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.



The RPD has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars subsidizing the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.

These fees are about keeping people out and allowing the gentry in.

The contract/lease is a huge subsidy for the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.

Yet, Eric Mar, London Breed, Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell voted in favor of it. But have they read it?

Why is there $150,000 for new signage, $15 million for a new building, $4 million of State Bond money for new roads, etc. and yet $250K in revenues makes sense?


Posted by Concerned Citizens on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 8:12 am

People are being tuned away because a corrupt nonprofit hired a lobbyist (Sam Lauter of BMWL) to pimp for these fees.

This is not about revenue.

It is about keeping people who are not Caucasian and wealthy out.

This is a privatization and a gift of 55 acres to the wealthy pure and simple....

250K does not justify this, even if the revenues were not fabricated....


Posted by Revenues are BS on Jul. 05, 2013 @ 8:42 am

It matters a great deal whether a "nonprofit" (a business controlled by the wealthy) is in charge or the City.

The City has to be somewhat accountable to taxpayers.

Posted by Guest Rebutter on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 7:01 am

the world's major cities that is free to enter.

These things are very expensive to run - much more so than the regular park.

Everyone wants free stuff but free stuff merely means finding some other fool to pay for it.

Posted by anon on Jun. 19, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

Chicago is free. Portland Oregon is 'donation encouraged'.

New York is $10. Los Angeles is $8. San Diego is $12. Atlanta is $18.95!

Most cities do have a double digit entrance fee for all non members regardless of residence. Something not included in typical SFBG journalistic style.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 19, 2013 @ 5:01 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 19, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

This is not a private garden. This is open space for people who live in the Inner Sunset.

Having ten blocks fenced off is bad enough, but to make people show an ID and pay for their guests is outrageous!

Posted by Not a private garden for wealthy Marin Caucasians! on Jul. 05, 2013 @ 8:45 am

This is a privatization, and these fees lose money for the City!

Posted by Subsidize? on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:56 am

It's free for locals, so only tourists are paying, and of course they do not get to vote.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:55 am

The fact is that the City pays two million on the Arboretum, including its gardeners. The gardens in Chicago and many other places are not free, and their greenhouses are also free, despite the presence of a colonizing nonprofit: the Parks Alliance (whicih has effectively privatized the facility which now discriminates against visitors by charging them a $2 surcharge.

While flower and plant groups struggle to pay the steep charges (thanks to Ginsburg) at a Hall of Flowers built for them (but now controlled by the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society), the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society gets free use of the entire facility for their 'fundraising.'

Prior to the fees, the gates behind the Hall of Flowers were open till 7. Hypocritically, they are now open Monday to Saturday until around 3, and members and volunteers enter for free while working people are fleeced.

Taxpayers can not bring a guest, so they are taxed again for their relative, girflriend, etc. But, hypocritically, silver-haired Caucasian matrons from Marin enter for free, flashing their card.

Millions were squandered on new roads, which are not in accordance with the Master Plan for the facility, and State bond money paid for these. Why oh wny should CA residents be taxed to pay for these? And how is it that a fee that costs over 60 cents on the dollar to collect an efficient source of revenue>

This is about racism and elitism! The City government needs to regain control from this arrogant "nononprofit!

Whether other places are free or not, is not the point. Neoliberalism is a pernicious race to the bottom, and SF should be leading the fight against it!

Finally, only a small percentage of these 55 acres have flower beds. The vast meadows, formerly used by locals, are now deserted. Shame on Scott Wiener for leading the charge to extend these fees!

Time for these to go and for the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society to repay the City for all costs, including the nearly hundred thousand spent for booths alone.

A public process needs to be put into place so that a hack "artist" like Topher Delaney can not destroy a meadow with gravel and plastic and $150,00 is not squandered on horrible and unnecessary new signage! (The tasteless plutocrats at the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society need to learn the meaning of the word "shibui"!)

To see over a hundred thousand dollars squandered on a lobbyist and to see Bechtel fund their libarary (greenwashing at its worst!) is totally pathetic! :(

Posted by Richard on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:31 am

complaining that he has seen "Caucasians from Marin" in the Park. OMG, no, not white people, surely?

So what do you suggest? Higher entrance fees for whites?

Racism is always ugly but seeing it from the left is even uglier.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:53 am

If youi look at the people who are members, most of them are older, white and from Marin.

The Trustees are all wealthy Caucasians. There is not one local person from the Inner Sunset on the Board.

Nobody should be charged because, as Harvey Rose pointed out, these fees cost 60 cents on the dollar or more to collect.

But they help keep out people. As the comments show, this is what people like!!!

Why do the Trustees meet at the Academy of Sciences and why are there never any meetings with locals or members?

Yes, these fees are elitist and therefore racist. No doubt about that!

Posted by Richard on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:15 am

By extension, you could argue that anything that costs money is racist because some races have more money than other races, on average.

Maybe some races are just more interested in horticulture and gardens than others. Had that occured to you?

The idea that we have to have equal or proportionate numbers of every race or it's somehow racist is ridiculous.

The botanical gardens in other cities are all more expensive than SF, so I see no problem here.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:42 am

And you're tryint to muddy the issue with talk about having "equal or proportionate numbers of every race." It's not complicated. Keep it free. The gardens in other cities are more costly because right-wing politicians were successful at pushing their neoliberal agenda in those cities. Now they're trying to do that here. But SF has a long tradition of protesting the privatization (& make no mistake, that's what this is) of taxpayer-funded public space. As citizens, taxpayers and human beings, we have a fundamental right to share the public spaces of our city. We also have a right to shape the type of environment we choose to live in. And we have the right to take part in decisions that affect our access to the commons. As David Harvey argues, "The freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights."

Posted by Ari on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

running the gardens, then you must accept that it costs a lot of money to provide that to visitors.

So if you want it to be free to all, what you are really saying is that you want someone else to pay for the subsidy.

Why? What makes you so great and valuable and important that the rest of us have to pay your entrance fee?

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

related to the Main Library.

It seems that the plutocrats get stupid from eating too much rich food; or else it is simply a matter of their capacity to spend money far outstripping their intelligence to do so wisely; or else it is a manifestation of nihilistic cultural vandalism... no matter. It really has to stop at some point, doesn't it?

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:44 am

And had a lot of homeless people in it, presumably because it was free.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:43 am

And wouldn't the libraries be that much better if they charge a fee and keep all those homeless and other free loaders away.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:08 am

to hang all day long, and that in turn deters people who genuinely want to use the library for study, research, education etc. then, yes, that's a problem.

There is a private library in SF - the well known and respected Mechanics Institute, over 150 years old. It charges a modest $100 a year for membership and is a good example of how alternative funding for even quite extensive library resources can work.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:30 am

It's weird you bring up Chicago. Chicago offers many lovely things for free. The zoo, the butterfly gardens, the conservatory of flowers, the shoreline and in NY there is The Met. It's one of the nicest things about Chicago; that you can find have a nice day without spending money.

These places were often gifts of wealthy patrons and debutantes of the past who had deep civic pride. Instead when Zuckerberg or Google wants to be 'charitable' he donates to a car company making electric cars. Um, isn't that a business not a charity?

Posted by Sigmarlin on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:07 am

Most obviously, Gates and Buffett, via the Gates Foundation. Getty of course invested massively in an art museum. There is a long history of successful people sponsoring the arts and setting up foundations, which is a major reason why I do not support higher taxes on them.

Chicago has cheap land, and that makes a big difference. SF does not.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:31 am

I think that tourist dollars should subsidize residents citywide, but that the subsidy has to happen within the public sector, not with yet another corrupt nonprofit staking claims on public resources.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:54 am

The Parks Department is part of the city government. But it is up to them whether it is more economical to use city workers, non-profits or private companies.

Often it is cheaper not to use city workers because of the excessive healthcare and pensions benefits we have to pay them. Sadly the city family has priced itself beyond the ability of the taxpayers to afford them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:14 am

Nonprofits are private corporations, creatures of the private sector = privatization.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:43 am

For any given expenditure there are three options - use city employees or outsource it, either to a non-profit or a for-profit.

That decision should be made on cost grounds and, if doing it with city staff is more expensive because of their unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities, then we should go private.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:45 am

So you admit you just lied.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:46 am

be an over-paid city employee who does a job, regardless of value for money considerations.

You sound like a paid SEIU lobbyist.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:06 am

So you admit you just lied.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:29 am


Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:37 am

The City pays for all fees and costs. The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society is bilking the City's taxpayers for hundreds of thousands.

This whole fiasco has cost millions, and no public discussions were held before the fees were brought to the Board.

It is an elitist system that steals from the Commons and gives it to the De De Wilseys, the Fishers, the Buells, the Friends, the Baldoccis and other wealthy nabobs.... :(

It is absolutely shameful!!!!!

Posted by Richard on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:20 am

employ more unionized city workers, with their fat benefits. I suspect this saves money when unfunded employee liabilities are taken into account.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:46 am

Yep, neoliberal governance is all about siphoning off public income streams into private pockets. It happens at the Library, the Veteran's Memorial Building and at City Hall. We are just Sims in the big game of Sim City who are expendable, replaceable.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:01 am

suppliers and, if they provide a cheaper and better service than doing the work in-house, then we should outsource.

The sad fact is that unionized city workers are not fiscally competitive with the private sector, whether non-profit or for-profit.

The taxpayers deserve to get the best value for money.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:49 am

The post office comes to mind.

Posted by Ari on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

But the last time I checked, USPS was part of the government, and was horribly inefficient.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

On the World Wide Web on Tuesday, there was a photo exhibit of Jacob Riis--"How the other Half Lives." Central Park in New York was developed with these people in mind--people living in hovels, tenements, out of doors. San Francisco is no different. Golden Gate Park was developed for the well being of people who lived in city tenements and needed open space to get away from environments more conducive to tuberculosis than maintenance of good health.

These parks were designed to be accessible to all citizenry. They should be free to all. To me, charging a fee for outsiders, is just one more expense on the tourist budget. Deciding between cable cars at $5 a trip or the Srybing at $7...

Let those mysterious grants be allowed for free access to everyone...

And for all those elitists: well excuse me! Do you think your farts smell better than other people's farts.

Posted by StevenTorrey on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:04 am

The Japanese Garden?

Free stuff just means finding someone else to pay. nothing is free except that you rob someone else to make it so.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:16 am

certainly was promised to be free. In perpetuity.

This agenda of the forces of privatization have been at work a long time. We are supposed to not even question it, but before too long you'll go into the part and seen miles of cyclone fencing and huge Budweiser signs...

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:36 am

And the ones that are probably cannot afford to buy any art.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:47 am

The Smithsonian is free. All of them.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:59 am

By the same argument, the British Museum in London is free.

But State and City museums mostly have fees, unless there is a sizeable foundation behind it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:04 am

Admission fees are a tiny fraction of the income of a museum; most of the money comes from government and foundations. In fact the Frick Collection in NY protested that they were forced to charge a fee (city legislation) that they do not need it to operate because it was against their original charter.

I don't understand the logic of forcing admission fees; perhaps they feel visitors value the experience if they don't have to pay for it.

Musee Mechanique...also free and the best thing at Pier 39.

Posted by Sigmarlin on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:12 am

There are always costs to the provision of any facility.

When people say they want something to be free, what they really mean is they want somebody else to pay for it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:28 am

My recollection was that public debt funded the Academy of Sciences which is located on public land as is the De Young.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:42 am

Actually the DeYoung --which does not cover 55 acres of meadows and trees--owns its own land.

It does leech from the Hotel and Tax Fund however and is unaffordable.

It was free until that witch Feinstein privatized it!!!! :(

In fact, all of the museums were free.

But trees and flowers do not a museum or library make, and only the most deluded person would think so!

Posted by DeYoung Patron on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:11 am

Art museums and botanical gardens are expensive to run. they might have once been intended as free, but costs have become astronomical since then.

Making them free means raising taxes and/or borrowing more. It can never be free to run.

There is a free day once a month for those too cheap to pay a few bucks for a world class museum.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:49 am

You lie again.

"The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprised of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institutions in the City of San Francisco and one of the largest art museums in the United States. "

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

In any event, the word "public" is ambiguous. Does it mean "owned by the public" or "open to the public". Big difference.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:53 am

Hrm, do I trust some pseudonymed poster or do I trust the government website?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

Why does it matter either way?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

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