Non-resident fees, exclusive events, and the transfer to a private group compromise what was a natural gathering spot
"We understand the logic of providing benefits for people who donate to the facility," Breed legislative aide Conor Johnston told us. "It's very important to remember all San Francisco residents have free access and [organized groups of] youth from outside the city have free access. This structure allows the arboretum to stay open."
While San Francisco residents still have free access, the agreements with the SFBGS strongly limit this access by instituting members-only hours, forcing residents to show identification at security gates, and renting out buildings for exclusive corporate parties.
Another part of the Botanical Garden's master plan consists of providing food services in a new visitors center. Consequently, the "public" gardens will enforce a rule barring visitors from bringing in outside food. The plan also details the SFBGS's plan to bring in new revenue streams through corporate events.
"This is about weeding people out, controlling people and deciding who has access to this place," said Pariser. "They put up a wall that must cost thousands of dollars and they destroyed this meadow that even London Breed was appalled by. They control this place like it's a domain and you're not allowed to say anything."
The lack of public outreach and input on the SFBGS's buyout has left residents like Pariser feeling robbed of public land that their taxes pay to support. Nancy McNally, founder of the San Francisco AIDS Grove, voiced similar concerns regarding the misplaced priorities of both SFBGS and the Recreation and Parks Department, which in recent years has been under growing criticism for monetizing public spaces (see "Parks Inc.," 7/12/11).
"For me, I can't even be in the same room as Recreation and Park Director Phil Ginsburg. I think he has done so much harm to the parks," McNally told us. "He's created a ton of positions in the marketing and PR department. What do they need four people for to run public marketing for a public space?"
Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-designer of Central Park, is said to have influenced the style of Golden Gate Park. Olmsted's theory was to bring wilderness into the city. For McNally, this non-manicured, rustic aspect of Golden Gate Park is what makes it so appealing.
"They're taking away the basic foundation of the park, which is wildness," said McNally. "The new building is so big, obtrusive, and unnecessary. It's only about income for the Botanical Society's select group."
McNally views the RPD and SFBGS as predatory entities who target residents attempting to use the land by charging egregious fees for weddings, memorials, and other events.
McNally recalled a friend who wanted to have a memorial for another gardening enthusiast in the Arboretum. For 10 people, the RPD wanted $1,000 and to hire a security guard for a group of elderly gardening enthusiasts.
SFRPD did not return the Guardian's phone calls regarding the management under the SFBGS, which also did not return our call.
Jane Glasby, an ex-librarian for the SFBGS, whose job was terminated in 2010 due to widespread cuts to the garden's education program, expressed her inside views on the changing tides of park's atmosphere in a letter written to "friends and garden lovers" as her tenure came to an end.