Audit finds city gardeners MIA 

Want to talk to the gardener at your local park? Well, if you show up at the time they’re assigned to be there, you might have a 50-50 shot at it on a good day.

City auditors went to parks at times when a gardener was scheduled to be there and found them at their assigned posts only 51 percent of the time between July and September, and a mere 43 percent between October and December, according to a report by the City Controller’s Office.

Recreation and Park Department officials admit the number is low, but say the situation has been difficult to ameliorate with such a lean staff — and one that’s only likely to get leaner.

The City is more than 200 gardeners short of its peak staffing, so if a gardener is out for a legitimate reason — illness, on vacation, at jury duty or receiving training — there is no one to fill in at the park they’re supposed to be tending, Rec and Park spokesman Elton Pon said.

Further, if an important project at one park needs extra attention, park managers have little choice but to call gardeners off their assigned posts at other parks to provide auxiliary help, he said.

Though the numbers look bad, the cases in which a gardener isn’t at an assigned post for an illegitimate reason is “very, very rare,” Pon said.

But the lack of reliability causes problems for residents who would like to discuss ideas, point out problems or ask questions of the gardeners in their local parks, said Meredith Thomas, director of the Neighborhood Parks Council. She said the department could improve its numbers if the schedule was updated more than the current standard of once every two months, providing residents with a more realistic idea of when they will be accessible.

In fact, the schedule was not even available on the Web site Tuesday, a problem Pon said was temporary.

Vince Courtney, business representative for Laborers’ Local 261, said the problem is not new and is not likely to go away until the staffing becomes a little beefier.

“McLaren Park is about 300 acres and you have three gardeners working there, so those three people could be there and working as hard as anybody in this city, but you won’t see them because it’s just them and 300 acres,” he said.

Different take on no-shows

The city services auditor and the Recreation and Park Department do quarterly audits of how often gardeners were at their assigned posts when an unannounced monitor came by. The figures are different because Rec and Park takes into account certain legitimate reasons for the absences.

Rec and Park’s self-audit of how often gardeners were found at their assigned post:

July through September: 73 percent

October through December: 67 percent

City services auditor’s audit of how often gardeners were found at their assigned post:

July through September: 51 percent

October through December: 43 percent

Source: City Controller’s Office

Park conditions rated best in years

The City’s parks are in better shape than they have been in years, a city audit found.

The city services auditor rates all parks on cleanliness, plant health, drainage and other factors. Overall, parks improved their score from an average of 87.3 percent in fiscal year 2008-09 to 90.8 percent in the second half of 2009. Anything above 85 percent indicates the park is well maintained.

According to the report, every one of The City’s supervisorial districts saw improvements to overall scores, but parks in San Francisco’s poorer and more diverse neighborhoods still lag behind their equivalents in higher-income areas.

San Francisco will receive a 2009 Award of Excellence from the California Park and Recreation Society for the maintenance of its parks. — Katie Worth

Rating city’s best and worst parks

The City Controller’s Office rated the best parks in San Francisco.

District with the highest-rated parks: 2, Marina-Pacific Heights-Cow Hollow-Russian Hill, 95.3 percent

District with the lowest-rated parks: 10, Bayview-Hunters Point-Visitacion Valley, 83.1 percent

Top-rated parks:

1. J.P. Murphy Playground, District 7

2. Julius Kahn Playground, District 2

3. Cow Hollow Playground, District 2

4. Coleridge Mini Park, District 9

5. Prentiss Mini Park, District 9

Lowest-rated parks:

1. Youngblood Coleman Playground, District 10

2. Mission Dolores Park, District 8

3. Hilltop Park, District 10

4. John McLaren Park, District 10

5. Lower Great Highway, District 4

Most-improved parks:

1. McKinley Square, District 10

2. Bush-Broderick Mini Park, District 5

3. Louis Sutter Playground, District 10

4. India Basin Shoreline Park, District 10

5. Lake Merced Park, District 7

Source: City Controller’s Office

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