Fees rise in SF, but some supervisors prefer taxes

Northfolk Island pines bloom in the SF Botanical Gardens -- soon non-residents must pay to see them

By Brittany Baguio

 The Board of Supervisors this week voted to impose non-resident fees for admission into Botanical Gardens in an effort to help alleviate the city's $483 million budget deficit, as requested by the Mayor's Office. But even supervisors who supported it say they hope to end the fees if they can find some general revenue sources, a process that will begin next week after Mayor Gavin Newsom releases his budget on June 1.

Sup. John Avalos, who chairs the Budget Committee, began Tuesday's discussion by stating that he believed that this non-resident fee would stop the layoffs of Botanical Gardens staff and help offset the 30 percent drop in their budget. Despite supporting the fees, Avalos expressed hope that they could be replaced by a 2 percent increase in the hotel tax, something labor and community groups are pushing that would raise $38 million to $45 million per year.

He even amended the item to include a provision that the non-resident fee will be eliminated within 90 days from the effective date of the new tax. Despite Avalos’s amendment, AIDS Grove founder and volunteer community gardener Nancy McNally said she was appalled that Avalos would support a non-resident fee. “He is not committed to preserving significant public park commons that San Franciscan generations before him have paid taxes to preserve,” McNally told the Guardian. “No one wants to brainstorm and come up with creative options to alleviate this crisis that is not really a crisis. Greed is the crisis.”

One thing McNally did appreciate was sober assessments made at the hearing by Sup. Eric Mar, who stated that Botanical Gardens serves as a haven for low-income and immigrant families who can only enjoy the facilities because admission is free. He declared that once fees are attached to Botanical Gardens, it will lose its appeal. He also added that passing this fee will be the first step in initiating fees for all.

San Francisco resident Daniele Erville shared Mar’s concerns. “A fee acts as a deterrent to a place that by its very nature is welcoming,” Erville told us. “The place makes us feel at home, it reminds us that we are a part of nature and reminds us of our common humanity. Spirituality means that you are in touch with what unites us all, and so differentiating on any level just clashes."

The imposition of fees – $7 for non-resident adults, $5 for seniors, and $2 for children – was approved on a 8-3 vote, with Sups. Mar, Bevan Dufty, and Ross Mirkarimi in dissent.