Tourists may have to pay for Botanical Garden visits 

Tourists might soon have to pony up more cash to see some of San Francisco’s treasured landmarks under legislation proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The mayor on Tuesday introduced legislation that would require out-of-towners to pay a $7 fee to enter the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park. Youths ages 12 to 17 and seniors 65 and older would pay $5, while children ages five to 11 would be charged $2. Children under 4 would be admitted for free.

In addition, Newsom’s requesting that tourists who want to ride the elevator to the top of Coit Tower pay $7 instead of the current $5.

The legislation couldn’t come at a better time for the Recreation and Park Department, which is facing a $12.4 million budget shortfall next fiscal year. The two fees would generate more than $450,000 annually, said Elton Pon, spokesman for the department.

"We are not looking to ring every dime out of everyone," Pon said. "We are faced with a dire situation."

He said volunteers will be in charge of checking people’s identification to determine whether they are residents or not.

San Francisco’s Botanical Gardens first opened in 1940, becoming The City’s largest arboretum. An estimated 500,000 people visit the Botanical Gardens every year, with 49 percent of those being tourists, according to Michael McKechnie, executive director of the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, the nonprofit group that supports the 55-acre garden.

Right now, there are 11 gardeners that maintain the space, yet studies have shown that it takes 16 for proper upkeep, McKechnie said. But with the pending budget cuts, it’s time for The City and the community to look elsewhere for financial support, he said.

"Even before the financial downturn it was increasingly difficult to find the funds to support the garden," McKechnie said. "We are experiencing bad donor fatigue."

While everyone enjoys the Botanical Gardens for free, other cities charge, on average, $9 for visitors to theirs, McKechnie said.

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