The golf club - Page 2

Privatization plan raises concerns about cronyism and giving away public resources
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That would suggest a level of sophistication that Rec and Park just doesn't have."

Reached for comment, Hsieh bristled at the suggestion that he landed the contract because of his ties to the mayor, writing in an e-mail that the mere suggestion was "a scurrilous attack motivated by politics." Hsieh did not answer our repeated requests for information about wage levels at the Gleneagles course and the number of groundskeepers employed there. McGoldrick and sources in the industry assert that one of the main ways private managers would make money from the other courses would be to reduce labor costs.

Sup. Sean Elsbernd, one of the privatization plan's strongest backers, conceded that some past golf contracts have been "questionable," specifically in the case of Hsieh's deal. But he said the supervisors would oversee the leasing process this time to avoid cronyism and the kind of spending excesses allegedly committed by Kemper Sports. They would also mandate that new managers continue to employ union employees.

Unlike the city, Elsbernd argued, private businesses could invest large sums of money in rehabilitating the courses, especially Lincoln. "When it gets that kind of [cash] infusion," Elsbernd said, the course "is going to see a turnaround in revenue so that you can actually justify charging higher fees."

That is exactly the kind of scenario privatization foes fear: more exclusive golf courses on public land that raise greens fees beyond ordinary people's means. "These courses are untapped gold mines," said golf instructor, former pro, and activist Justin Hetsler, who has formed a nonprofit group, Golf San Francisco, to lobby against the mayor's plan. "But every penny spent at the courses should go back into them, not into someone's pocket as profit." As for capital improvements, Hetsler, who also works as an accountant, argued, "The courses' future revenue streams can secure credit for improvements. That does not require privatization."

For McGoldrick, this debate is about far more than golf courses. "I don't even play golf," he told us. The push to outsource control of the links, he said, reflects a larger philosophical battle about what to do with publicly owned resources. "The mayor is a pro-privatization kind of guy. That's his MO.... We're seeing this happen all over the place, not just San Francisco. But for me, it's just painful to watch city assets [be] given away. It really kicks me in the gut." *

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