Save San Francisco's parks from commercialization

San Francisco's delightful Stow Lake Boat House in Golden Gate Park, and much of the park itself and other public spaces in the City, are in danger of being commercialized and crapified through backroom deals and privatization. BB contributor Jacques Vallee sent me the following editorial on the subject, under the title "When Green Meets Greed In A San Francisco Park." Jacques isn't a member of any of the organizations mentioned in his rant. He's just a concerned citizen who wants to preserve some of its most beautiful, natural, and untainted parts of San Francisco.
When Green Meets Greed In A San Francisco Park
by Jacques Vallee

It was the kind of setting that enchanted nature photographers and could make rich Americans fly to Europe just to enjoy it. They would bring back lovely pictures and happy memories: an old ramshackle wooden building by the side of a lake where local people, old and young, gathered with their children to enjoy the day, feed some remarkable birds, play with turtles or rent a rowboat for a leisurely excursion on the water. Except that this wasn’t Saint-Tropez, Lugano or Hallstatt. It was Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

The Stow Lake boathouse was cheap, casual and a unique escape from the worries or pressures of life. It had been built by a local family in the 1940’s. I used to go there on weekends with my children when they were small. More recently, when my wife and I needed a break from her cancer treatment, we would just buy some food from the high school kids who ran the little shop and find a quiet spot nearby for a picnic. For years I have enjoyed going there and meeting people from all over: entrepreneurs from England, Russian elders with war stories, young lovers on their honeymoon, happy Chinese families celebrating with newlywed couples in white dress and tuxedo, local kids taking pictures of blue herons, joggers looking for a place to rest, and lots of seniors just enjoying the scenery. You could sit down at a rugged redwood table, share stories and admire the view as long as you wanted.

It’s not only the destruction of a historic setting and the social traditions it preserved that bothers me (although it was also the only place in Golden Gate Park where you could rent a bike) but the way it is happening, and more generally, the ominous shadow it throws over a City where so many things have started to go very, very wrong. So I attended the community meeting that marked the closing of the boathouse and I learned a few interesting facts.

First, according to the wave of protests this scandal is starting to raise in San Francisco, Mayor Lee’s administration, the City Planning Commission and the Recreation & Park Department are all involved in the decision to replace the boathouse with a tourist trap café-restaurant run by a souvenir store chain company from New Mexico that has no experience in boating, all under the guise of saving money for the parks. Which is curious when you consider that this privatization of open space includes a provision that the new facility will receive free gas, water and electricity paid by the people of San Francisco.

The most egregious aspect of the situation is not so much the decision itself but the way the process seems to be working. According to the protesters, the New Mexico company got the decision through the City by using expensive local lobbyists who paid people (reportedly, about $500 each) to testify loudly at City Hall hearings and who made dubious ecological claims by citing "Audubon International", a group that reportedly promotes golf courses and has been accused of abusing the name of the Audubon Society. Both the Sierra Club and the real Golden Gate Audubon Society have expressed their support for protecting the existing boathouse and the fragile Stow Lake environment.

The protesters, who already have 3,000 signatures in support of preservation of the boathouse, have filed a civil lawsuit that begins in March 2012 and they plan to raise the issue at the occasion of the upcoming elections in November of this year but they lack the resources to mount a strong political campaign. They are especially irate at Phil Ginsburg, the general manager of the Recreation & Parks department, for committing to spend money for capital improvements for the souvenir chain’s benefit. Under the new lease San Francisco could end up losing $2 million in a deal that was supposedly designed in the Brave New World spirit of “entering into public-private partnerships” to transform supposedly “underused” open spaces into what the City calls “high-performing open space.”

According to a commentary by Steven Chapman I found on the web, Mayor Lee has a draft plan on his desk that would direct the Recreation and Parks Department, along with other departments and agencies responsible for open space management, to make up for the City’s budget shortfall by “treating lands in their domains essentially as enterprise zones, and managing them with an eye to maximum revenue generation.” Which brings up the larger issue.

The second point I believe needs to be raised in the wake of the shady boathouse deal has to do with the integrity of Golden Gate Park itself.

“Larger than New York's Central Park, covered with more than 75,000 trees, it was deeded to the people in 1870 out of the prescient notion that San Franciscans would one day feel overcrowded. This foresight proved invaluable, as 13 million people now visit the park every year,” the website of Sfgate observes proudly. Unfortunately the City leaders of 2011 are not as civic-minded as their ancestors.

Contrary to a 1998 Master Plan that designated the west end of the park as relatively bucolic, with meadows and forests to serve as a refuge from urban stress for both people and wildlife, two City initiatives are set to radically alter the environment.

On one hand, something called the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields artificial turf and sports lighting renovation project will remove a meadow, replacing over 7 acres of natural grass with plastic grass, gravel and tire waste infill, and installing 10 banks of 60 foot tall, multi-fixture stadium lights. According to a citizen’s organization, which has studied the design, “these lights are twice as tall as the trees that screen the fields from Ocean Beach. The lights will be turned on from sunset until 10:00 pm every night. There will be additional new concrete and asphalt paving and other built features added to what is now naturalistic parkland.”

So much for preserving the wildlife and the bucolic ambiance.

On the other hand, there is a proposed Water Treatment Plant that would take over 2 acres of parkland with a 40,000 square foot, 30 foot tall, concrete building and a chemical building, close to the restored Millwright house, Murphy windmill, and the fields.

Between the two projects, over 250 trees that form the park's protective western windbreak from the Pacific breeze, will either be removed or threatened with construction. One concerned organization, the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, is working to relocate the water treatment factory outside of the park but it faces a difficult battle.

It is hardly news that big city government is fraught with corruption and cozy private deals, so the story of our boathouse and the park itself would hardly be interesting if it weren’t for the unique quality of life that will be lost forever if these measures go through unchallenged. Unfortunately, those who will be harmed by the impending decisions are either the future generations that will never be able to enjoy the same environment we have known, or middle-class and poor families of today who don’t have the money to hire six-figure PR hacks, or the clout to lobby City Hall. They may be driven away from a beautiful spot that was designed for everyone to enjoy, and seniors will no longer be able to gather freely at the boathouse. If one uses the nearby De Young museum café as a reference (where a hot dog costs $8.50 versus $3.50 at the boathouse) prices will more than double on all food items.

At last report, Mayor Lee’s office has stated that his administration was unaware of any protest against the decisions of the Recreation and Parks department, so life goes on normally in Baghdad-by-the-Bay.


  1. Seems that Britain and America not only share a common language, but a desire by powers-that-be to see only some sort of financial gain (to themselves) in just about anything that doesn’t belong to them. Greedy, egregious, grasping scumbags. They know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

    1. Seems that Britain and America not only share a common language, but a desire by powers-that-be to see only some sort of financial gain (to themselves) in just about anything that doesn’t belong to them. Greedy, egregious, grasping scumbags. They know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

      AKA kleptocracy

  2. If the preservationists really want to restore the natural beauty of the park, they should be pushing for removal of most of the trees, returning the land to the native sand dunes that existed before the park was made.

    1. If the preservationists really want to restore the natural beauty of the park, they should be pushing for removal of most of the trees, returning the land to the native sand dunes that existed before the park was made.

      Fair point. Golden Gate Park is wonderful for many reasons but “natural” isn’t really a good term to describe it. It’s a beautiful green refuge for thousands of San Franciscans and I hope it remains that way.

  3. While the author has some legitimate points, she also falls to the common SF problem of hyperbole. This is discrediting, and keeps these important issues from being discussed by a lot of people. The assertion that this is somehow privatization of open space is really too much. Isn’t the boathouse currently being run by a private company? For profit? The bogus privatization claim is trotted out every time somebody doesn’t like change. In this case, I’m inclined to agree the changes are pretty suspect. However, changing vendors and building a structure is not privatization, nor should it be treated as such. Please stop crying wolf. By the way, Chicken John made the *exact* same claim about food cards in Delores Park.

    1. Not at all the case – yes, the boathouse has been run by a private family, but then when Ginsburg (a Newsom appointee) came in and Rec n Park states the boathouse is too run down, and that they demand it have $600K of improvements — the current owners threw up thier hands and admitted to not being able to do that.

      It is privatization for profit to try and make GG park a revenue generating (and buddy deal granting) entity.  It’s not just GG part either.  Many parks have had major renovations on taxpayer dollars, and then get privatized.  It’s corrupt as can be.

      That park is owned by THE COMMONS — hence, Chicken John is totally right, Ginsburg has got to go … as far as mayoral candidates, we’re pretty much SOL right now…

      1. And Ginsy didn’t even negotiate a good deal for the historic boathouse lease….he’s giving it away to Ortega. Ortega’s ONE TIME offer of $233K doesn’t begin to touch what is needed to repair the boathouse. Ortega will put it into “movables” like kitchen appliances, tables, etc. Ortega isn’t stupid, he knows that the civil lawsuit could easily be won by the historic tenant and he could be pushed out.  Also, divide $233K by the 20 years of the Ortega lease = less than $12K a year for capital improvements!!! AND Rec & Park promised to pay ALL of Ortega’s gas, electricity, water, garbage, etc for the next 20 years!! Ginsy gave them a sweet sweet insider deal.

    2. cdale77: 
      First of all Jacques is a man.  

      Secondly, the historic boathouse was run at nearly zero profit. I saw several recent tax returns and Bruce McLellan made less than $2k/yr. much to the dismay of his wife!  He ran it out of love for SF, boating, his family’s history of building it, the kids, the community, etc. He was wrongly accused of making large profits, when in fact, he had another job to pay his bills. He did however, always pay his rent on time, and brought in about $200k/yr in revenue. All while giving high school kids their first jobs and supporting disabled kids, seniors and others. He also had a perfect boating safety record which no doubt saved the city untold amounts in lawsuits. Thirdly, the out of state Ortega souvenir chain with NO boating experience whatsoever just evicted another historic family business in Santa Fe. The “Ortega Family” is just a big soul less corporation that will no doubt now do some heavy freebies for a short while, to counter their bad press. In emails that were discovered during the eviction case, the Ortegas made it clear that they needed Rec Park to put something in the lease so they can keep the boathouse elderly community moving along! Not at all what they promised the one time they came to a meeting to talk about their takeover. 
      Ortega got a cushy, sweetheart deal lease that will lose the city $2mil over the 20 yr. term of their lease, not to mention 1-2 mil in hidden costs that Rec & Park will now pay to improve hardscaping, lighting, ADA access, etc at Stow Lake. All at a time when Phil Ginsburg “cries wolf” and says he has no money. The moment Bruce was out last week, Phil and his drones, were there ordering gardeners to renovate plantings and instructing a construction crew on concrete work. Suspicious timing? Not really: Ginsy’s m.o. was to make the historic tenant look bad, even claiming that his was not the best bid. By keeping the historic tenant on a month-to-month lease for 7 years, that insured that capital improvements wouldn’t be made. How many tenants do you know on a month-to-month lease that paint the exterior of their buildings for thousands of dollars? The civil lawsuit,filed by Bruce McLellan and the bike rental company, starts in March and involves a long list of charges of local, state and federal law breaking. The eviction lawsuit was a separate suit, pursued by Rec & Park in retaliation for the historic tenant questioning the bogus bid and selection process.

  4. This whole kerfuffle is because the previous concessionaire lost a competitive bid and is now doing everything in its power to keep the new vendor from coming in.  In SF this means spamming every blog you can think of, including (sadly) Boing Boing.  Spare me the tears, guys – you lost!

  5. Chicken John here, allow me to say that I have not said word one about the Stow Lake boathose issue. I don’t know the issue and I havn’t weighed in on it. Changing from one vendor to another doesn’t sound like a game-changer to me. At Dolores Park, things are different.

    To define privatization, this is simple. We should do this before we have a discussion about it, so we all agree on what it is we are talking about.

    Privatization is when you take public space and either sell it or lease it to an individual or company for private enurment. Space that was available, lets say, for you to have a picnic on now has a taco truck on it. To turn public space into private space, in exchange for money.

    Now, for the hyperbole. The Department of Parks and Recreation in SF is turning our parks into ATM’s. The leader of this crimanal organization is Phil Ginsburg, a well connected insider who is gutting our parks system. He wants to pull the parks system off the general fund, and sell all the parks to private business’. And he’s doing it.

    He fired ALL the after school program teachers and coaches, replaced them with private compaines who do the same things. He did this by renting OUR clubhouses to private companies. With 20 year leases. Gone. Forever. Programs that used to be free now cost $1,000 a month or more. He fired thousands of people who made like $20,000 to $35,000 a year. Replaced them with a few hundred $150,000 executives that are a sales force of douchebags selling our parks.

    In Dolores Park, he got a latino women run incubator and sold them a spot for their push cart to sell tacos. Doesn’t that sound nice? Rat fucker. He gets them in there (belevie me I tried, no one would listen) and the push cart was actually a taco truck. And now it’s a food court, with 20 vendors.

    Told ya so.

    It gets worse every day.


    The only person who can change this is the mayor.


    We have to elect a mayor that is not a criminal pathological lying piece of shit on the bottom of your shoe like liar con artist Ed Lee. I don’t care who else it is.

    So there is the what, the how and the what to do about it.

    If you love SF like I do, you will give money to whoever you think can beat Willy Brown… I’m sorry, Ed Lee in November. Our parks system is just the tip of the iceburg of corruption and organized crime in our city by the bay. I only have so many hours and can do so much.

    I picked Dolores Park, because it’s the park near my house.

    Dolores Park is an amazing example of a gracious and accidental collaberative artwork. That’s why a million (or 3 million, I can’t remember) people visit it every year. They want those people to pay. Parks aren’t for making money. Then, when parks do make money, the ones that don’t make money (like in the black neighborhoods) won’t get services. And eventually will get fences put around them.

    Are you going to let this happen? Just watch? Fuck that, I’m not going to just watch as they do this.

    Fight. Figger it out. Go to a meeting. Scream at a reporter. Light yourself on fire. Write an email. Give money to someone. Do something.

    But do it soon.

    Email me for more documents and stuff or sign up on my mailing list to keep abreast of how we are losing our city:

    or email me    chickenjohn    at    chickenjohn    dot   com

    Sorry, I have to plug my book now….

    I wrote a book on failure. There is a free book release party on September 30th here in SF at the 111 Minna gallery from 7-2 featuring 53 artists (including Swoon!) who did unique covers and a full street closure with 75 performers, art cars, sculptures and all kinda of stuff. All free. Come. Buy a book. Have some fun. Argue with me about parks. Book and show are to benifit the art space Chez Poulet, which is having mortgage problems….

    regards, chicken

    1. Chicken, 

      I hate to confuse your assertions with the facts; however, “He fired ALL the after school program teachers and coaches, replaced them with private companies who do the same things. “is not factually correct. It is true that after $42 million dollars in cuts over seven years; the rec & park workforce was re-organized. There were only 1/2 the civil service jobs that there were the year before. This meant that many people lost their jobs in a competitive interview process. That sucked, plain and simple

      However, from that carnage,  over the next 12 months, the recreation section has provided more programs than the two years prior. These programs are provided by CITY workers. Yes there are fees, most of which are still the lowest in the bay area, and I don’t know of any fee that is $1000 an month. Even the after-school program is $704 for the whole school year (9 months). Also, there is a scholarship program that provides 50% to 100% scholarships for those people who can not afford the fees. 

      I understand no one likes the playground clubhouses being rented out, but I also understand that recreation was dying a death of a thousand budget cuts. Staff was spread too thin, and building were open less that 15 hours a week. Now the rec and park offers programs like surfing, scuba, zumba, yoga, adult dodge ball and a variety of other programs that they couldn’t afford to offer nor had the staff with expertise. This  couldn’t have been done if the rec & park department was spending its limited resources on trying to keep every building open, as opposed to investing in providing more and diverse recreation that the people of SF crave.

      As to “parks should be free”, I don’t know how many parks you have visited in the US, but I travel a bit and I go to parks and beaches and you know what I find: I have to pay to park. Sometimes there are entrance fees. Sometimes I pay by supporting a vendor charging $5.50 for a sandwich, because there is nothing else close. I know people like to say parks are free, but there is a cost to maintain them, and I hate to say this but 2.5% of the city’s budget doesn’t quite cover the costs of maintaining the parks and provide recreation programs (10 years ago – it was 3% of the city budget)

      Finally, I may be a strange guy, but I don’t have a real problem with having food and drinks being sold at the park.If I want to get a hot dog, or a taco while I am in the park – why not. If the rec & park makes a buck off of it, I figure that is one less dollar I have to pay in taxes to keep parks and recreation programs in SF.

      I think both of us would agree that our parks are treasures, and I am for investing in them, but I don’t think the average SF resident is ready to put their money where they mouth is to pay for the parks and recreation programs via new taxes, so until then I think the rec & park has to be a bit creative in funding this department. 

  6. Thanks for the post Pecso — this issue really stinks for those of us living here.

    We have no sense of “The Commons” — the botanical gardens, boathouse, soccer fields, etc… 

    The soccer assn’s here are great at putting it up to the city to pay for new facilities, then they put up fences around it and charge reservation fees — completely blocking out the neighborhood kids from using these nice fiields… shamefull and sad…

    1. Your math escapes me. GG Park is over a thousand acres, and they’re talking about 7 acres of soccer fields. I’m thinking that’s 0.7%. Even with rounding I’m not getting 33%.

  7. There is much, much more… I’m thinking of hiring someone then just collecting donations to keep the person paid to act as a friggin’ watchdog. It’s all so corrupt. I’m getting people comming to me almost daily with stories and reportings that things are just going out of control. Roscoe up here is right on, they do a $1,000,000 renovation ON TAXPAYER MONEY, then they fire the people who work there and rent the facility out of a private company. How is that not criminal? How is that not stealing? How are they getting away with that? And it’s not just once, it’s like 60 clubhouses!!!! And it’s the tip of the iceburg. I can’t even go into it here, there is just too much.

    There is a facebook group:

    if ya wanna keep up with the Dolores Park thing.

    But I find myself often saying that things are going to have to get worse before they get better. But in this issue, they can’t get worse. It’s as bad as it can be.

    And I’m supposed to be a comedian!!!! There is no comedy here. Even with $750 worth of fake vomit I coudn’t make this funny. I tried. Google: chicken john, vomit….

    Stay informed. Stay LOUD. And remember, they don’t really have the power. The people who can communicate and rally other people have the power. We can recall a mayor. We can apply pressue. But only we can. Divided we lose. United we can do whatever we want.

    No, I’m not running for office!!!!


  8. Are we talking the parts of the Presidio? And does he mean “deeded” as in the Federal Government deeding abandoned military bases to the public. 

    In Washington state, I believe that’s what has happened. There are so many beautiful parks that were once military NIKE sites. I spent a lot of time at Discovery Park, a former fort, Fort Lawton, the Presidio reminded me a lot of this area. Seattleites would never let this park get developed, and it’s worth at least a billion or more dollars. 

    The Fisher Family lobbyists are going all out to “astroturf” tonite’s debate and pack it with City Fields supporters!
    I have written a series of articles the most recent being a response to Ginsburg’s latest steaming pile in the Chronicle – . The illegal leases, permits, fees, and “gifts” must be stopped! It is time to file the public interest lawsuits that will bring an end to the privatization of the public commons!!

  10. I smell confirmation bias here. Any time I encounter this level of shrill vitriol, my instinct is to do some research. And of course, the truth is often more complicated. 

    You could start here: Mayor Lee haters should note that this was started under Gavin Newsom, and the Ortega company has 22-years of boating experience and is run, in fact, by the Ortega family. I even skimmed through the lease and don’t see how this ends up losing money for the city long-term. I could go on, but it would grow as tiresome as the half-truths spouted above. 

    Is this change for the better? I honestly don’t know. But if you want to convince people that it should be stopped, you’d do better to make your case without the irritatingly lurid hyperbole. It gives activism a bad name.

    1. Dear eeple,  It’s important to note that the link you refer to is a “press release” from Rec & Park. The whole point of this article is that Rec & Park is corrupt. Under Phil Ginsburg’s mismanagement, they fired 99% of our children’s Recreation Directors in the parks and clubhouses and many gardeners and hired a dozen or so, $150K yr + benefits public relations people to sell and market their multiple development schemes for our parks. At the same time Ginsburg cried that he had a budget deficit, in spite of the fact that he has the 4th highest municipal park budget in the nation:

      Reading a lease won’t reveal how money will be lost, unless you know what the other bidders offered and what the fine details mean. You can hear the City’s auditor, Harvey Rose, speak to the Board of Supervisors on tape about how poorly the lease was negotiated. He couldn’t believe that bids didn’t compare rent or revenues! 

      1. Dearest firephilginsburg, some of what you say may be true, but some of it is demonstrably false. That contradiction makes it *very* hard to listen to anything you say. 

        I’m certainly concerned with tragedy of the commons and pointless privatization too, but in all the strident criticism I hear no reasonable proposals that address the fact that the city has a massive budget shortfall and a large amount of maintenance to pay for. To claim repeatedly that RPD is simply greedy is ridiculous–they’re trying to survive without more layoffs and service reductions.

        Here’s what’s sad about all this. I have a neighbor and good friend who entered the SF city government a couple years ago. He’s a smart, passionate, and caring person who the city should be grateful for. But shortly after joining, he and his department were flooded with repeated freedom of information demands from a handful of angry (and sometimes unhinged) people. Each request eats an inordinate amount of time, requiring research, redaction of private information, etc., but these people have made a sport of paralyzing the department with pointless FOI demands. And they all sound very much like you, firephilginsburg, or John RInaldi, with an axe to grind and venom to spew. 

        I don’t know Phil Ginsburg or anything about him, but certainly *part* of what makes city government so broken is the disproportionate power of a few citizens to paralyze departments in the supposed name of transparency and fairness. No wonder my neighbor is disillusioned with being a city employee and serving as a convenient punching bag for your ilk.

        I’m sure if we were to appoint you as the RPD general manager you’d have it all worked out. We await your magic fairy dust.

        Meanwhile, when true wrongdoing takes place in government, as we all know it sometimes does, you’ll have lowered the signal-to-noise ratio enough to make it much harder to uncover.

        1. eeple,  pls tell what I’ve written that is “demonstrably false”?  As someone following this closely for over 2 years, I wish I weren’t so painfully aware of the corruption at Rec & Park. Every time I pay my huge property tax bills, I cringe that my money is feeding corruption.

          BTW, I never said RP was greedy… corrupt, yes, but you might be mixing up your authors? 

          Requests for an audit of the secret RP budget, have been ignored. If RP allowed an independent audit that would be great! 

          It is sad when public officials seek to deceive and lie to the public, especially overpaid officials who have no park experience, who are ambitious political wannabes playing patronage and favoritism with our parks. Do you mean to imply that transparency and honesty in government is not a good thing?  When you complain about information requests (called Sunshine Ordinance requests in SF), it makes me wonder.

          Democracy is messy at times, but thrives with transparency. I applaud citizens that care enough to ask for hidden information. If requests truly are being made just for sport, that’s not applaudable. The only time I made a Sunshine Request the process was quite difficult, so I don’t think the system lends itself to frivolous abuse. Government employees and officials who work in secret, generally do complain about transparency laws & pesky citizens.

          1. I’m compelled that some of the dealing may be shady, but nothing that I’ve seen alleged justifies the use of the word corruption. How can you simultaneously claim that their budget is the 4th highest in the country and that we don’t really know what their budget is? Can you hear how loopy that sounds?

            I applaud citizens that care enough to ask for hidden information.

            Agreed. I’m simply pointing out how it can be abused. One person sent 124 requests and 81 emails to RP in two months(!), with most categorized as “immediate disclosure” requests. A couple angry citizens launching punitive, daily salvos like this can bring any department to its knees, even when there is no wrongdoing to be uncovered. That’s flatly ridiculous.

            Again, you claim corruption and lying. John Rinaldi calls the general manager a “rat fucker”–so much for civil discourse. I see a department facing hard and controversial choices that many reasonable people find upsetting. But do a Google News search for “parks and recreation budget” and tell me how much good news you see out there.

            I love this city, but it’s moments like this that remind me: “In the land of the tolerant, the intolerant are king.”

          2. eeple,
            Pls read more closely: RP top management doesn’t know their own budget numbers. Several watchdogs have been researching the real numbers ever since Ginsburg started claiming that “every dollar counts” all the while he was hiring multiple $125K -$160K + benefits p.r. marketing people. This is a small, well educated town and the community doesn’t take kindly to being deceived as Phil has done again and again.
            You are right there’s not a lot of good news for park budgets across the nation. You have to remember that SF is very wealthy and we have not been hit as hard as most other places when it comes to foreclosures, job losses, etc.  By comparison, we’re sitting pretty, thanks to tech jobs. I’m reminded of the man who always asking his friends to borrow money… only the friends find out later he’s a millionaire, taking advantage of their generous nature. I don’t mind the parks making money. I do mind RP mgmt. deceiving the public and using parks as political bartering chips. The people of SF have paid and paid for their parks with taxes, bond money, etc. They will be asking for more bond money again, even though they can’t manage what they have. If we get a good fiscal manager at RP who allowed audits, we can get to the truth. But for now, it’s all spin……..  Thanks eeple, for the exchange. It’s fun!

  11. As a recent transplant to SF and as someone who thoroughly enjoys free green space, I am disturbed by this.  I assume that both sides are hyping the bad things the other side is doing, but whatever.  Green space, especially publicly available, natural looking, and usable green space is not something we can easily replace in a dense city.  Adding multiple artificial turf fields with floodlights?  I don’t see how that can help anything except some pocket-lining.

    Seriously, once it’s gone it’s nigh impossible to replace.

  12. I disagree with every statement you have made and would argue them point by point with facts and stats with all my heart and try to get you to see that your moderate stance is what RPD is using to bulldoze our parks system. And I think I would prevail, somewhat. I have evidence that there is most definatly some shady dealing, if not a clueless imbecile at the wheel. But we will not do this here. It’s the wrong place to counter point by point. Suffice to say, I appreciate your regal and civil tone, and it may just be that we disagree on the how of it, but never the what. But allow me to instead of arguing the how of the what, allow me for a moment to speak of the why, which is really what my argument is about. I am against privatization in all forms, everywhere. I don’t like it. Puts a chill in the air. My fight against RPD isn’t actually ‘against’ them, it’s an education campaign trying to get people to understand what privatization is. Now, of course I want to go to a park and buy a hot dog. A sandwich. Sushi. A hot towel. Sporting goods. I want to buy sporting goods right there in the park. Sure. Why not? Janitoriial supplys. Auto parts. Why stop there? Animal feed. Counter tops. Lets push it over the top, shall we? Why can’t we have retail shops in the parks? Spencers gifts, with those space age light ferns. How about Tuxedo Rental? What are we talking about here? We are talking about buying a hot dog in the park. Renting a tuxedo in the park. Whats the difference. Well, it’s the why of it. Why would anyone allow a tuxedo rental shop to go up in Dolores park? there could only be one reason: money. RPD would rent space, public space, to a tuxedo rental shop in Dolores Park if they could. Now, this is patently absurd, no Tuxedo Rental shop would want to rent space in a public park to do business. That doesn’t make any sense. Yet, for the purpose of this arguement it does make sense. RPD is renting out spaces in Dolores Park not to provide services for park patrons, they are doing it because of the money. Ten years ago you could not dream of getting a taco truck in Dolores Park. I like to eat tacos. I like to go to the park. I would like to eat a taco in the park. Buy a soda. And if that taco truck in the park pays rent to RPD and ten cents of my money goes to the park, I’m fine with that. That all makes total sense. So where is the part that doesn’t make sense?It’s the food court that we are battling. You havn’t heard that they want 20 venders in DP? Really? You should come to the meeting. 20 vendors, they can’t all be food. One of them is a sporting goods shop (see above, where you thought I was being absurd). And you should know that they are planning on pouring concrete to make this all happen. Lots of concrete. Concrete that is currently used for picnics. DP is packed with people. they are gonna put a giant soccer feild and pour concreete over 34% of it. But that’s another story…Why is RPD selling leases in DP? For the money. Me and you, we don’t mind sharing space in the park with a hot dog guy. We don’t mind paying a little more. We are reasonable people… 20 vendors? Food court? Your moderate view (and mine) are out the window. You want RPD to be reasonable. They are most certainly not. You want it to be OK to get a hot dog in DP. They are going to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years to recoup it before they see a penny of profit. And the joke is on therm because the taco truck that is there isn’t really doing so well. With 20 vendors the competition will be stiff. I see the whole project failing. So does everyone else. there is another side to privatization. The park is where we gather. The commons. there are some people who get itchy about leasing space in the commons. What if a busness owner called the cops because we were using our right to peaceably assemble in the commons to talk about an issue or something. The business owner said it was bad for his business. Who’s right? What happens if it’s 20 vendors? What happens when the 20 vendors tell the RPD that special events are bad for their busineess? Where does the mime troupe do their show then? You have to see things down the road, and if you follow the why, you will see as I do that the reason to put a hot dog cart in DP is to provide a service for the people. Putting food service in the park to make money is not the right reaosn. Phil Ginsburg is using our parks like an ATM. He’s a terrible business person, he’s a smarmy know it all who comes to community meetings and talks for 40 minutes then leaves without listening. He is not responding to sunshine requests and has lied time and time again as to what he’s doing and why. There is a thing called the ROSE report.they have just written a new one.  It’s here:   http://openspace.sfplanning.or….ROSE is the plan for RPD. Here is the old one:…Here is a critique of the new one. i know, it’s long. But I hope you will read it. BEcause once you do, you will see what I am talking about. Parks that don’t make money will get fences put around them. Period. it says it here in black and white. Read it and weep:                    An Open Space Plan for thenext Hundred Years?                         By Steven Chapman1. A Brave New Worldfor Open Space Planning in San Francisco.About a month ago, without much fanfare and after the usualdelays, the Planning Department released its draft proposal to replace theexisting ROSE (Recreation and Open Space Element) of the City’s GeneralPlan.  The genesis and planning historyof this document stems from former mayor Gavin Newsom’s Open Space Task Force,with participation of local organizations including SPUR (San Francisco UrbanPlanning and Research Association) and NPC (Neighborhoods Park Council).  It is an ambitious proposal, which purportsto present a blueprint or “vision” for San Francisco’s recreation and openspace policies for the next hundred years, accompanied by an “Action Plan” settingforth immediate priorities.  As thisdocument is broad-reaching in scope and implications, eying to rewrite, reviseand re-orientate the City’s open space policies for the foreseeable future, someanalysis may be useful. 2. “High-PerformingOpen Space” or Enclosed Open Space?Among the plan’s primary goals is the “activation” of existingopen space by providing community-serving activities, either through concessionairesor by entering into public-private partnerships with for-profit or non-profitentities.  A key policy objective is thetransformation of existing “underused” open space into what the document calls “high-performingopen space.”  Among the criteria fordetermining what constitutes “high-performing” is economic performance.  Envisioning a bleak future of ever-decreasingpublic support for parks and open space, the draft plan would direct theRecreation and Parks Department (RPD), along with other departments andagencies responsible for open space management, to make up for this shortfallby treating lands in their domains essentially as enterprise zones, andmanaging them with an eye to maximum revenue generation.As a proclamation of policy, this is all a bit striking, especiallyconsidering that this is San Francisco: a city which prides itself on its greencredentials and ecological correctness, a city with a rich history of openspace and environmental activism, and a history of commitment to preserve openspace for its own sake, especially open space which is free and accessible tothe public.  In this perhaps archaicconception, open space has value precisely because it is unstructured, becauseis it is free and open, set apart from surrounding development.  In a dense urban context, where there arestructured activities and paid programming going on in all corners, open spaceprovides a release and a refuge, a necessary antidote to the hectic business ofthe built environment. Yet all of this is unacknowledged in the proposedrewrite.  In contrast to the existingROSE, where preservation and acquisition of new open space are held up asplanning priorities, the present draft takes the view that open space needs tobe “high-performing” and “activated.”  Itoffers a purely instrumental appraisal of the value of open space, which is measuredsolely by its use-value for us, its ability to “perform” for us, to serve us—“thecommunity”—in some form or other.  “Activation”may even require the enclosure of open space by turning its management over toa compatible private partner.  Since openspace which is unused is merely “common,” and has no value unless activated,the logic of enclosure makes perfect sense. 3. Provisions forNon-recreational Structures on Park Land.Hidden among the document’s various objectives and verbiageare some very permissive criteria to allow for new structures in parks and openspace.  Policy 1.7 ostensibly calls forthe preservation of existing open space and acknowledges the prohibition ofnon-recreational structures on park lands as per the City Charter, but thengoes on to elaborate a full range or recreational and non-recreational uses(such as “cultural institutions”) for which leeway should be granted.  A primary criterion is that the proposedfacility “directly serves the existing open space by enhancing and activatingthe space.”  Another criterion is theconsideration of potential revenue generation. Following these criteria, no park land is off-limits as long as there issome form of public use.  How these newplanning criteria cohere with the existing Charter and voter-approvedlegislation remains an interesting question.  4. BiologicalDiversity, Ecological Integrity, Natural Habitats. To its credit, the draft plan proposes as one of its objectivesthe protection of biodiversity, natural habitats, and ecological integrity(Objective #4).  The section begins,oddly, with language about incorporating “environmentally-sustainable designprinciples into all open space construction,” along with language advocatingfor the proposed water treatment facility in Golden Gate Park.  This is all fine and good, but a strange wayto begin a section on biodiversity. Thankfully, the following paragraphs (Policy 4.2) adapt some of thesound language of the existing ROSE regarding protection of significant naturalresources, followed by some good stuff on wetlands and on educating the publicon the value of biodiversity.   Yet all in all, the impression is of a fairly weak, half-bakedeffort, not exactly up to the standard that the City should aspire to if wantsto retain its green laurels.  Forinstance, while there is a nice side blurb on Chicago’s urban wildernessprogram, there is no attempt to provide an assessment of that program or incorporatebest practices.  There is no mention ofthe fact that San Francisco is part of the larger UN-recognized Golden GateBiosphere Reserve, a biodiversity hotspot. Strangely, there is no mention of global warming or sea-level rise, especiallyas this document is supposed to last us until the turn of the century.   While the plan talks about “greenconnectors,” there is nothing about ecological corridors.  While there is talk about the value ofwetlands, when the plan actually discusses proposed improvements to the Easternshoreline (aka. the “Blue Greenway”) there is hardly any green there.  Similarly, when the plan addresses the OceanBeach shoreline, it simply refers to the SPUR-led master planning effort,leaving the reader with a vision of some sort of “Copacabana in the Sunset,”but nary a word about the plovers, the pelicans, or the Pacific Flyway. This is, after all, the city of St Francis, for whom BrotherSun illuminated and imparted divine significance to all creatures.  So it is a bit strange that the City’s PlanningDepartment would present a vision for the future which is so antithetical toanything natural.   In this new world ofhighly-activated, revenue-generating, and multi-tasking open space, there seemsbut little room for the frogs and snakes and damselflies and all the othercritters who call San Francisco home and habitat.  5. EconomicShock-Therapy and the Case for Public-Private Partnerships.Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan is thefinal section (Objective #6) with its enthusiastic embrace of public-privatepartnerships and revenue-generation.  Inthis vision of the future, the city and its private partners will sharetogether the joys and burdens of managing park land for maximum activation andeconomic performance.  No potentialrevenue-generating asset will remain unexamined.  While the plan does mention other sources of potentialfunding, such as bond measures, impact fees, and neighborhood park improvementdistricts—all good ideas—there is, curiously, no mention of the Open SpaceFund, the only source of dedicated financing for open space maintenance andacquisition that RPD currently controls. It is hard to explain this omission. Perhaps it is because some of the folks in charge don’t like set-asidesin general, and would like to get rid of this and other voter-approved spendingrequirements?  Perhaps it is because RPDCommissioners would like to continue to use the Open Space Fund as a slush fundto cover administrative cost-overruns and massive subsidies for money-losinggolf operations, among other things? Perhaps it is because the Open Space Fund is the onlypublically-mandated and publically-accountable source of RPD funding besidesgeneral fund support, and as such stands in the way of the framers’ bold visionfor the future?  Whichever the case, the absenceof any discussion about the Open Space Fund in the context of a discussionabout open space funding is a bit odd.  Amore balanced approach, recognizing all sources of existing and potentialincome, would certainly take some of the force out of the shock-therapy logicwhich demands that the department pursue revenue generation as the onlyfeasible way forward in the face of an unforgiving fiscal climate.     6. Reverse-EngineeredPlanning and Top-Down Priorities. Another disturbing thing about the draft is that much of thenew language, rather than providing guidance to future planners, seems designedinstead  to conform to existing “self-selected”planning priorities, and to confer maximum flexibility to departmentadministrators to pursue their supposed mandates.  This can be seen clearly in the accompanying“Action Plan” which outlines immediate, mid-term and long-term priorities.  In the first category are such things as theconstruction of a water treatment facility in Golden Gate Park, for which theplanning justification can be conveniently found in Policy 4.1 of the proposeddocument.  Also among the immediate prioritiesis the active pursuit of new vendors for park lands.  Diesel-burning food trucks, hawkers of lawnequipment, restaurant and nightclub entrepreneurs—all are welcome to submitbids, so long as the department gets its cut. Justification for such an approach is clearly spelled out in theappropriate sections of the plan calling for increased “activation” of openspace, and in sections about and the need for revenue generation. Should futureadministrations seek to dispose of park land for almost any purpose, the mechanismis laid out succinctly in Policy 1.7.  Further down on the Action Plan’s enumeration of priorities,relegated to a five-year time-frame, are programs such as the Trails Program,approved and funded by the 2008 Parks bond measure.  Lowest on the list, currently scheduled foran uncertain future, is the implementation of recommendations contained in theCity’s Natural Areas Plan.  Tellingly,the creation of a natural resource management plan was something listed as apriority at the time of the drafting of the existing ROSE document, over twentyyears ago.  While finished and approvedby the RPD Commission, that plan remains hostage at environmental revenue.  Since completion and implementation of theNatural Areas Plan is the single most important action the City could be doing toensure the long-term sustainability of its fragmented ecosystem, theconsignment of the plan to funding limbo speaks volumes about the City’s currentlevel of commitment to natural resource protection.  At least the “Action Plan” is honest inarticulating current planning priorities, although it hard to fathom that sucha vision of the future will garner much “buy-in” from the public in the eventthe Department decides to pursue another revenue bond, as is anticipated.  7. The ProcessThe draft document is scheduled for public vetting at theSan Francisco Planning Commission during the coming months, and for adoption inOctober.  It is possible, with sufficientgoodwill, and a willingness of department staff to give up on some of the moretendentious language, that the document could be cut and pasted into passableform.  While this would be a preferredoutcome, it won’t happen without clear direction from the Commissioners, a lotof work and dialogical openness on the part of staff, and probably a slightly expandedtime-frame beyond the one currently envisioned.   Another thing the Commissioners may wish to consideris submitting the final draft to independent peer review.  That would at least provide some measure ofobjective analysis and comment before the Commission lends its imprimatur.   If the process gets bogged down—as well it might—acost-effective and time-effective solution may be to simply update the existingROSE where needed, while threading in some of the non-problematic objectivesand recommendations of the new plan. Such an approach would have the added value of keeping the currentstructure of the ROSE intact, while allowing for the referencing of newsections where appropriate.  Not only doesthe proposed replacement ROSE jettison decades of accumulated planning wisdom, itcreates an archival nightmare since many exiting planning documents refer to existingsections of the plan.  It is as if somedemented scribe decided to substitute the Book of Mormon for the Old Testament,leaving it to future philologists to figure out what went wrong.  Whichever direction forward, it is clear that the currentdraft is fraught with problems and ideological baggage, and can hardly representa city-wide “vision’ for the future.   Here is a link to the proposed new draft ROSE, along with theaccompanying “Action Plan”: http://openspace.sfplanning.or….The existing ROSE document can be found here:…Meeting Schedule:Informational presentation at the Planning CommissionDate: August 4, 2011Location: City Hall, Room 400Time: Hearing begins at 12:00 pmInformational presentation at the Planning CommissionDate: September 15, 2011Location: City Hall, Room 400Time: Hearing begins at 12:00 pm Adoption hearing at the Planning CommissionDate: October 13, 2011Location: City Hall, Room 400Time: Hearing begins at 12:00 pm.Steven Chapman is thedirector of the Foundation for Ecology and Culture, founded in 1998 to promotehealthier human-earth relations.      S

  13. From SF Ocean Edge:
    To San Francisco soccer players and their families,
    We absolutely support youth soccer. We agree that the Beach Chalet fields need renovation and there is no reason they can’t continue to be used for soccer.  But artificial turf and stadium night-lighting on 60-foot poles aren’t in keeping with the wild nature of the west end of this beautiful and historic park.  Instead, we’d like to see some really great grass fields and spend the money that would be saved on facilities for soccer and other sports across the city.
    Here’s the truth about what we really want:
    ·         Top-notch natural, living grass soccer fields, properly renovated, with a great base, good irrigation, and good drainage, so that they stand up to lots of use and don’t get flooded when it rains;
    ·         Gopher controls, so that players don’t have to worry about twisting an ankle because of holes in the pitch;
    ·         No night-lighting – most of the year, youth players play in the daytime.  The stadium lighting is bad for birds and other wildlife, and visitors to Ocean Beach won’t enjoy the sunset or the fire rings with 240,000 watts of lighting behind them;
    ·         A saving of about $8 to $10 million (compared to the artificial turf plans), which could then be spent on renovating other sports and recreation facilities in the city.  SF soccer can get a lot more for this money.
    ·         A change in budgeting priorities in the Recreation and Park Department that moves away from the current policy of hiring high-paid management personnel and towards hiring groundskeepers and gardeners.
    We understand that this information may not address all your concerns. Please feel free to e-mail us through our website.
    We want to work with San Francisco’s soccer community to put forward a really great proposal that balances the needs of wildlife, nature, parkland, and everyone who uses Golden Gate Park, and maintain this fabulous natural resource for future generations.
    Many thanks,
    SF Ocean Edge    SF Ocean Edge Facebook                                                                                                             

  14. Ha! Gotcha! RPD doesn’t answer Sunshine requests. At all. So it’s a non starter.

    As for one citizen crippling a department with sunshine requests, we’ve all seen it. We all hate it. We are not those people. We don’t dislike RPD, only the management. We have good relationships within RPD, just not with management. We have support throuout RPD, just not with management.

    I apprecaiate that you are protective. And am not insulted by you lumping me in with the cripplers. But your apologetic stance sucks. And I am an intelligent person, not some crackpot. If you knew what I knew you’d be pissed off too.

    In a way I hope you never know. Why subject someone to all this awfulness.

    But ya gotta fight injustice. You just have to. to whatever end. And ya gotta beleive someone. Beleive me. Even though I’m a shitty speller. I have nothing to gain here. They are selling our parks. And it’s really gross.

    chicken john

    1. John, I believe that you’ve got good reasons to feel the way you do. But I’ve got a serious hangup about people exaggerating to make their cases–e.g., proposed turfing (which I’m not crazy about) of 0.7% of the park is described as turfing “1/3” of the park. Call me picky.

      I know firephilginsburg thinks the budget shortfall is all smoke and mirrors, but the rest of us are compelled that it’s real. So what would you have SFRP do instead of these partnerships? 

      And note that not all leasing/renting is inherently evil. Part of Sue Bierman Park was rented for several months to that odd (and not great, I hear) Peter Pan tent production, which brought $600k to the dept. Off the Grid Upper Haight is a partnership with SFRP, which seems like a great addition to the neighborhood.

      Lastly, this complaint to the SOB suggests that they were responding to sunshine requests, just not fast enough, apparently, for the complainant’s tastes.

      I’m not convinced that this issue warrants the level of stridency expressed here, but I’ll try to pay more attention to it, in case I’m wrong. And if I’m wrong, I’ll thank you at a future date for fighting the good fight on our behalf. Cheerio.

  15. To clarify: Save the Stow Lake Boathouse Coalition, the grassroots volunteer group, who has been “watchdogging” this whole debacle, is NOT part or party to the lawsuit. The civil suit was filed by the 2 evicted concessioner/tenants: Bruce McLellan and the bike rental company owner. 

    Thanks Jacques for the in-depth piece. Once the eviction date was announced, I saw several elderly people crying at the boathouse. No one from Recreation and Parks Dept. or Supervisor Mar’s office ever bothered to talk with them or help them figure out a replacement spot where they can safely meet.

    Very bad fiscal management at San Francisco Recreation and Parks Dept. under Mr. Ginsburg, who has no park management experience. He just happened to be Newsom’s friend so got a $250,000 year job running our beautiful parks which has resulted in multiple losses for the public and our children in particular. 

    William Hammond Hall and the other founders of Golden Gate Park, must be turning in their graves.  

    Do not vote for Ed Lee, as he is covering up Mr. Ginsburg’s misdeeds and has not bothered to respond to hundreds of emails, phone calls, visits and letters on the subject. 

  16. Eeple

    Ya know, I’m not against anything you’re saying. You sound reasonable. And maybe my facts aren’t 100%. Actually, it would be a miracle if they were, it’s so hard to get a straight answer out of anybody. So yea, I could be wrong to the letter of some things.

    But I’m on an education campaign, I’m not running for office here. I’m not in it for taking someone out and replaceing them with my brother in law or some such. My line is mostly surrounding Dolores Park. And its quite simple: you are either for or against privatization in this particular case.

    Now I totally agree with you. sometimes there are good partnerships with food or coffee or even souveneers or what have you. And here’s the kicker, I’m not even against food trucks in DP, really.

    It comes down to privatization in DP, you are either for it or against it. But in order to be for or against it, you have to know what it is.

    And there is the rub. People don’t understand what privatization is. So I did the campaign that I did. It was an education campaign, and it worked. People had to talk about it, think about it.

    I’m all for sticking with leadership. People have to make tough descions. For real, in the real world. Ya gotta beleive in peolple, trust people that they are gonna do the right thing.

    come to an RPD meeting. Meet Ginsburg. You’ll be screaming right with me, I think.

    At the end of the day, we gotta make sure someone is minding the store. We have to pay attention. We can’t clog up RPD with sunshine requests, that’s stupid. We have to make it work. We have to all share this city and we have to all get along. If there is one thing I know it’s that we are going to get through this. And SF will continue to be a city with a functioning ariport and the tides will come in and out and there will be fresh bagels every morning. Life goes on. But some of the shit that is being pulled is frankly criminal. And although I’m not a lawyer, there has been some really dirty dealing. This isn’t some sour grapes resistant to change crap. I’m talking about crime.

    We will have a new GM at RPD in the next year one way or another. If Ed Lee the lying liar puppet water boy for Willy Brown gets elected and Ross Mirkirami gets Sherrif, Ginsburg gets his seat. If Avalos wins the big chair, Ginsburgs gets demoted to janitor in charge of cleaning uder the rim of the Park bathrooms in Hunter Point. If Leland Yee gets elected, He’ll fire every person in city hall and replace them with even more corrupt idiots and if Dennis Herrarra is mayor he will reform Ginsburg and make the city work. Herrarra can control Ginsburg. No one else can.

    these are my predications. Place your bets, ladies and gentelman…

    over and out…  chicken john

    stay with me on facebook:

    or on my email list:

    1. Ginsburg operates the way he does because of his 30 year relationship with Dennis Herrera, the City Attorney. Herrera has covered him all the way in this privatization/cronyism. When up against the wall, Ginsburg made it clear to RP people that Herrera will get them out any legal jam they meet. For that reason and many others, Herrera is NOT a good choice for Mayor. 
      I’ve attended 3 Mayoral Forums recently… where all the candidates are invited and 99% of them show up. Herrera is either no show, leaves before the forum begins, or leaves before any Rec & Park issues comes up. So, unless you have it writing and notarized that he will “control Ginsburg”… I don’t see how his actions are consistent with that. In the Stow Lake lease scandal, Herrera protected Ginsburg by sending the Board of Supervisors ethics review over to Oakland, on the same day that Herrera knew their City Atty. was leaving office, leaving that dept. in chaos. So Herrera’s punt to Oakland was DOA. 

      So far, the only candidate I know who has put in writing that she will remove Ginsburg, is the Green Party candidate, Terry Joan Baum.

  17. SF residents are already paying taxes for their parks – fees in excess of costs are unauthorized taxes and a violation of the City and County’s taxing authority under the California Constitution! Excessive RPD fees are also a violation of Government Code 50402. 50402 prohibits muncipalities from charging fees for access to or use of park land or facilities in excess of the cost to provide the use or services for which the fees are being charged! In short, SF has no right or authority to turn the public parks into “revenue generators.” It is time to bring an end to this madness!! 

    The role of Government is not to profit off its citizens but that is exactly what the City and County of San Francisco does each and every day!!!

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