Botanical Garden fee decision to go to Board of Supervisors 

The fight over whether to continue charging out-of-towners a fee to enter San Francisco’s beloved Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park is set to be decided Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The first-ever $7 fee to enter the 55-acre garden went into effect on Aug. 7, but eight months later critics are blaming the charge for declining attendance and have characterized it as an overall wrong-headed approach to the public gem.

But after years of having to trim costs, a total of $43 million in budget cuts during the past seven years, Recreation and Park Director Philip Ginsburg says he is striving to secure “sustainable” funding for department operations. Eliminating the fee would mean the loss of $250,000 a year in revenue.

Opponents are calling on the board to approve a proposal from Supervisor John Avalos to use $143,445 in new real estate transfer tax revenue to eliminate the fee now, before its sunset on June 30. But Mayor Ed Lee and Ginsburg are asking the board to extend the fee for years to come.

“It is a policy choice which is necessary,” Ginsburg said. “Every dollar we earn is a dollar in service we do not have to cut.”

After hours of public testimony Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee sent the competing proposals to the full board, which is expected to make a decision Tuesday.

The garden is overseen by the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, under an agreement with the department. The department had initially projected a $650,000 take for the fiscal year from the fee, but with implementation delays and lower-than-expected nonresident visitors only $355,920 will be collected. And 59 cents on every dollar collected is spent on administrative costs.

The department, which would receive $250,000 annually from the agreement, says the number of visitors will increase next fiscal year, and projects generating a total of $542,055.

“The fee is not the best way to go for the enjoyment of our Rec and Park facilities,” Avalos said.

An entry fee for all attendees was proposed in 2009, but rejected. The department returned last year with the compromise proposal of charging just out-of-towners.

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