For long-time residents and those who grew up near Golden Gate Park, the noticeable change in the quality of care that the park receives is very disheartening. Kathy Howard of the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance and many other concerned citizens called together a community meeting this past July 20 to let it be known that Golden Gate Park (GGP) needs better care.
"Save—Don't Pave Golden Gate Park" was the motto for that Wednesday evening meeting held at the Richmond District Police Station's community room on 6th Ave. Jean Barish, a community organizer, helped to coordinate the meeting. Dozens gathered to listen about the current condition the park and to voice their concerns about priorities in the maintenance of the 1,017 acre park.
Mostly Barish, Howard and others, like past Parks, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee member Nancy Wuerfel have been very outspoken against plans for a soccer field complex and a water treatment facility in the Western edge of the park. Plea after plea to the various city officials asking that these plans be reconsidered and carried out elsewhere, have been ignored.
Wuerfel, who has served on many advisory committees and helped audit numerous planning drafts for the city and county over the years, sees problems with the two projects. This is especially true with regards to the natural habitat.
Those opposed to the proposed projects for the park, like the Golden Gate Audubon Society, among others, fear that once these projects get approved and break ground, the natural integrity of the park will be forever changed. The soccer fields and sports complex would have 60-foot high lighting, fences and a parking lot. Currently the soccer fields that are there now are grass. If completed, the new soccer facilities would have artificial turf filled with recycled tire crumbs.
People were concerned about using Golden Gate Park for just "revenue building" and more "money-making" enterprises for the park as a way for the City of San Francisco to make money.
As more aspects of the park are being renovated to bring in revenue—Boathouse at Stow Lake, etc, access to the park is limited to those who can afford to pay vendors and admission fees. And the water treatment facility—Howard and others noted—comes under Homeland Security. She charged that the rendering shown to the public of greenery covering the building site is not actually what the public will see once the facility is built and in full operation. In addition, once there is a security breach, "... you are going to have a hardened site. You are going to have concrete and barbed wire…" She and others said that the treatment facility will be an industrial use and "will include noise and traffic from utility vehicles." Motivation for the water treatment facility is "better water management," especially in the face increasing water demands. Some felt it's really about generating revenue. Wuerfel noted that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has not discussed any payment arrangements with the Rec & Park for use of the park land.
Opponents, question why our world famous park should be a site for a treatment facility. The argument from Rec & Park and SF PUC? "The treatment facility will help prepare for the City's anticipated population growth and new ways of managing water." While this may be necessary, the Golden Gate Audubon Society and others are pleading with the City and the SF PUC to find another spot for this plan for a water treatment and recycling facility. Each time these two projects are in the spotlight the public gets lots of promotion, and few details of the impact these two projects will have.
The Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Beach Chalet soccer fields will be issued in late September. Moderator Jean Barish expressed concern about rubber tire crumbs—old tires that the EPA does not allow to be dumped into landfill but are used for the fields."There is a lot of discussion and debate and a lot of unresolved issues about whether this is a safe product," she said. Neighbor, educator, and panelist Gene Thompson expressed concern about the artificial turf because it contains many hazardous materials; EIRs are crucial in situations like these. State regulations require an EIR.
Local soccer father and coach George Wooding (also a Westside Observer contributor) confessed he was initially all in favor of the soccer field plan. He did not think the artificial turf concern was that much of a big deal—"until I heard the arguments more attentively and read up on more of the details," he said. Now, He is concerned that an artificial turf is not such a good idea, especially for GGP. Restoring the "natural field as it has been for the past 50 years or so would be most appropriate for the area. And, if people still want a sports complex soccer facility, it would be best to build it some place other than the park. The park's natural integrity and habitat, set aside generations ago for all citizens to enjoy is being undermined in favor of revenue building.
Wuerfel is most vocal about the cost. Who is going to pay for these projects? The City Fields Foundation through the Fisher family is contributing, over time, the equivalent of $25 million to renovate and install artificial turf fields throughout the City. Rec and Park is matching this amount with $20 million. Yet for the renovation of the soccer fields she has not seen any documentation of their gift or contribution.
She asserted that the foundation's agreement with the City is to "match" City funds. So far, the soccer field plan is moving forward based on "their word."
"Politics as usual," many said about the efforts to make the park more profitable.
Shawna McGrew, who has worked with Rec & Park for many years, said that residents need to "act politically." Most agreed that so much is at stake—GGP's future as a park land and natural habitat, San Franciscans, especially residents of the Sunset and Richmond Districts closest to the park, must tell officials how they feel by writing letters, talking to their representatives and mayoral candidates.
If residents make it clear that these two projects are not feasible for Golden Gate Park by way of their vote, then maybe City Officials will pay better attention.
Jonathan Farrell is a free-lance San Francisco journalist
February 25, 2011: New information from the Recreation and Park Department (RPD) reveals that the non•resident fee at the Arboretum and Botanical Garden is performing poorly compared to expectations. Given the devastating impact of this fee on non•resident attendance,the facts argue it is time to discontinue the fee and provide support for ordinance #110113 currently sponsored by SupervisorsAvalos, Mirkarimi, Mar, Kim and Campos.
The Arboretum, now named the Botanical Garden at the Strybing Arboretum, was established by Helene Strybing as agift to the City and was free for nearly 70 yearsuntil Mayor Newsom's RPD directors, pushed to establish a fee for all as a means of turning the 55 acres of Golden Gate Park into a tourist revenue•generating destination.
Contrary toRPD director Phil Ginsburg's claim that the non•resident fee was initiated in 2010 as a pilot program, the initial effort to establish the fee was by then director Jared Blumenfeld in 2009 when it failed to gain support and was rejected by the Supervisors of the Budget Committee. It was at this point that Mr. Blumenfeld informed the Rec & Park Commission that, "We will start by charging non•residents."
In 2010, new director Phil Ginsburg re•introduced the non•resident fee in the midst of a fiscal crisis and tied it to firing gardeners from the Arboretum, claiming that itwould generate $650,000 of revenue and $250,000 of net income. It wasintended to be permanent until Supervisor Avalos, with support from his colleagues on the Board, introduced amendments demanded by citizens active in keeping the Arboretum Free that included a clause to 'sunset' the fee on June 30, 2011, and also allowing it to be eliminated by authority of law if new tax money was adopted which could be used by RPD at the Botanical Garden for operations and maintenance. This latter amendment led to Supervisor Avalos introducing ordinance #110113, to be heard shortly before the Budget & Finance Committee that can terminate the fee as soon as March 17, 2011.
Also contrary to Mr. Ginsburg's recent claim that the fee was partially intended to support recreationdirectors, the RPD fired 166 recreation and assistant recreation directors (average pay $37,000/year) in August 2010, after the fee was passed by the Board, and then hired seven property managers and other senior managers at salaries of$125,000/year.
The fee has fared poorly: Analysis of gate returns suggest that the fee program is falling short. Now, RPD Director Ginsbergestimates that about $405,000 can be generated this year – a roughly 38% shortfall from the $650,000 promised. Mr. Ginsburg proposes to still deliver $250,000 ofincome, but this figure is a result of unsustainable accounting maneuvers such as counting capital costs and membership dues towards the fee program's bottom line. By using accounting gimmicks and not reflecting the true costs of operating the fee program, RPD's forecasts appear disingenuous. San Francisco law•makers are urged to consider the facts about the fee and not the failed promise and financial maneuverings of the RPD.
The impact of the fee has been harsh: Gate counts also suggest that non•resident visitationis down 70%from the pre•fee estimates the RPD was using. The severe drop in non•resident attendance means that many Bay Area visitors are permanently turned•off from the Arboretum. Resident attendance is also down with many visitors comparing the inside of the garden with a tomb. Hours of operation are down to 10am to 4pm since operating the gates now costs money • prior to the fee, gates were often open at 8am, and closed very late afternoon. All this is a grave disservice to the legacy ofthe Arboretum, tothe citizens of San Francisco and to all who visit our city.
To maintain this misguided fee program is harmful: RPD's forecasts regarding the feehave proven unreliable and to again depend on them to formulate policy would be careless.Our Mayor and Supervisors must direct the RPD to find a solution that keeps the Arboretum free and open to all as before and reverse the goal of converting it to a revenue•generating tourist attraction. The Arboretum is a special public garden occupying 5.5% of the Golden Gate Park and has been operated free for 70 years. The financial benefit of the fee is too little and the harm to the Arboretum is too great to follow RPD's goal of making this under•performing fee program permanent. Eventually, RPD's goal is to institute fees for all – including residents.
Keep Arboretum Free urges RPD, the Mayor and our Supervisors to work with the community to reverse the fee and find sustainable sources of funding for the RPD. A first step would be to implement ordinance 110113 to remove the fee program and halt the damage being done to the Arboretum.
Elias Moosa, www.keeparboretumfree.org, firstname.lastname@example.org
By Kathy Howard, Friends of the Music Concourse
The Music Concourse has just finished millions of dollars of renovations, with the final stage being the renovation of the fountains. Unfortunately, the Department of Recreation and Park has chosen at this time to place numerous food, Segway, and bicycle vendors at the Bandshell , detracting from the historic character and the quality of this space. These changes have been instituted without filing the appropriate documentation with the Historic Preservation Commission as required by the landmark status of the area.
At a September meeting of the Recreation and Park Commission, FMC recommended that the Department present a long-term plan for both the area behind the Bandshell and the bus parking lot. We suggested consulting the Golden Gate Park Master Plan and following the spirit of this design, which is that of an attractive, high-quality area to match the dignity and spirit of the overall Music Concourse.
The Music Concourse is a classic, peaceful space that provides a beautiful respite for San Franciscans and visitors alike from the pressures and commercialism that pervade our 21st century society. Recreation and Park has taken care that the original design and materials be preserved, and at great expense. We encourage RPD to also preserve the special feeling of the Music Concourse in its development of commercial opportunities next to the Bandshell. We look forward to working with the Department and the Historic Preservation Commission to continue to enhance this area that is so precious to so many San Franciscans.