You have to wonder if some of our city officials spend enough time on the grass because they sure seem to be intent on making our park system suffer.
A move by four supervisors this past week to basically cut off revenue sources for the city’s Recreation and Park Department — under the misleading tag of “privatization,” has been about as well received as a locked gate around a soccer field.
The unexpected ballot measure is so broad and poorly written that, according to Supervisor Scott Wiener, it would block the ability of the department to lease empty buildings planned for use in the upcoming America’s Cup, wouldn’t let it rent out Candlestick Park for events and would even force concession trucks from being able to park near the Civic Center.
“The idea is completely over the top,” Wiener said. “The whole thing was so rushed, I’m not sure anyone even bothered to read it.”
Wiener, who sits on the board’s Budget and Finance Committee, said that the ballot measure could cost the department up to $1 million in the first year and up to $3 million thereafter. And the initiative comes after several years in which the agency, which probably touches more real lives than any other in San Francisco, withstood annual budget cuts, layoffs, closings to its facilities and a general impact on its service.
So it responded by raising some fees and trying to come up with other revenue sources, such as hosting the Outside Lands music festival and other events, which helped stave off some of the loss in funding.
By any standard, the measure is a terrible plan — one that voters will likely bounce like a overpumped basketball — but still raises the need for more creative solutions to a problem that’s ongoing, at least as long as some dim bulbs want to dull the lights for recreation and park’s playing fields.
But all is not lost — Mighty Casey has yet to strike out. It’s possible that this ridiculous scenario could spur actions that might actually improve the department’s revenue stream — at least if I can convince its managers to take some dramatic actions.
Currently, the department allows schools to use a great number of its fields and courts for free, a goodwill gesture that might have to be revisited as long as some supervisors want to take millions in revenues from its budget. The blowback would be so severe from parents and school officials that the wayward supervisors would likely buckle more quickly than a wobbly knee.
Another idea — borrowed from our sunny municipal sister in Los Angeles — is to allow people to pay for a registration card that gives them an ability to sign up for fields and courts throughout The City.
Of course, some supervisors might call this “privatizing” public property, but if they’re willing to put a stranglehold on the department’s ability to raise money, then they’re going to find the inevitable result when you squeeze the toothpaste tube at both ends.
Or you could even take it one step further, and consider a subscription model for the department where everybody who wants to pays a membership fee. Some people might say that they already do — they’re called taxes — but it’s an interesting concept.
And it’s one that the department’s general manager, Phil Ginsburg, said he’d like to explore. Having a “membership model,” as he put it, would provide more active involvement from those who “buy in” to the department.
Still, that does seem to go against the fuzzy logic of the four supervisors who want to block creative solutions to funding for a department that has been given no other choices. Politics have no place within our park system — but that’s exactly what this ballot measure brings.
So before we turn to new ideas to allow the department to function properly and make city courts and fields more of a “pay to play” system, here’s a plan that cannot fail.
When you see this dumb idea on your November ballot, hit it with a forehand and then follow up with an overhead smash. Smack it so hard that no myopic public official dares raise it again.
It’s the one game we can all win.
Ken Garcia appears Thursdays and Sundays in The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.