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.



But if you want to, knock yourself out. Your faith in bureaucrats is touching.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

Hopefully no offense to witches intended.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

Your boss having a day off, maybe?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

This city is named after a saint who had no money but loved God and nature in all its beauty.
Francis of Assisi would not be able to go. Does that seem right to you'all?

Posted by rfkolbe on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 8:19 am

Volunteers get free entry and advance notice of the plant sales.

And of course if Francis lied in his namesake city, then it would be free for him anyway.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:39 am

No one who is opposed to charging the fee seems to have a good suggestion on how to pay for the upkeep of the Gardens or other similar instutitions- i.e. the Zoo- also City owned but run by a non-profit. As a property owner- I pay plenty in taxes every year. I am not willing to pay more. Instead of whining about a modest fee to see the gardens- how about a suggestion on how to fund them without further taxes etc. What do you want to not pay for?

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

They demand that something by "free" without any acknowledgement that all that means is that someone else is on the hook for paying it.

As long as THEY don't have to pay, they do not care who does.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:05 am

Actually, we (progressives) are willing to pay for it. We understand how a democratic society should work.

Too bad trolls like yourself can't think through the propogandic voices in your head.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:34 am

pay for stuff like this?

I'm going to guess that liability is limited to classes of people who you personally do not approve of, or envy, or hate.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:42 am

Maybe could get money by discontinuing a few defense contracts?

I know crazy thought.

Build a few less bomb and bazookas and have free parks and museums, never happen

Posted by pete moss on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

so realistically the gardens have to be funded locally.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

You need to actually read the article. The 200K + paid to lobbyist Sam Lauter alone would pay for one year, but you don't understand: This is about keeping people out!

Would you agree that everyone who can not show they are from SF should pay? The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society members and those who have membership in a reciprocal garden for free?

Is it fair for members only to be admitted on Wed. evenings from 6 to 8?

Should we need to pay for our relatives?


The fees have cost 60 cents on the dollar to collect, and they have lost money overall.

It is absolutely disgusting! :(

Posted by Richard on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:31 am

bucks to ensure the fiscal stability of a prized asset, especially since the people who pay the taxes to run the park - San Franciscans - can enter for free.

And members always get benefits - that is why people pay to become members!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:39 am

Looks like somebody's hired a guest troll to stay on this thread and dismiss any kind of thoughtful response. I guess it's the price of democracy to put up with these trolls, but it's sad that they can be so stubbornly ignorant.

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

obviously a troll.

Because your opinions define what is allowable here, right?


Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:41 am

Various commenters have suggested that $7 for entrance to the arboretum is good value for an institution that's expensive to run. They're missing the point.

In the past, the arboretum didn't have a budget deficit, but several decisions in the past decade have changed that:

* The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society chose to hire an increasingly top-heavy roster of directors and managers, all of whom needed enticing pay packages.

* The neo-Darwinian approach to public recreation pursued by Newsom lackey Phil Ginsburg (every resource has to pay its way) resulted in big cuts to RPD's funding for gardeners at the arboretum. This wasn't some unavoidable "hard choice", but instead was an active policy decision to cut back all RPD operational budgets and move towards largely bond-funded facilities that would then be rented out to private or non-profit tenants. Instead of using public revenues to maintain public facilities, the new model was to charge market rental fees to whichever group wanted to bid the most for exclusive access.

* The society decided it wanted a really nice function space for social events and the like. Hence the laughable "Center For Sustainable Gardening" and the many costs around design, planning and promotion.

* The society decided that having a lot of San Franciscans and visitors milling around the place eating their picnics was really getting tiresome, and figured that an entry fee would soon fix that and give them a nice source of income to fund the costs mentioned above. Of course, to get a fee approved, they would need to stump up quite a bit of cash to consultants such as Sam Lauter.

So, the society pushed for a fee, and eventually was forced to agree just to charge non-residents and agree to a notional sunset clause. And the result...

A one-third drop in SF residents visiting the arboretum and a half or two-thirds drop in non-residents. That's about 75,000 city residents who didn't get to visit the arboretum in each of the past three years. While it's difficult to get exact data on the cost of collecting the entrance fee, it seems clear that reality has borne out the predictions of opponents that the cost of collecting the fee takes up most of the income produced by it:

Incidentally, my understanding is that the Conservatory of Flowers used to be free, and then moved to charging non-residents (actually anyone without a FastPass). Now it's $7 for non-residents, and $5 for SF residents. I think that gives a pretty good idea of where the arboretum is heading.

The Bay Area isn't short of golf and country clubs where wealthy members can relax in neatly trimmed surroundings. The point of funding recreation and parks through our taxes is to provide public facilities where everyone in the city (including our visitors) can enjoy the outdoors. Next up, the "Stow Lake Waterfowl Experience", the "Official Hippie Hill Historic Site and Smoke Shop", and the "Alamo Square Gated Community".

There's an easy solution here: Our supervisors should have the guts to sever the botanical society contract from the RPD budget, and then insist on an independent audit of the society's accounts and decision making. The Bay Area has no shortage of smart botanists who would jump at the chance to run a conservation and teaching garden in the heart of San Francisco. It's time the supervisors tell the current botanical society management to take their public mission seriously or tender their resignations.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

I think I meant "social Darwinist", not neo-Darwinian. Basically, setting public policy on the principle of competition in every area and that every asset must pay its way.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

and if you want the majority, or everyone, to have free this, that and the other, then that places an onerous burden on a small minority to subsidize everyone else.

Why is that fair?

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

We pay 2 million a year here. Why are we being taxed twice and have our gardens privatized?

Posted by Subsidize? on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:55 am

mostly well-heeled tourists to pay a few bucks then ask the poor SF taxpayer to pay even more in taxes.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:53 am

and our Commons must be under the control of the wealthy! :(

Posted by Patrick on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:33 am

on what planet are the wealthy controlling it?

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

onerous. And, again, that is only for non-SF residents. While volunteers and certain other groups continue to enjoy free visits regardless.

With the city's deficit being what it is, it is surely not unreasonable that those who use such facilities pay a little towards their upkeep.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:06 pm
Posted by Patrick on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:50 am

Don't be so damn cheap, and pay a few bucks.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:51 am

I'm a native Californian and I find it very sad to watch The Commons disappear in my lifetime. As I kid I was introduced to so many things because my parents or my friends and I just stumbled upon them and they were free. There was no planning and parking fees at beaches and gate admissions and if there had been, my blue collar Dad probably would have thought twice about spending food money so his kids could see something beautiful about nature.

What's next? Charge the kids $5 to explore tidepools? Maybe $1 to view the sunset.

Just remember, we are all in this together. And we have decided to collect our taxes to preserve experiences like botanical gardens and parks and beaches because before that the rich suggested they should be the only ones allowed to see nice things. It's a slippery slope when we start introducing profit margins into the few places where you can feel equal and escape the daily grind.

Posted by Sigmarlin on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:00 am

deficit of all time, which is still far from fixed if you count in the massive unfunded entitlement and pension benefits.

Boomers like you got all this stuff for free but now it's your kids who have to pay for your entitlements. Kinda selfish of you, no?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:10 am

I hear an echo of Troll. Its the same comments again and again. I'm tired of it.
I am a tax payer and non-white. I want to see my tax $ goes to the garden and whoever wants to go there should be able to go in for free. We are San Franciscans. We don't need to be like other cities. In my honest opinion, I'm glad that the Guardian exposed the shameful behaviors of the City, and those actions of the Park and Rec.
If you hired someone to collect the fees and runs into the red, you need to stop and kick yourself in the ass being so laughable. The fee have scared away the public not to come in to look the trees and smell the flowers,which is contrary to the core mission of GG Park. The park is a living thing; it needs to be open the public. Please don't compare it to the museum.
Access for everyone regardless of income and race. There's shouldn't be discrimination in the park. I've wrote to my supervisor at the time of voting in this bill, all I got was spam from Carmen Chu. But I'm keeping an eye on this fee thing and I'm mad that this fee was passed in the first place. Its a very different place without family and children in the park, so sad about greed and arguing money.
We have the tax money but how do we going to spend it is up to the voters. Do you want to charge a fee and runs the park into the red even more? yes keep your fee.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:33 am

Do you think that makes you sound more credible?


Posted by anon on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 7:31 am

The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society is now the owner of the former Strybing Arboretum.

Locals, who do not have or do not want to show an ID, have the police called on him. :(

Thanks all you sheeple!

Next time you visit you will have to pay for your guest or guests. And show an ID.

Special thanks go out to Jane Kim for voting for this! :(

Posted by Guest Rebutter on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 7:03 am

And of course no SF'er has to pay.

Perfect result.

Posted by anon on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 7:30 am

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