Park project delays may hurt future bond measures 

In the campaign for Proposition A, a $185 million park bond measure on the February 2008 ballot, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd predicted that it would be a model for future bond measures. Let’s hope not.

As we reported this week, 3½ years after passage of that bond measure, none of the neighborhood park and recreation center projects that were promised has been completed. All are behind schedule, some of them by years.

The $20 million Chinese Recreation Center, which serves one of The City’s most densely populated neighborhoods, is 24 months behind schedule. It was supposed to be finished in September 2010, but is only 36 percent complete and may not open until September 2012.

Even a small project like the $1.3 million Fulton Playground upgrade in the Outer Richmond, which was originally scheduled to be completed in January 2011, has yet to start. Work is now expected to begin in October with the playground being finished in December 2012 — nearly two years late.

Seven of the 12 projects promised in the bond measure are more than a year behind schedule.

The delays are the result of regulatory problems in acquiring permits, completing environmental studies and conducting community outreach, according to Recreation and Park Department officials.

While nothing ever seems to be easy in The City, it’s hard to imagine why things such as upgrading clubhouses, paving bike and pedestrian paths and constructing ballfields and basketball courts should tie up not just one or two projects, but every single one of them.

The other disappointing aspect of this supposed “model” bond measure is that it was touted as having the strongest accountability measures ever included in a city general obligation bond, with layers of oversight, scrutiny by citizens and officials and monthly reports online.

But finding current information on the 2008 park bond website is difficult, with most of the latest reports dating to 2010.

Park bond advocates promised that this time they would get it right, after a $110 million park bond measure that passed in 2000 was so mismanaged that many projects were either canceled or delayed for many years.

One of the arguments against the 2008 park bond was that “the Recreation and Park Department’s track record of implementing bond projects is weak. If management of the bond funds is not significantly improved, bond funds might not be used effectively.”

Unfortunately, that argument proved prescient — as the thousands of families waiting months and years to use their improved parks and recreation centers have found out to their chagrin.

This sorry track record does not bode well for gaining voter approval for future bond measures in The City, such as November’s Proposition A, the San Francisco Unified School District $531 million bond measure; Proposition B, the $248 million street repair bond measure; and the plan to ask for more park improvement bonds in 2012.

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