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The state of Excelsior Playground has irritated District 11 residents for years.
The park took last place in the Recreation and Parks Department’s citywide maintenance ratings report for 2015-2016 and inspired a San Francisco Examiner cover story about its poor quality in February 2016.
In September, the park suffered another setback when the YMCA decided to let its lease on the clubhouse lapse, leaving it completely empty.
The news of the vacant clubhouse was the last straw for Patricia de Fonte, a resident whose children frequent the playground.
“If the clubhouse is left empty, [the] park will not feel safe. Parents will have fewer options. District 11 is already at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to park maintenance. And now we are having our services cut?” De Fonte wrote in a letter to city officials in early February.
District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai has heard similar complaints about the facility.
“There have been many complaints ranging from the condition of the facility and grounds, to older youth locking themselves in the bathroom and smoking and drinking before school, to the lack of programming,” Safai wrote in a response to questions about plans for the clubhouse.
The Excelsior Clubhouse exemplifies problems with the three rented RPD clubhouses in District 11 when compared to the two department-run clubhouses. Renting clubhouses doesn’t make much money for the department, effectively closes the public facility to community access and puts the taxpayer funded properties at risk of the financial decisions of tenants.
The YMCA began renting the Excelsior and Alice Chalmers clubhouses after RPD decided to rent more of its smaller properties in 2010 in an effort to deal with a $12.4 million projected budget deficit for the following year.
“With unlimited resources we would program all of our neighborhood clubhouses (indeed, all of our facilities) twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Unfortunately, that is not the climate in which we operate and we must make smart choices that best leverage our current staffing and resource constraints,” Ginsburg wrote in a blog post explaining the department’s decision to rent clubhouses to “Community Partners.”
Under Ginsburg’s plan, nonprofits would provide day-time programing and make the clubhouses available for community access by reservation in the evening.
Seven years later, the compromise has not served District 11 well.
Lack of Public Access
Between September 2015 and September 2016, Cayuga and Crocker Amazon, the RPD-run clubhouses, were used for 457 and 276 hours of community access respectively, according to an RPD document presented to the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Council.
By comparison, the three rented properties provided little-to-no community access hours. The Alice Chalmers and Excelsior clubhouses were available for 0 hours of community service, while Merced Heights was used for 3 hours.
The lack of public access may be in part due to a confusion over how to reserve the rented clubhouses.
Linda D’Avirro, a District 11 PROSAC representative, said that neighbors attempted to reserve the clubhouses through the YMCA, before being informed months later at a PROSAC meeting that reservations had to go through RPD. Today, all three non-profit run clubhouses are currently not available to rent, according to RPD’s online reservation form.
“Leasing out the clubhouses has not been a money-maker for RPD. The leases themselves were really cheap, and the lessees, in some cases, turned around and charged their members a lot more than they were paying RPD,” D’Avirro wrote in an email.
The YMCA paid $1,600 a month to rent the 2,600 square foot Excelsior Clubhouse and $1,800 for the 2,900 square foot Alice Chalmers Clubhouse. Youth First still rents the 750 square foot Merced Heights Clubhouse for $1,085 a month, according to a report given to PROSAC.
Joey Kahn, a media relations and policy manager at RPD, did not specify how the department determines rental prices for the clubhouses.
RPD is likely saving more than it is making. In 2010, Ginsburg estimated that it would cost $40,000 to hire a part-time clubhouse attendant and $80,000 for a full-time attendant.
The final problem with the rented properties is that nonprofits can decide not to continue its lease and leave the property empty as happened with the clubhouses at Alice Chalmers and Excelsior. Alternatively, RPD could be trapped with a bad nonprofit, with no way to get rid of them.
A Brighter Future
After years of behind-the-scenes advocacy against privatized clubhouses, D’Avirro said that the department is relatively financially stable thanks to guaranteed funding from June’s parks funding bond, Proposition B, and an enthusiastic response from staffers about the “Equity Metrics” included in the proposition.
RPD is also moving away from lengthy leases in favor of one-year leases, according to D’Avirro.
In the meantime, the Digital Action HUB, an Excelsior-based nonprofit displaced by a fire in December, will move into the Excelsior Clubhouse. No new tenant has been identified for Alice Chalmers clubhouse.
Ginsburg has been receptive to the idea of hiring a part-time staff person for the Excelsior Clubhouse, D’Avirro said.
RPD sent his office a draft schedule for public programing at Excelsior clubhouse and playground, according to Safai.
This article first appeared in the Ingleside-Excelsior Light‘s March 2017 print edition.