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?