Coit Tower battle: How do we fund the parks?


The emerging battle over whether San Francisco should allow private parties at Coit Tower is really part of a much larger political debate: How do we fund public parks? Is public space something that resources are put into, something that's paid for by tax money and preserved and made available for everyone -- or should part of the role of parks be to generate cash?

The Republicans in Congress, with the help of San Francisco's own Rep. Nancy Pelosi, came down clearly on the side of self-funding around the Presidio, and it's been a disaster.

I have friends who work at Rec-Park, and they tell me that at least the new revenue initiatives have prevented layoffs and kept some programs going. Which is true. But it's the wrong question.

Parks are public commons. They're not supposed to be private space (yeah, they rent out space for weddings in the park, but that's a pretty minor deal). The city ought to be funding the parks. The city ought to be raising taxes enough to do it. Yeah, I know -- you're bored. I'm tired of saying it, too.




...not the least of which is - it did not account for the hundreds of billions in unfunded pension costs and retiree health benefits. Here are six of the major flaws (there are more) as outlined by the CA Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility and brought to the attention of the study's authors:

1. The pension contribution cost for state and local public sector workers is much lower in your report than what is currently being paid. The state, which provides the lowest formulas, generally, compared to local agencies paid an overall pension contribution last year of over 20% of gross wages. This includes payment on unfunded liabilities, but payments for the 2008 market drop was not included. Most of the unfunded liabilities being paid were caused by workers receiving higher-than-anticipated wage increases and earlier-than-anticipated retirements. The higher employees’ wages and the earlier they can retire, the more valuable (and costly) their retirement benefits are.

2. It does not appear you included the value of retiree health benefits in your analysis. The state and many local agencies, including schools, provide retiree health benefits, but very few private sector employers do. This cost should be included the comparison.

3. Many public sector employers pick-up the employees’ contribution toward their defined benefit plan. Indeed, studies conducted last year in both Orange and San Diego counties found that over 70% of local agencies picked up all or most of the employees’ share. This practice evolved when employers were contributing little or nothing to “over funded” pension plans in 1999, so they agreed to pick-up the employee’s pension contribution in lieu of granting them raises. The employer “pick-up” is considered wages for pension purposes. Your analysis should have taken this practice into consideration and grossed up wages accordingly.

4. Many agencies supplement the regular PERS pension benefits with defined contribution plans, and match the employee’s contribution. It isn’t clear that these supplemental retirement benefits were considered. The state pays 2% of prison guard’s gross wages into a deferred savings account, for example, and the City of San Diego matches employees’ 457 contributions up to 3% of gross wages. This is a common benefit provided to management.

5. Few safety workers, no teachers, and about 30% of miscellaneous workers do not participate in social security. Although it appears you addressed this in your analysis of employer costs, I don’t see that you adjusted private sector and public sector wages for differences employee contributions toward their retirement and other benefits, such as SDI. Wages should have been reduced for SSI, SDI, 401(k), pension plan contributions, and health insurance contributions in order to get a true comparison. By doing so, you may discover private sector employees pay more for their tax-deferred and tax-advantaged benefits than public sector workers, and, as you observed, the benefits they pay for are less generous than those provided at a lower cost to public sector workers.

6. Most of the public sector jobs that require masters degrees are teachers, who generally work less than a full year. It appears you are treating teachers as full-year workers when comparing their compensation to those in the private sector who hold masters degrees. I suggest for this category, you convert wages to hours of activity. California has a 175 day school year. Most teachers belong to a union, and their contracts strictly limit active teaching hours, extra duties outside the bell schedule, and mandate prep periods in order to minimize teachers’ after school and weekend activities. I’m very confused how you determined that the average public employee with a masters degree works an average of 2,174 hours/year when so many included in this group are teachers in elementary, high school, and community colleges.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

It was an inherently flawed advocacy piece, not a study.

Funny how when Stanford, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, or that Joe Nation guy publish a piece showing how massive the unfunded pension liability is, public employees decry them as hit pieces, but when a union-sponsored piece with flaws comes out, it becomes the Bible.

Posted by The Commish on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

You are quoting verbatim from Steven Greenhut piece at Fox and Hounds (I refuse to link to it). As I mentioned, he is a member of the far-right Pacific Research Institute. See my comment above @6:11 pm, Feb. 6~ "This just proves my point"

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

...Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility which I cited. She is a Democrat.

I believe the study also omitted all public safety salaries - whose unions are the serial thieves in every City and County in the state. The study was might as well have been written by the SEIU...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

The City had to shell out a bundle for the ticket booths, tickets, maps, etc. The Society--which has tens of millions of dollars in the bank--did not contribute a nickel, and taxpayers are out hundreds of thousands for this "nonresident fee".

Time to fire Ginsburg and reign in this horrific accounting. Katie Petruchione needs to be shown the door as well, as does Brent Dennis!

Privatization loses money!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

But I think its funding should come from taxes we all pay as the price of civilization and not from public-private sponsorships, i.e. privatization.

Posted by Sue on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

Why would we add the Presidio? When you pay public employees a lot in wages and benefits- it becomes very expensive to maintain parks. Why would anyone be surprised we have a public-private partnership here? We are headed that direction with our own City parks - bank on it.

Wish SFBG would investigate why Parks & Rec has TWO luxury boxes at Candlestick and leases neither to a 3rd party while laying off gardeners?? Guess it's the progressive way...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 10:06 am

a city within a city-supporting the historic sites and open space costs money- instead of bomb making- we have filmmaking -small company offices and schools instead of the ugly old hospital- and much needed housing for residents- no way the taxpayers could support the Presidio without commercial activity in the park-

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 9:43 am

support a lot of people, working class people, many are students and seniors trying to make humble ends meet, so please get over this sqeamish posturing over 'private' and 'for profit', its pretty elitist, particularly coming from the wealthiest neighborhoods in town

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 1:44 pm