Parks Inc. - Page 3

Rec-Park is trying to turn privatization into official city policy, but sponsors of a ballot measure are pushing back

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A diesel-powered taco truck now sits in Dolores Park, part of an effort to commercialize public space.
PHOTO BY BEN HOPFER

And that policy approach would get a big boost if it gets written into the city's General Plan, which could happen later this year.

Land use attorney Sue Hestor has been fighting projects that have disproportionately favored the wealthy for decades, often using the city's General Plan, a state-mandated document that lays out official city goals and policies. She also is concerned that the ROSE is quietly being developed to "run interference for Rec-Park to do anything they want to."

"By getting policies into the General Plan that are a rationalization of privatization, it backs up what Rec-Park is doing," Hestor said, noting how much influence Ginsburg and his allies have clearly exerted over the Planning Department document. "It's effectively a Rec-Park plan."

Sue Exeline, the lead planner on ROSE, said the process was launched in November 2007 by an Open Space Task Force created by Newsom, and that the Planning Department, Neighborhood Parks Council, and speakers at community meetings have all influenced its development. Yet she conceded that RPD was "a big part of the process."

When we asked about the revenue-generating policies, where they came from, and why they were presented in such laudatory fashion without noting the controversy that underlies them, Exeline said simply: "It will continue to be vetted." And when we continued to push for answers, she tried to say the conversation was off-the-record, referred us to RPD or Planning Director John Rahaim, and hung up the phone.

The rationale for bringing in private sources of revenue: it's the only way to maintain RPD resources during these tight budget times. A July 5 San Francisco Examiner editorial that praised these "revenue-generating business partnerships" and lambasted the ballot measure and its proponents was titled "Purists want Rec and Park to pull cash off trees."

But critics say the department could be putting more energy into a tax measure, impact fees, or other general revenue sources rather than simply turning toward privatization options.

"We need to see revenue, but we also need to stop the knee-jerk acceptance of every corporate hand that offers anything," Mosgofian said. "Our political leadership believes you need to genuflect before wealth."

And they say that their supporters cover the entire ideological spectrum.

"We're getting wide support, everywhere from conservative neighborhoods to progressive neighborhoods. It's not a left-right issue, it's about fairness and equity," Rizzo said.

In sponsoring the Parks for the People initiative and unsuccessfully trying to end the arboretum fees (it failed on a 5-6 vote at the Board of Supervisors, with President David Chiu the swing vote), John Avalos is the one major mayoral candidate that is raising concerns about the RPD schemes.

"Our parks are our public commons. They are public assets that should be paid for with tax dollars," Avalos told us. He called the idea of allowing advertising and corporate sponsorships into the parks, "a real breach from what the public expects from parks and open space."

When asked whether, if he's elected mayor, he would continue the policies and let Ginsburg continue to run RPD, Avalos said, "Probably not. I think we need to make a lot of changes in the department. They should be given better support in the General Fund so we don't have to make these kinds of choices."

ROSE will be the subject of informational hearings before the Planning Commission on Aug. 4 and Sept. 15, with an adoption hearing scheduled for Oct. 13. Each hearing begins at noon in Room 400, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Dr., San Francisco.

 

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