Apathy and the arboretum

The very idea that visitors would have to pay to enter a public park appeared absurd. Astonishingly, only three supervisors voted against the ordinance imposing a fee on entrance to the arboretum.

OPINION Nobody believed it could happen, that the ordinance might pass. On the face of it, it seemed inconceivable. The very idea that visitors would have to pay to enter a public park appeared absurd, and had been rejected only the year before. Some believed the hype and were convinced that this would help solve the budget deficit. Others expected someone besides themselves would take action, or believed that that the $7 fee, once imposed, would apply only to nonresidents.

So, by and large, people sat on their hands. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society at Strybing Arboretum, the driving force behind the privatization of the arboretum in Golden Gate Park, was using the camouflage of hard times to mask the absurdity of its proposal. The way had been carefully paved. A real estate developer and Bolinas resident handpicked by Mayor Gavin Newsom to head the Recreation and Park Commission voiced his enthusiasm. The rubber-stamp commission he heads passed it on to the Board of Supervisors. Despite the presence of his grandfather's native plant garden within the arboretum, the mayor lent his support.

The society had craftily employed lobbyist Sam Lauter, who had set up meetings between individual supervisors and wealthy trustees.

The strategy succeeded. Astonishingly, only three supervisors voted against the ordinance imposing a fee on entrance to the arboretum. Leading the charge for the measure was John Avalos, who had added a "sunset" clause along with other vaguely worded amendments. At the hearing, the ever-congenial Chris Daly accused opponents of "elitism." No public comment was permitted, and no supervisor questioned Recreation and Parks Department head Phil Ginsberg, although Eric Mar did announce his intention to join the Botanical Garden Society.

Much was made about union jobs — as though holding three gardeners' salaries hostage to the passing of a privatization ordinance was a reasonable proposition.

As things stand now, the society is planning to allow its members free admission to the arboretum. Given that the reason for the $7 fee is all about the budget, this makes no logical sense. Low-income people and the undocumented (not to mention the homeless) will be excluded.

The society is also planning to build a $13 million glorified greenhouse that would have its own entrance on John F. Kennedy Drive. No community discussion has been held, but that has not deterred the society from soliciting the state to pay $7 million toward this so-called "sustainable gardening center," an edifice that would likely memorialize the likes of Dede Wilsey or similar donor.

So what's a good citizen to do? If you value public free space, the wings of the society need to be clipped. The best way to do this is to directly contact the offices of your supervisors, especially Sups. John Avalos (554-6975), David Campos (554-5144), David Chiu (554-7450),Michela Alioto-Pier (554-7752), Sean Elsbernd (554-6516) and Carmen Chu (554-7460). And vociferously voice your feelings.

Otherwise, the fee will not sunset next year — or any year.

Harry S. Pariser is a long-term resident of the Inner Sunset. You can join the Yahoo! group at groups.yahoo.com/group/keepthearboretumfree.


As the gap grows between those with disposable personal wealth and the rest of us, our very access to nature itself is being taken away. Every single park system in the country is vulnerable to the privatizers: areas are designated as special and segregated, burdened with entrance or parking or "day use" fees; eventually whole parks, whole swaths of nature get effectively closed to those without endless pocket money.
Young generations come along and never know what they've missed, much less know why they're missing it. When is the last time you noticed a park fee being reduced or eliminated? When do any of these privatizations ever get reversed?
What did it cost you the last time you took the kids to the pool? Why should it have cost you anything?
Every park system once considered part of the Commons is now involved in battles that look like fiscal strategizing but are really part of an ideological war. The hawks in this war want, ultimately, nothing at all provided to the public free through public funding, not even trees, lawns, or flowers.
A common tactic, benign in appearance but insidiously destructive, is the establishment of "Societies" or "Friends of" funding. If you're a "Friend" for an annual fee ("contribution"), you get waved in; if not, you'd better have the cash ready. Managers and boards of directors of even the Greenest nature-loving park systems and nonprofits can hide behind this strategem and avoid facing their collusion in denying access to nature to the rest of us.
What are the Supervisors thinking? What about re-thinking it?
Many thanks to Harry Pariser and the Guardian for laying out the situation. God, it's disheartening.

Posted by M. Hall on Aug. 29, 2010 @ 12:59 am

My name is Nancy McNally. I was born in San Francisco 1949. I am the founder of the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park. Even though I was raised in the foster child system, so far I have managed to create art and participate in volunteer community gardens most of my life, while most of my peers are either dead or in jail. For many years I felt very lucky to call San Francisco my home. Not any more, not since Mayor Willie Brown advised people to not live in San Francisco unless they earn at least
$ 50,000 a year, and that was10 years ago. Now I only feel sorrow about being a native San Franciscan. I went to many meetings attempting to stop the SF Botanical Society from hi-jacking 55 acres of Golden Gate Park. Willie Brown's Fillmore Jazz District re-development, whitewashed. Next ? Bay View Hunter's Point. In 1980 there were 120,000 African Americans living in SF. Now there are less than 50,000 African Americans living in San Francisco.

I have battled eviction for the last 10 years because of a hostile greedy landlord.
I am now disabled.

Re: Bay View Hunter's Point


The Redevelopment Agency promised to clean up blight, build affordable housing and stimulate business, relying in part on its ability to finance projects with bonds that will be paid off with future property tax revenue. Lennar Corp., a nationwide housing developer with political connections not only to Mayor Gavin Newsom but to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and, more recently, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, both residents of San Francisco, had been chosen by the Redevelopment Agency to be the developer for the project.

Opponents feared that the city would take property by eminent domain and that private developers’ desire for profit would drive up housing prices and accelerate gentrification. San Francisco was already pushing its Black population out faster than any other major U.S. city, and Bayview Hunters Point was Black San Francisco’s last stand.

The citizens of the community exercised their unalienable right to petition the government to address their grievances and put the whole plan up for a vote by the people. In September of 2006, the city Elections Department certified that the people of Bayview Hunters Point had gathered over 33,000 signatures on their referendum petition, far more than the required 21,615 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify their referendum on the Redevelopment Plan for the November 2007 ballot.

City leaders were horrified that citizens actually wanted to let the people decide the question. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis J. Herrera, who had approved the petition before it was circulated, suddenly invalidated it six days after the 33,000-plus signatures had been certified. Although the petition included the full text of the ordinance to be voted on, Herrera said it should also have included all the attachments – a sheaf of papers as thick as a phone book.

His opinion was unprecedented – yet unquestioned at City Hall. San Franciscans were denied the right to vote on whether the people or Redevelopment Agency bureaucrats would determine the fate of Bayview Hunters Point.

The Defend Bayview Hunters Point Committee filed a lawsuit asking the Superior Court to review and reverse the city attorney’s opinion. The judge had knowingly accepted a campaign contribution from the city attorney, yet he did not recuse himself from the case and decided in favor of the city attorney. The right to petition was formally denied. The appeals court refused to hear the people’s appeal.

Willie Brown and anyone who is connected to SF City politics should listen to this TED TALK by Bill Strickland: Social innovator, recipient of a MacArthur Award

" As a Pittsburgh youth besieged by racism in the crumbling remains of the steel economy, Bill Strickland should have been one of the Rust Belt's casualties. Instead, he discovered the potter's wheel, and the transforming power of fountains, irrepressible dreams, and the slide show"
Listen here

Posted by Nancy McNally on Aug. 29, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

The behavior of the Supes (well, 8 of them) on this has been outrageous. Building some giant structure in the Arboretum should also be stopped0 quite a bit of the gree space there has been lost to pave handicapped accessibility pathways; that's enough loss of green space; Similarly, the City starts charging "out of towners" and soon expands their privatization to everyone. This is the example of the Tea Garden and the Conservatory.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

Here's a copy of an email I sent recently to Mr. Dennis (don't recall his first name) at San Francisco Botanical Garden. Every time I picture the kiosks and the locked gates, I can't believe this is the San Francisco I've lived in since 1973. Someone suggested that the privatizers be characterized as the Grinch that stole San Franciscans' Christmas (literally and metaphorically). How sad but true.

This issue needs more passionate press coverage, please!

thank you.

< wrote:
dear mr. dennis,

I am a long-time SF resident (35 + years) and lover of the arboretum who is heartbroken by the imposition of admission fees and erection of the kiosk apparatus, etc. that goes along with it. I recently found out that it is now planned for the Arboretum to be closed on the 3 biggest holidays of the year, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Why not just close the entire park while you're at it? Many of us make it a ritual to pay the Arboretum a special visit on New Year's day (I usually also include a stroll around Stow Lake...I wonder if the day will come when that will be closed also?) It's inconceivable that a major section of the park that regularly gets so many visitors, including on holidays, would be closed to the public on those days.

If the issue is to not have to pay the kiosk workers to work on those days, why not make admission free those days?

And of course I fully support removing the fee policy altogether. It's undemocratic, hostile to the idea of the public commons, and as it's structured now, won't effectively address the city's budget problems, I also read somewhere that non-local San Francisco Botanical Garden [SFBG] members get in free. Is that correct? (It's not posted as such on the Arboretum's web site).

Can you please clarify what the current admission policy is for non-resident SFBG members? Also, what is your position is on making admission free on major holidays?

Thank you.

Paulann Sternberg

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

yeah, it's a sad day indeed—one that points to a lack of imagination by those who wield power, in my view...i've been living in northern new mexico all summer—O'Keeffe country. It was Georgia O'Keeffe the artist who lent her financial support for the building of a gymnasium here in Abiquiu, a very poor town here, among other "gifts" of hers. She wanted to live here and gave back to the community. She was wealthy, and felt it only right and proper to lend a hand.

Until folks realize that there is indeed value to having things be free—as opposed to automatically reacting to a "bad budget year" with the easy—yet deplorable—solution of pay gates...we'll have more situations like the one at the arboretum.

I did my research and know that Helene Strybing herself would be rolling in her grave. She wanted the arboretum to be a respite in a very dense city—for all. "As little interference as possible to the flow of pedestrians"...I needn't say more...(except that i hand delivered my findings to all the supes—well before the vote).

I was disappointed in all the supes that voted for this abomination, and took note. But i guess that is the way things are going now: for example, bonafide candidates are not being invited to debate in our current district elections, nor in the governor's race. Why? not enough money raised, or not the right party...this is democracy? Not in my book...

Posted by Guest daniele erville on Sep. 23, 2010 @ 11:09 am