Neighborhood parks are among San Francisco’s great equalizers. Rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old, and all ethnicities converge in these beautiful spaces to play, exercise, learn, swim, meet up or simply hang out.
Yet San Francisco’s park system, as a result of decades of underinvestment, has more than $1 billion dollars in unmet capital needs. We’re not talking about operational needs, which are met through our annual operating budget. Rather, these are major structural problems including dangerous playgrounds, failed irrigation systems, outdated rec centers and restrooms, dysfunctional city pools and trails in such disrepair that they’re unusable. It’s not uncommon for individual parks to have had no significant improvements in more than 50 years.
Proposition B — the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond — would help fix these problems throughout our city. In all, 24 parks, recreation centers, pools, playgrounds and waterfront parks would be renovated.
The bond also contains a Community Opportunity Fund letting community organizations apply for grants for smaller projects. This has been successful in the past and helps neighborhoods shape their parks. And the bond contains funding to fix playgrounds rated as “failing.”
Prop. B was placed on the ballot unanimously by the Board of Supervisors and has been endorsed by the San Francisco Democratic Party, the San Francisco Parks Alliance, the Trust for Public Lands, Friends of the Urban Forest, the San Francisco Labor Council, and neighborhood and park groups throughout The City.
Unfortunately, a small but vocal opposition group — led by former elected officials who no longer have responsibility for the long-term stewardship of our parks — are waging an irresponsible misinformation campaign against the parks bond. By contrast, advocates who actually do the work to improve our park system almost all support this critical bond.
Opponents disagree with some decisions made by the Recreation and Park Department: For example, the tourist fee at the Botanical Garden, the approval of artificial turf at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields, and the planned replacement of a recycling center in Golden Gate Park with a community garden. Because of these disagreements, they say voters should “send a message” by rejecting the bond. Indeed, one of the opponents, former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, recently went so far as to say publicly that to deliver that message to Rec and Park, we should just “let these parks rot.”
This argument is misguided, since the only “message” defeat of the bond would send is to tell park users that we will not be fixing the parks they use. Where is the logic in opposing improvements to an outdated playground, broken irrigation system or dilapidated rec center just because some don’t like charging tourists to enter the Botanical Garden? If you don’t like the department’s decisions, oppose those decisions. But don’t take it out on the kids, families and others who rely on our parks.
Opponents also misrepresent the administration of the 2008 parks bond, which was a huge success. Its projects have been done on or under their budgets and largely on or ahead of schedule. Those projects are currently $5 million underbudget. By the time the first 2012 bonds are issued, more than 90 percent of the 2008 funds will have been successfully spent.
Rec and Park has had to make hard decisions in terrible budget years, allowing our park system to thrive even as California has closed parks. Agree or disagree with those decisions, this bond is about whether our parks will be safe, accessible and functional for the next 30 years.
The question is whether we fix our parks now or wait years to make the improvements at a higher price. Let’s not let the obstructionist politics of the few derail the recreational needs of the many.
Scott Wiener represents District 8 on the Board of Supervisors.