Raising revenues on the backs of the East Bay/working class


If you are one of the many thousands of people who commute the Bay Bridge each day, then you already know that the  toll is going to increase on Thursday, July 1 to $6 during commute hours, and that the car pool is going to stop being free and start costing $2:50 (and you'll need a Fastrak pass to use it). Tolls will also rise to $5 on Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael and San Mateo-Hayward bridges. What you may not know is that San Francisco is also planning to start charging fees this summer to  "out-of-towners" to access certain facilities.

As an East Bay resident and a member of San Francisco's workforce, I understand the logic behind all these toll and fee increases: raise tolls to get cars off roads, people onto public transit, and spare the air in the process. And raise entrance fees for tourists, so as to generate revenue for cash-strapped city departments.

And yet, it feels like working-class folks who can't afford to raise their families in San Francisco keep getting stuck with the bill for the excesses of the city's real estate market, while the folks who made money gaming the real estate market in the '90s and the Noughties keep leading the "no new taxes, lots of new fees" mantra.

That extra $2 a day to get to work is going to cost working folks about $500 more a year, at a time when wages are either stagnant or being cut. So, don't be surprised if we stop spending any money on buying food in the city, to make ends meet. But should we also plan to stop visiting fee-charging city facilities?

I ask because a recent article in the Chronicle pointed out that "Out-of-town visitors will have to start paying an admission fee to San Francisco's tranquil and well-tended Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, now that the Board of Supervisors signed off on the proposal after months of heated public debate."

San Francisco residents will continue to get free entry, the article reported, but other adults will have to pay $7 to get into the Botanical Garden, starting in late July or early August. (Discounts will be offered to seniors and youth.)

"The total price for a family will be capped at $15," the Chron reported, " and the money-making initiative is expected to generate $250,000 a year for the city's strapped Recreation and Park Department, officials say."

It's not clear from that report whether the city's commuters who now account for more than 50 percent of the city's workforce) are classified as "out-of-towners?" And if it turns out that we are not, I'll post an update here in short order. But I suspect we are, since we don't actually live here, (even if we do spend half our lives working in a building within city limits).

Update: Lisa Van Cleef, public spokesperson for the Botanical Gardens (a former SFBG worker, when the Guardian was still on York Street) confirmed that Mayor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the Botanical Gardens fee hike legislation by the end of this week.

"All San Francisco residents have free admission," Van Cleef emailed. "Non-residents including those who work in SF, will pay the $7.00."

In her email, Van Cleef made a great case for visiting the Botanical Gardens.

"It is very different than a park," she wrote. "With 26 distinct gardens and collections, our visitors can experience incredible rarities from  Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Central and South America, and South Africa, plus our award-winning California Native Plant Garden 
complete with a century-old redwood forest. Hundreds of our plants are rare and/or endangered in the wild.Right now, the Passionflowers, Chilean, Australian and Perennial gardens are looking exceptionally great with lots in bloom."

So, I guess I'll be tempted to visit, fee or no, even as I wish for a more equitable way to generate new city revenues, in future.

Now, it's easy to demonize folks who drive to work from the East Bay, as being irresponsible climate change inducing air polluters. But I can't help noticing that many folks on the road alongside me each morning are driving beat-up pick-ups full of work tools and cars full of infant seats and toys. These are working class family-oriented folks who definitely pay their "entrance fee" into the city each day. (And then there's the fact that we are paying to cross a bridge that no longer feels entirely safe to drive across, but that's a whole other story.)

But when out-of-town commuters use public transit, it can take several hours each way--between bad connections and cut services--unless we live and work close to BART. And those hours spent waiting for the T-Third or changing buses adds up to precious time we don't spend with our families, and costs a lot in child care.

That's why I'm getting sick of the  "cyclists v drivers" debate in San Francisco. Because it's a divisive, misleading debate. There are saints and sinners on both sides of that debate's equation, but when it comes to actually getting folks off the road and onto public transit, the real issue continues to be the cost of housing and the lack of a truly comprehensive public transit system in San Francisco. And I'm not seeing the kind of planning in the pipeline that would allow working-class families to move back into town and/or make traveling to and from the East Bay less of a nightmare.

Instead, there are plans to build thousands and thousands of condos where a couple could possibly raise one child--until the crying and the constant bits of Lego underfoot in the condo's swag carpetting get them fleeing to the Oakland hills, and beyond.

So, go ahead and bite me and the rest of the working class commuters with more fees, both at the toll booths and at the entrance gate to  the Botanical Gardens. We don't have much choice but to pay them, if we want to keep our jobs in the city, and enjoy ourselves in our downtime before making the return commute. But milking us is not going to solve the underlying problem in a city that sold out to the highest bidder a long time ago. Yes, this is a bit of a "whine" piece, and it's coming from someone who enjoys navigating her "London Taxi" as I like to call my anonomobile, through the roughest of city streets. But seriously folks, when is someone going to have the balls to raise taxes on the rich in this richest of cities and stop sticking it to the poor?


I don't believe it! A Guardian writer making the case against public transportation!

At least you see why people drive rather than waste hours on buses, especially in SF.

Posted by Scott on Jun. 29, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

It's not the case against, but the case for better public transportation, Scott, plus a much more equitable system all around.

Posted by sarah on Jun. 29, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

Human beings, including working people, are the capitalists oppressing the planet.

BP is proving in the Gulf that some things trump jobs and convenience.

We subsidize driving too much already, dropping that subsidy slightly is good public policy.


Posted by marcos on Jun. 29, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

This is good transportation policy, first and foremost.

Regarding "out of towner" fees, remember that SF had repeatedly taxed itself (well, sold bonds, but same diff eventually) to fund our park system. East Bay residents don't pay for SF parks upkeep, so asking for regional financial support for regional-destination park attractions isn't a bad thing either.

And I believe the Guardian has had an awful lot to say in the past about the dubious benefits of supporting a workforce, 50% of which comes in from out of town each day.

Posted by Josh on Jun. 29, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

I'm not sure I get the connection -- how would taxing "the rich in this richest of cities" (i.e., San Francisco) alleviate the burden on East Bay commuters? The article does not say what tax you are proposing or explain why San Francisco residents should be taxed to cover the costs of people commuting into town.

Posted by Patrick on Jun. 29, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

Sarah Phelan, bringing the Wal Mart philosophy to regional transportation?

Say it ain't so sister Sarah!


Posted by marcos on Jun. 29, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

"working class" too Sarah? Where's the evidence that road tolls impact "the working class?" Have they never heard of BART?

I thought The Guardian wanted to discourage private automobiles?

What's your solution Sarah - car and driver for members of "the working class?"

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jun. 29, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

The idea that we can all catch a break by taxing these alleged rich has been widely discredited.

1) There aren't nearly enough of them
2) If you try and tax them at punitive levels, they jusy leave and take their assets with them.

Could we finally put to sleep this tired, old piece of dogma that if we tax the rich the rest of us will all be rich?

It was never true.

Posted by TomFoolery on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 7:32 am

My solution would be to build a public transit network that actually works. And push harder to create housing stock that families can afford.  I love my bicycle, but it hasn't proven to be ab effective way for me to get to work and back to the East Bay each day and have time to hang out with my three kids. And I'm not the only one. Let me say it again: a lot of drivers on the Bay Bridge are working class folks with progressive values, plus a family they house and support. But they don't live or work close to BART.  And it's crazy to suggest that taxing the poor, while sparing the rich will solve this mess.

Posted by sarah on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 8:08 am

The BART riders I know are pretty happy with the system. The fact you don't live and work close to a station doesn't mean San Francisco residents should have to pay higher taxes.

Posted by Patrick on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 10:01 am

"As an East Bay resident and a member of San Francisco's workforce, I understand the logic behind all these toll and fee increases: raise tolls to get cars off roads, people onto public transit, and spare the air in the process. And raise entrance fees for tourists, so as to generate revenue for cash-strapped city departments."

Not even close, they just want your money, trying to make this about your San Francisco values is really weird when its just about raising more money.

"So, go ahead and bite me and the rest of the working class commuters with more fees, both at the toll booths and at the entrance gate to the Botanical Gardens."

You're not working class. I have not the slightest idea how you people at the Guardian have convinced yourselves that you are all working class.

" And it's crazy to suggest that taxing the poor, while sparing the rich will solve this mess."

It would be fair to raise taxes on people who may not use the bay bridge so you can get into the city cheaper, so you can go to your job demanding more taxes?

Posted by matlock on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 8:28 am

I'm curious, matlock, to know what your definition of "working class" is.

Posted by rebecca on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 9:41 am

The universally accepted one, people who do working class jobs, for example; truck drivers, electricians, factory workers, janitors, plumbers, and probably many in the service industry.

There is so much that is odd about middle class leftists trying to be down with the actual working class. When the actual working class loves its Jesus as in prop 8, the real working class are called bigots. When the working class votes for republicans they are called stupid by the "working class" progressives.

Many working class types out there in the rest of the country take an actual active dislike to being talked down to by middle class, college educated, Utopian-ists.

I think this all may partially stem from the strange belief that union leadership in San Francisco represents the views of rank and file actual members of these unions, and the working class in general. Spending time with SEIU leadership and their studied rhetoric is hardly representative of actual members in say, anywhere else in the nation.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

Matlock, I don't think there is a "universally accepted" definition of working class. Reality is far more complicated than your broad generalizations suggesting that everyone on the left is snobbish, college-educated and financially secure, while everyone who swings a hammer or pushes a mop for a living is Christian, conservative, and earns less pay. Class, social status, and the long list of indicators that people use to try and place one another into neat categories (payscale, background, education, values, culture, language, politics, privilege, etc.) is an enormously complex subject, and reality typically defies cut-and-dry definitions. Meanwhile, traditional class structures are shifting in the US. Factory jobs are vanishing. Construction is down. The public sector is eroding. People are losing jobs, homes, retirement benefits, and any hope of obtaining / sending kids toward higher education. Some of the most important people in my life happen to be construction workers who are unemployed. 250,000 Californians representing the former white-collar and blue-collar workforce alike just lost their unemployment benefits, and now they're all panicking, adrift in the same boat.  Your comments do a great job of reinforcing an oft-repeated stereotype that pits "liberal yuppies" or perhaps, "pretentious progressives" against "real Americans," but I doubt that this line of thought is ultimately going to get us anywhere. Focusing on divisions between the so-called middle class and working class isn't going to save anyone's job, make anyone's health care cheaper, make it easier to pay rent or a mortgage, bolster kids' education, or improve the quality of the air that we all breathe. It's just going to thwart efforts to move forward.

Posted by rebecca on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

We are talking about the real "working class" and who they are, a class which for some reason some at the staff at the Guardian claims to belong to. Oddly the effete Guardian world view is that the real working class is bigoted and stupid, and yet some workers at the Guardian claim to be working class?

There are some rules about class and status, the Guardian is obsessed with those rules. If there is any outlet that is obsessed with statues and class it is the San Francisco Bay Guardian which puts everything into class, status and race terms.

And yes, working class people don't like pretentious lefties, these lefties look down on the real working classes and treats them like idiots. All any working class type has to do is read the Guardian to find out what a low opinion that the Guardian has of them and their views.

I will let you in on something around this complicated class thing, which isn't that complicated, upper class conservatives don't think well of the working class either. Both groups treat the working class like idiots and then go begging to them for votes. The upper class wine and cheese conservatives look at the real working class the same way progressive do, votes.

On a personal note, I come from a real working class family, I have also worked in factories, worked farm labor, done construction, and would do it again, I don't look down on those people who do these jobs. I have a real actual background in the working class sphere, I would never pretend that I am working class to them, they would just laugh at me and I would feel like a poseur.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

I am surprised to see the Guardian publishing this sort of reactionary, anti-environment rant. Notice the sense of entitlement: "My solution would be to build a public transit network that actually works. And push harder to create housing stock that families can afford." And how do we pay for building those things, if there are rants like this opposing any increase in taxes - even an increase in taxes on behavior that is obviously environmentally destructive.

It reminds me of the Republican position on global warming: spend more to subsidize clean energy, but don't increase the deficit and don't raise taxes - particularly not taxes on dirty energy. The only problem is that it is mathematically impossible.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 8:38 am

Anyone who can afford to operate a car in the Bay Area is not poor.

Real poor people ride the bus or bikes.

If you are feeling poor, maybe it is car-ownership that is doing it to you?

Without a car you could save between $5-8,000 a year. That could go a long way towards setting up a college fund for the kids. And you can drop the gym membership while you are at it because you will be using you body to get around.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 9:45 am

I'm a regular Casual Carpooler from Vallejo and like many other carpoolers am concerned about the new toll for our group ($2.50 beginning July 1). Casual Carpool is a great system, conceived and executed entirely by commuters - no Bay Area Bridge Toll Authority or any other transportation agencies had a hand in this.

For those who don't know how it works - riders line up at a designated spot during commute hours where cars can stop and pick them up. 3 in a car equals a car pool which means access to the faster car pool lane and - up until July 1 - no toll.

The free rides end today and we hope this does not mark the beginning of the end of the casual carpool.

Read my (and other carpoolers) thoughts on this on my daily commuter blog, POOLING AROUND, at commutergal.com. You can also see a recent news segment on my blog from KPIX (Channel 5) who interviewed myself and other 'poolers' about this issue.

Posted by Commuter Gal on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 10:24 am

You folks crack me up. So, now I'm not poor because I drive a crapped out 1994 Honda to my job as a reporter in San Francisco? Ok. If you say so. Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and none of this in-fighting is helping to change the status quo. So, let me say it again:

"Stop sparing the rich and taxing the poor."

And if you want to have a real debate about what it costs to raise kids in the Bay Area, and how to define "poor" within this new normal, I'm ready and willing. But I'm  sick of divisive and pointless attacks on working folks, while rich folks block meaningful reform and pose as our eco-saviours.

Posted by sarah on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 10:27 am

Who is poor:
An American who drives a 1994 Honda?
Or a farmer in the Sahel who is starving because of the desertification caused by the CO2 emissions from that Honda (and from the cars of other American "working folks")?

If you want a more progressive income-tax system, I back you completely. We definitely do need to reduce inequality by raising taxes on the rich and lowering taxes on the poor.

If you do not want a tax that makes you pay for the pollution you cause, then you are the one who is making a pointless and divisive attack on environmentalists.

You could oppose cap-and-trade on greenhouse gas emissions using the same argument that we should only tax the rich and not tax working people.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 10:49 am

Thanks Commuter Gal for pointing us to your blog and carpool concerns. I'd be interested to hear how the new tolls impact you and other Casual Carpoolers.



Posted by sarah on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 10:52 am

Actually, I support taxes and fees on cars. And will continue to pay them. That's because cars have a negative impact on our environment and our communities.

That's why I was bummed when California elected Gov. Schwarzenegger and he promptly delivered on his promise to rescind the vehicle licensing fee. If that hadn't happened, we wouldn't be so deep in the financial hole.





Posted by sarah on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 11:24 am

I do not like to drive. I can. I have a license. But I don't want to. I don't feel it's environmentally the right thing to do and I can't afford it. I don't own a car. Parking permits in my neighborhood cost money, and at my work place cost even more money. Gas & insurance, lots more money. So why do you think you, who already chooses to pay all this money, and get cheaper rent because you chose to move farther from jobs, are more deserving than me?

So you think when the city needs revenues they should raise MUNI & BART prices on me, more than they already have, rather than you? Is this because I am somehow as a city dwelling, carless, commuting person less deserving than your suburban, commuting self? I'm poor too. My life choices are a little different than yours, but this isn't an attack on the working class. So you didn't want to live in a condo - you moved to the suburbs and got a yard. Good for you, don't complain ONE fancy park I pay for isn't free, unless you're willing to volunteer your backyard for my next bbq?

I'd love a yard, a dog, and a place 5 to 10 degrees warmer than my foggy house. I just can't afford the suburbs yet. Don't complain that your suburban lifestyle is more expensive than my urban one, and don't pretend that the suburbs isn't an expensive choice you made.

Posted by TheSquirrelfish on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

Actually, Squirrelfish, I moved to a former military base on Alameda, so it's hardly the burbs, given the level of industrial activity.
And where does it say I said anyone should raise Muni and BART prices?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

It's nice to see the SFBG finally covering the Arboretum charge, even though it is way too late!

This $7 fee will not make money: see below:

Golden Gate Park founder and Arboretum designer John McLaren and Helene Strybing must both be rolling in their graves! McLaren, who had envisioned a vehicle- and building-free oasis, would be aghast at the high ticket prices and corporate commercialism of our museums, the ugly gashes marking the entrance to the Warren Hellman parking garages, the Segway "tours," and the very idea of astroturfed playing fields at Ocean Beach. He would be amazed that the once-free museums, Tea Garden, and Conservatory of Flowers, who faced hard times after Prop 13, are now cash cows. Likewise, Helene intended the Arboretum, whose creation she funded in her 1926 will, as a sanctuary which would remain free for all.

Phil Ginsburg, absentee Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Director of Recreation and Parks, is trying to force a $7 entry fee on Arboretum visitors, having packaged this together with a $2 Coit-Tower surcharge. Provided they can prove residency, San Franciscans will not have to pay but we can expect this to change. Widespread community protest and outrage last year is the only reason Recreation and Park modified their previous plan to charge residents a $5 fee while soaking tourists for $7.

The gardens are to become more and more Disneyfied: Plans include turning the "Demonstration Gardens" into a "special exhibitions" area, install "high-end" coffee carts, and institute corporate-sponsored "free days."

It is unclear who will foot the considerable costs needed to install kiosks, change signage and promotional materials, print tickets, pay for staff, and conduct audits. A further unknown is how this will pan out financially. Three of five entry gates will be permanently shut. The social loss will be immense and mulitgenerational.

The first San Franciscans got wind of this was at the February 18th Recreation and Park Commission meeting when the Department's Katharine Petrucione claimed that charging $7 will bring RPD an astonishing $250,000 net. We’re hoping to someday see the math, especially since only last year RPD was claiming that a "nonresident" levy would bring in $150,000 after expenses. Should the fee be rejected, Katherine laid it on the line: three gardeners from the Arboretum will be fired — a clear (and successful) attempt at blackmail!

Astonishingly, the Botanical Garden Society has engaged BMWL, a lobbying firm with clients such as AT&T and Bechtel, who have lobbied members of the the Board of Supervisors (arriving with Society trustees in tow!) and organized "Save the Garden" astroturf rallies. The Society has a budget of $3 million and considerable clout within San Francisco's ruling elites. What can we do to counter their influence? Contact the Supervisors, Mayor Newsom and Phil Ginsburg (831-2704) and demand a public meeting.

The Arboretum is a special place where tourists and locals may meet in a utopian commons — an area free of ID cards, gates, and unreasonable restrictions. We should enshrine the principle that access to our biological heritage is a common right—one guaranteed to all, regardless of one's skin pigmentation, passport, age, sex, or ability to pay. Future generations will thank us for it.

Posted by Harry on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 9:21 am

I have no sympathy for anyone who says they love their car, including driving it into the city every day and using our streets, polluting our air, and then wants free admission to the botanical gardens. I live here, and when I go to the gardens I ride my bike. You should consider doing the same.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2010 @ 1:32 am

Poor? Working class? When you have to cut meat and cheese out of your diet because you can't afford it, going to the movies or shooting pool is completely out of the question, the only internet access you can get is at the library, your entire wardrobe consists of Goodwill finds, it takes you over an hour on public transportation to get to your job 5 miles away (to an employer that actually gets tax benefits from employing someone from a zip code in a poor area,) when said job involves heavy manual labor in a very cold environment and you're so tired when you get home after riding two buses that you can hardly make your pot of rice for dinner, and at the end of the month you still have barely enough money to cover rent on your crappy apartment in crime-ridden West Oakland, then you can talk to me about being poor and working class. Because you know what? I can tell you that I'm not even as badly off as so many people in my neighborhood who have a hard time feeding their kids.

You insult me and anyone else who actually knows what it feels like to be hungry when you call yourself poor.

Posted by Becky on Jul. 05, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

Working class can be defined pretty wide, but if you refer to these effete Guardian types claiming to be poor. Thats a hoot.

Reminds me of us middle class 80's punk rockers bragging about how poor we were, from out there the suburbs.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 05, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

If you live in the city than you can have a say with your vote on fees and taxes that are assessed on city residents. If you do not live in the city than just pay the $7.00 and shut up.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

What a flippant comment for a mandate that will have long term repercussions for us all. These new fees will just make non-SF residents choose stay in their neighborhoods. Tourism is currently down due to the loss in value of the Euro.

So, no visitors means that eventually San Francisco residents will be footing the bill in some new creative way.

Posted by charlotte on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

Fine than say in the east bay and visit your own botanical garden.....oh wait you do not have one.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2010 @ 7:43 am

Ah San Franciscans,
They live in a fantasy land where boycotts and meat free mondays are critical issues. Where their insatiable drive for green economies is compounded by the city's unproductive and environmentally unsustainable top industries of hospitality and tourism(you complain about cars polluting your city, how about 'SF' tourists who pollute San Mateo and Alameda in their jets?).
The overeducated and overpaid populace denies the existence of the 'working class' they so love to defend, especially those who come from outside their 49 square miles (btw regardless if the author is working class, she is speaking to their issues). Not everyone in the bay area has the privilege or market value to bike to work or the botanical gardens.

San Francisco's a pretty place, however it'd be a lot prettier without all the San Franciscans

Posted by Guest on Jul. 08, 2010 @ 5:46 pm