Last chance to save the Botanical Gardens


GUARDIAN OP-ED Riddle me this: When is a public space a private space? Answer: When it is controlled by a "nonprofit" in a "public-private partnership."

For more than two decades, the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society attempted to obtain entry fees to Strybing Arboretum. It first changed its name from the Strybing Arboretum Society, then hired a lobbyist to push through changes to the name of the Arboretum itself, reasoning that the new name was more commercial.

When, in 2009, it found that it could not find support for fees for everyone, it chose to hire lobbyist Sam Lauter, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to push through a $7 "nonresident" fee for a one-year "trial". Gates were closed; entrance hours were extended; and people (many of them residents, yet undocumented) turned away in droves.

Despite this fact, and counter to the recommendations of Harvey Rose and Associates, the fees (which include steep rate rises for rentals at the Hall of Flowers) were extended for a year.

The ruse of "revenues" notwithstanding, the fees are really a tax on working people, one designed to keep people out. As any visitor on a sunny day can attest, it has acheived dramatic events: The gardens are empty! Members of the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, however, enter for free and benefit from the tax dollars of Californians, many of whom must pay for entry. Mysteriously, the Society received a $725,000 grant in 2012 and one for $400,000 in 2011.

This July 20th, the Recreation and Park Department will present its budget with a Trojan Horse hidden in it — a contract which will effectively privatize these precious 55 acres for perpetuity, making all of us all second-class citizens in our own City.

Philip A. Ginsburg, manager of the Recreation and Park Department, negotiated this contract behind closed doors. We taxpayers wil be on the hook for paying electricity at their new building, a sprawling walled complex covering two football fields which will require a new road, fell some 50 trees and will endanger the habitat of Mark Twain's frog. The fact that this building — to be used for parties, a store and offices — will be called a "Center For Sustainable Gardening" makes me feel that we have entered an era in which irony can no longer outdo reality.

Is a vision of a future filled with food trucks, ritzy private events and complete control over public space (by a small number of wealthy people with no accountability to the public), what Helene Strybing had in mind? Will a Supervisor not have the courage to step forward and demand that this set of legislation be considered on its own?

If we fail to act one thing is certain: In the coming years we will find an increasingly commercialized with an entrance charge in the double digits for all and sundry.



go there because it is free. A few bucks isn't a lot to spend for such beauty and tranquility, and for a few bucks more you can become a member and enjoy it limitlessly.

Like the Presidio, GGPark cannot exist perpetually as a "everything is free always and forever" deal. A few dollars now does, however, guarantee it's life. And, as noted, it's still free for SF residents.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 19, 2013 @ 11:59 am

We used to be able to enter via the right of the entrance , but a wall was put up. The gates behind the Hall of Flowers were also opened. We could bring our relatives and friends here without being taxed. We could enter without showing proof we live here.

$7 is a lot of money for many people, and there is no reason why members should be admitted free when the City pays for ten gardeners and other expenses!

Have you ever seen the many acres confiscated to grow plants for sale to wealthy garden owners? That could be open parkland!

Posted by Guest Rebutter on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:49 am

That's something like $35 for admission.

Compared with that, a botanical garden for a lousy seven bucks is a bargain.

Back when it was free, it was crowded. Now it is much more pleasant and, presumably, on a much more secure financial basis.

We cannot afford free everything for everyone. But the rest of the park is free if a few bucks is too much to spend.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:12 am

If you've ever had to count your change just to make it to the end of the month, you'd know it's a lot of money.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

daytimes? Or at the bookies? Or buying tobacco products in every corner store in the city?

If so, I see no evidence that they have the remotest interest in horticulture, unless it is growing pot. Even the apologist Richard here was whining that the Gardens are full of white women from Marin.

And if it costs $7 per visitor to upkeep the gardens, as seems to be the case, then exactly who do you want to pay that $7 so someone else in your preferred class of people can go for free?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

I am low income and I don't smoke, drink or gamble. But I pay taxes and I vote.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

you would pay very little in taxes. Sure, you vote, and hopefully only once.

But you have not refuted my main point which is quite simply this: If you want to get a $7 value without paying anything, then you are relying on someone else to pay that $7 for you.

Why should anyone do that for you? And why would you expect to consume things that you cannot pay for?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

'the bookies"? Alright, Humphrey Bogart.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

I'd guess you are very young then. The term colloquially applies to any place where betting or gambling is allowed.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

What can you do in SF for $7? Not a lot. A beautiful "museum" such as the Botanical Gardens are well worth it. Only non residents pay. We locals still get in free. I support this, and don't think it is outrageous in any way.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:12 am

Every day? If you live in the neighborhood and don't have ID?

Why should we have to show an ID? And why should members get in free when taxpayers foot the bill????

These fees are VERY expensive to collect.

Posted by Richard on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:37 am

How do you cash a check or open a bank account? How do you find a place to live? How do you find a job?

You need ID for everything.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:44 am

Cash a check? Do you make an appointment to do that via telegraph?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:59 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

How many bank accounts do you open each day?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 12:24 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

What about people who open an account with a state-issued ID, then the license expires and they're too lazy to renew it? Ever thought of that?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

by without ID and, while I would not call that any kind of life I would recognize as being alive, I'll admit it is just about possible.

So what?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

You know who opens lots of bank accounts? Terrorists, that's who.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

Because it really isn't clear that you do, and you seem to be just arguing for the sake of arguing.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

I have never actually been to my credit union. Its all digital and I never see check. So quite being jerk about check cashing and a job.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

I was going to send you for the most clueless post of the day here. Because you will be clueless about what to do with it.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

Hey I make clueless posts here all the time. Matter of fact I specialize in clueless posts, so you send me that 10k. And don't worry, I have bank accounts and IDs.

Posted by pete moss on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 8:42 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 8:54 am

Who cares about the stupid garden, you offered 10 grand for clueless posts.

I write clueless posts, ask anybody.

I want my 10 grand, and in $ not yuan or euros or cowrie shells.

Posted by pete moss on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:24 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:36 am

Lots of people do not have ID's. Hence the uproar around voter ID laws. 11% of voters are estimated to not have ID's. Its higher for elderly, poor, and minority folks.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

ask me if I give a flying crap about the inconvenience that may cause you.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

And of course it's still free for locals.

Non issue. Looks like the SFBG is short of real stories and writers while it is adapting to the changes.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:46 am

What standards are you referring to exactly? I just got back from Copenhagen which has the most beautiful botanical garden I've ever seen. And it's free.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

or three times what SF charges, and even then only for non-residents.

And of course I feel sure that you understand that gardens cannot really ever be free as they have substantial costs. So what presumably they do in Denmark is find some greater fool to pay more so that you can pay less.

Why should you be subsidized?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

They're taking a public asset and charging for it twice, then denying the public access.

Posted by Ari on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

someone other than you is paying for you.

Why would I pay your entrance fee? Convince me you are worth subsidizing.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

The fact that some of them might find their way back there does not change that.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

Wait a sec, I buy plants at the Arboretum and I can always find a bargain there. Got me a variegated abutillion and a dwarf fern just this past week for $9.75. Does that make me a wealthy garden owner?

San Franciscans and guests should get in free, Bay Areans should pay 1/2 price, Californians 3/4 price and everyone else should pay full freight, proceeds should go to Rec and Park earmarked to maintain the Arboretum, freeing up other resources to tend to neglect elsewhere.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:27 am

in could get you into trouble from the PC brigade who, no doubt, will say it discriminates against non-whites.

Anything more complicated than a SF/non-SF split is problematic.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:36 am

Charge according to ability to pay. That would make more sense. The well-heeled can afford it. But the truth is, they want it all to themselves.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

then the price they should pay depends not on what the avocado costs to provide but instead on some socialist notion of wealth?

So should I take my 1040 to the corner store? Is that it?

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

We've already paid for it many times over with our taxes and assessments but more importantly, the Botanical Gardens belong to the people; they are not the private kingdom on the Society or Phil Ginsburg. Tear down those ugly fences and ticket booths and restore the Gardens to the people. The irony is the revenue doesn't even cover the costs of charging the fees and Rec and Park is so underhanded about it they won't even provide a separate accounting for the revenue and expenses for the Botanical Gardens. What have they got to hide? And, in the interests of full disclosure, who is paying you?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 1:59 am

running the gardens is not. That must be borne by the taxpayer and, given the critical budget deficit, that implies that we need to sweat equity like the park in general, and the gardens in particular.

In fact, I attended a corporate function last night at the Academy of Science, which of course helps with the funding. What have you done for the Park lately?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 6:07 am

Perhaps if every contract that government lets out was not deployed for political gain rather than to provide services, I'd have more sympathy for claims of empty pockets.

But the point of winning elections is not to provide city services, it is to make sure that the connected fleece the taxpayers in a way that would make the SEIU blush:

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 6:58 am

not make it any less misleading.

All government funds and assets derive from ("legal") confiscations from the private sector. The private sector generates wealth and the public sector consumes it.

If some of those funds and assets find their way back into the private sector, then that can be deemed as a return on the initial outlay. It is a legitimate use of public funds to encourage enterprise in that jurisdiction, which is why all levels of government everywhere typically provide incentives and tax relief for business, most recently in SF as part of the mid-Market revitalization that is proving to be such a success.

I have no problem with Parks running private functions and I have attended a number of events at various museums and parks in SF.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 7:15 am

You missed the economics lesson on supply side, trickle down economics and rent seeking. You Fail.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 7:33 am

which is why i was able to so effortlessly debunk your earlier nonsense about how the poor supposedly subsidize the rich.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 9:14 am

I thought that it was a bad idea to raise taxes because the rich pay so small a fraction of taxes that it was just soaking the poor. Get your stories straight.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 9:18 am

What I said was that it makes sense for the city to outsource and privatize services, as an alternative to running a deficit or borrowing more, and if that includes charging for non-essential services like this, then that is fine with me.

Governments around the world have been privatizing services for decades now, because it produces better services at a lower price. As long as it does that, who cares if someone makes a buck along the way?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 9:33 am

I can see that Brazil is quite happy with the neoliberal project, as is most of Europe.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 9:41 am

success in Europe. To my knowledge, not a single entity that was privatized anywhere in Europe since 1980 or so has been taken back over by a government agency.

That even includes some things that are still government-run here, e.g. municipal transit and the post office.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 10:02 am

If charging fees actually produced revenue why does Rec and Park bury the revenue and expenses by combining the fee money with other receipts, like from the Japanese Tea Garden. What do they have to hide? That the fees don't even cover the expense of generating them?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 10:07 am

down more, but than of course the real gain may not be a profit per se, but rather a reduced subsidy. If the net costs to the Parks Department are less than they would be if the gardens were still free to all, then it is still worth doing.

I'm struggling to understand why it matters who staffs the park and it's revenue-generating ventures. What matters is the quality and the cost.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 10:24 am

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