SF CHRONICLE: Keeping up the San Francisco parks


Keeping up the San Francisco parks

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department has been caught in a bind for the past two difficult budget years. Faced with consistent budget cuts, the department chose to cut some services – and a large portion of its administrative staff – and to look for new ways to raise revenue.

The department did not choose to do anything drastic, like demand a $5 fee from anyone who wanted to run on Crissy Field or throw a Frisbee in Duboce Park.

Instead, it levied a $7 fee for nonresidents to enter the Botanical Garden. It put the food and drink concession license at Stow Lake, in Golden Gate Park, up for bidding in the hopes of bringing in a new vendor who could modernize the facility and its offerings. It sold permits to a couple of local food trucks that wanted to set up shop in Dolores Park.

These were mild, moderate steps made in an effort to keep San Francisco’s parks open and operating. Yet they have all been greeted with the din that one might expect at the end of the world.

Angry residents tried to derail the Botanical Garden fee, convinced that they would be the next ones who had to open their wallets to enter.

Furious at the department’s decision to allow competition, the Stow Lake vending family that has held the concession license for more than 65 years sued. The case is still in court, but the family has gotten a temporary restraining order to prevent the new vendor from moving in.

At Dolores Park, local agitators who believed the permitted carts represented commercialization and corporatization managed to run off one business and tried to shut down another. (They failed – the taco truck sponsored by La Cocina just had a successful opening weekend.)

Food, drinks and flowers – if these small pleasures are so offensive, what might happen if the department tried something even more serious, like charging for parking at its lots or installing parking meters in Golden Gate Park?

This isn’t a trivial question. As long as the recession continues, the park department will have to consider creative ways to pay its bills. Phil Ginsburg, the department’s general manager, told us that the deep and continued nature of the budget cuts would require the department to consider more ways to generate revenue, including the issuance of more permits and maybe even a ballot measure.

We urge San Franciscans to consider the climate in which the park department is operating before protesting sensible fees and concessions. Pitching in now could prevent the necessity of steeper fees later.


This article appeared on page A – 13 of the San Francisco Chronicle