San Francisco Recreation and Park Department trying to build its own revenues 

One would think that city residents are smart enough to understand the nature of the budget crisis that is confronting every level of government, including the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. But two articles in last Thursday’s Examiner point out either a basic misunderstanding or unwillingness by some members of the Board of Supervisors and residents, to accept the fact that we have to reinvent the way we pay for and deliver city services; nonresident admission fees to the Botanical Garden and food carts in Dolores Park.

As priorities have shifted over the last 50 years, recreation programs and park services have received a smaller and smaller piece of the general fund pie. From a time when property taxes covered almost all of the department’s budget, to this year with over 70 percent of the budget funded with internally generated monies, the Recreation and Park Department has to look to new ways of balancing its budget.

This gap can be filled by reducing services and maintenance, raising new revenue, or some combination of the two. In the last few years the commission’s focus changed from cutting the budget to raising new revenue. More concession revenue, admission prices that reflect actual costs, special events that benefit the park budget have been debated.

The recent controversy over nonresident admission fees to the Golden Gate Park Botanical Garden and food carts in Dolores Park just highlights the issue. Almost every locally owned botanical garden in America charges admission. Labor intensive and expensive to maintain, the department assigns ten gardeners to the Botanical Garden, at the expense of neighborhood park maintenance — parks that are short 200 gardeners by national standards.

Some members of the Board of Supervisors want the department to repeal a $7 fee for nonresidents to visit the Botanical Garden, saying surplus revenue from the property transfer tax can fill that budget hole.
If a Botanical Garden nonresident admission fee and concession revenue from food carts operated by local businesses saves a gardener or recreation director’s position and the services that go with them, I think most San Franciscans will say, raise the revenue and save vital Recreation and Park services and programs.

Jim Lazarus is a past president of the Recreation and Park Commission. 

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