Performance of Botanical Garden Fee Supports Continuation of Admissions Program

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Revenue from Non-Resident Fee on Pace to Bring $500K to Help Support Recreation and Parks

SAN FRANCISCO– The newly instituted entrance fee paid by non-city resident visitors to San Francisco Botanical Garden is on pace to bring a half million dollars a year to the city’s Recreation and Park Department, General Manager Phil Ginsburg announced today.

The non-resident fee for visitors to the Golden Gate Park attraction was initiated last summer as a pilot project to protect city general fund-supported recreation programs such as after school and senior programs and general fund support for workers who staff recreation centers and maintain city park property.

"Given the fiscal challenges faced by our city, the Recreation and Park Department is committed to doing everything it can to protect recreational programs, parks and recreation centers so critical to the quality of life of all San Franciscans," Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg asked for a review of receipts and of projections for the Botanical Garden as the Board of Supervisors prepares to entertain legislation introduced by Mayor Edwin Lee to make permanent the $7 fee for non-resident visitors. Admission for San Francisco residents would remain free.

Competing legislation being authored by Supervisor John Avalos would end the program. The supervisor said he would replace the lost funding in the upcoming fiscal year by tapping revenue from an increase in city real estate transfer taxes, however, his proposal is a one-time only solution and does not address funding for subsequent years.

Vince Courtney, business agent for the Laborers Union Local 261, which represents Recreation and Park gardeners, encouraged Avalos to give the pilot project more time and not to unnecessarily take new tax dollars away from other essential city services.

"The reality of the times we are in is that city governments are going to have to be creative and look for ways to leverage private sources of funding where appropriate and practical to protect scarce public dollars," said Courtney, who also is a member of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

According to the review ordered by Ginsburg, Recreation and Park Department receipts from the non-resident Botanical Garden fee raised $209,561 between August 7 and February 28, 2011.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, receipts are on track to reach $402,401. For fiscal year 2011-2012, which would be the first full year of the program, the Department estimates revenue at $542,055. To illustrate the potential of the non-resident fee, the neighboring Japanese Tea Garden currently generates $2 million in non-resident admission fees each year.

In charging $7 for non-residents, San Francisco Botanical Garden joins other comparable botanical gardens in the nation that charge an admission fee, although most charge for both residents and non-residents (including New York and Denver). Of the 14 comparable botanical gardens in the US, only two do not charge admission fees (Seattle and Chicago); however, the Chicago Botanic Garden charges $20 for parking. The average admission charge – including the two that charge no fees – is $9.28 for adults. San Francisco charges only $7 for adults.

San Francisco Botanical Garden is a specialty garden that occupies 55 acres within Golden Gate Park and requires 11 fulltime gardeners for upkeep. By comparison, McLaren Park is 317 acres and has only four gardeners. At a time when the Department remains nearly 200 gardeners short of where it should be, revenue from the non-resident fee will help subsidize staffing costs at the garden, freeing up funding for neighborhood park maintenance.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society has helped the city administer this new non-resident fee and has invested $74,515 in start up costs for the program. The Botanical Garden Society has enjoyed a 55-year partnership with the city maintaining, promoting, preserving and enhancing the Garden. They have historically contributed financial, programmatic, managerial, staff time, and expertise to support San Francisco Botanical Garden.