Will Charter Amendment Help Low-Rated Parks in Southern Neighborhoods Catch Up?

Recreation and Parks Dept. General Manager Phil Ginsburg addressing residents about the department’s proposed budget at a Feb. 3 community meeting.

Photograph by Will Carruthers for the Ingleside-Excelsior Light

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department shared a special budget proposal that could improve the consistently lowest-rated parks in the city’s southern neighborhoods at a Feb. 3 community meeting.

Fourteen people attended the meeting at the Palega Recreation Center to comment on the special budget that includes extra funding in expectation voters will approve a charter amendment in June.

Since RPD began releasing cleanliness and deferred maintenance scores in 2005, District 11’s parks have received the lowest rating for eight years. District 10 received the lowest rating for the other two years. These districts have the highest concentration of youth and families in San Francisco.

RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg responded to residents’ concerns relating to the conditions of the low scoring parks and open spaces.

“The gap between our lowest scoring districts and our highest scoring districts is as low as it has ever been,” Ginsburg said.

Linda D’Avirro, District 11 representative and chair of San Francisco Parks, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee, disagreed with Ginsburg’s analysis of the situation.

The consistency of the southern districts’ low ratings over the past ten years should be cause for concern, according to D’Avirro, because District 11’s position, seven percent below average while all of the other districts are clustered close together, is a more significant gap than Ginsburg suggested.

Lowest-Rated Parks

While there are new parks in these two districts, such as the Palega Recreation Center and Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreation Center, there are also a high number of low scoring parks.

A maintenance report for the 2014-15 fiscal year shows that while six of the 10 lowest-rated parks are in Districts 10 and 11, none of the highest rated parks are.

The districts’ parks are consistently the lowest rated, Ginsburg said, mostly due to a higher amount of deferred maintenance but that it is getting better.

While Ginsburg often pointed out that all of the city’s parks have problems, the department’s $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance costs appear to affect Districts 10 and 11 the worst.

“We are starting to draw more more resources to some of the parks in Districts 10 and 11 that need it the most,” Ginsburg said. “Is there more work to do? Sure.”

Districts 10 and 11 have also received an “extraordinary share” of capital investment from our bond program and from philanthropic investment” in the past five to eight years, according to Ginsburg.

Charter Amendment

District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell announced the ballot initiative in August 2015 for a charter amendment meant to stabilize the department’s budget, which has come to rely more heavily on the Open Space Fund, a 2.5 cent per $100 property tax passed in 2000, and earned revenue instead of money from the city’s General Fund.

“In 2000, the Recreation and Parks Department received 2.1 percent of the General Fund, and in fiscal year 2014-15, the Department only received 1.3 percent of the General Fund,” Farrell’s office stated. “Over the last 15-years, San Francisco’s budget has grown by 45 percent, but the Department’s budget has only grown by 30 percent.”

An equity provision was added to a newer draft of the proposal after District 11 Supervisor John Avalos began working with Farrell to point out the disparities between parks in the city’s northern districts and parks in the southern districts.

Special Budget

This year’s RPD proposed budget is slightly different than before. The department was asked to make a budget with the assumption that the new charter amendment would be passed, changing the department’s funding structure.

If passed, the charter amendment would guarantee RPD a baseline subsidy of $64.2 million from the general fund with an annual increase of $3 million for the next 10 years. About 40 percent of the department’s funding comes from the general fund.

Ginsburg said the charter amendment would be a small victory for a department that faces a huge deferred maintenance bill and anticipates increasing population stresses on all of its parks.

“This is a solid single, not a grand slam,” Ginsburg said. “It will make us more financially stable and sustainable, it will protect against cuts in the future and there will be modest growth over a long period of time.”

The charter amendment would also include an equity measure. While the department already does measure for equal access to parks, the provision in the charter would make measurements required.

After consideration by the Recreation and Park Commission on Feb. 18, the special budget will be submitted to the Mayor’s Office on Feb. 22.

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