Proposition D is another City Hall marketing con.  Disguised as a renewal of the Library Preservation Fund, the only thing it has in common with the original Library Preservation Fund voters approved 15 years ago is the source of funding –  the taxpayers.

 

If you flip through the pretty pictures in the campaign mailers, you would think that a vote for Prop D would keep our branch libraries open – it won’t.  What it would do is divert operations money to capital improvements to make up for shortages resulting from fiscal mismanagement of branch library renovations.  And worse, it would freeze library operations funding, insuring that hours of operations will decline over time as labor and facilities costs increase.

 

If you care about keeping our branch libraries open, and don’t want to hand over a blank check to City Hall to cover construction cost overruns, vote NO on D.  Don’t worry – they’ll come back next year with an extension of the Library Preservation Fund that actually is what it pretends to be.

 

Barbara Meskunas
Executive Director
San Francisco Taxpayers Union


November 2007


 

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