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Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond:
San Franciscans need to know the facts

By Jeffrey Leibovitz

October 3, 2007

I am offering a few words to your readers about the proposed $185 million Park bond measure set to go on the February 2008 ballot if certain Supervisors and our Mayor have their way.

Our politicians may want to reconsider this proposal before placing it on the ballot because it will take a two-thirds voter approval to pass. It is too late to have any impact on the proposed legislation, but San Franciscans should know the facts before supporting this faulty legislation with their vote.

The misleading name chosen for the ballot measure is "2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond." This bond of which $33.5 million goes to the Port is being rushed to the February 2008 ballet.

The City's parks need over a $ billion dollars in repairs. There is no question or argument about the needs and poor condition of some of our parks, and we can agree that the Rec. & Park Department did a very poor job of administrating the last $110 million dollars we gave them.

That money was gone in a flash, leaving most of us in the lurch.

This time around the government wants voters to believe that acceptable changes have been made to guarantee oversight and accountability are built into this current proposed bond measure. However Rec.& Park has already started out on the wrong foot by not considering numerous Neighborhood Parks in allocating the bulk of the resources in this new bond.

Now they want us to disregard our own park needs and believe that they can oversee their chosen projects with impunity. This is highly questionable given that there is no real citizen's oversight committee to guarantee how the funds will be spent. The bond legislation names the appointed Port Commission, the hand picked Bond Oversight Committee, Rec. & Park Department and the Board of Supervisors, as the overseers.

If the bond is passed we will have to put our faith in our local government once again. Wouldn't trustworthiness with our money be more readily restored if our small parks were taken care of now, rather than who knows when in the future?

The bulk of this current bond money has been allocated to disproportionately expensive restoration of Rec. Centers, bathrooms, and Port projects for which there are better solutions. The less expensive, but more widespread improvements to citywide parks have, for the most part, been overlooked.

Ninety percent of the Neighborhood Parks have been left out of the bond measure because Rec. & Park has devised their own priority list. They are going to split this money among 12 out of 123 parks in their system. Some of the park restoration projects have been completed over the years so not all Neighborhood Parks are in need, but most of our parks and the advocates who have been working and waiting for years for improvements, have once again been overlooked. This is putting the cart before the horse and not a good way to gain the needed support to pass a bond measure that needs two-thirds voter support.

If we in the neighborhoods had been considered as first priority for funding, then, yes, we would be willing to support future bonds measures for this current list prioritized by Rec. & Park.

The next plan for a future bond will be in 2013! It is an affront to all of us who have been involved to rush this bond on to the February ballot without more public consideration and vetting among park advocates, as opposed to the rubber-stamping it has received from political appointees, city agencies and state and local politicians.

Port property has never been part of the Rec. & Park responsibility, and now it has been added to the roster, jumping ahead of and competing with the Neighborhood Parks that have been waiting decades for improvements. But what the hell when you can decide who gets to spend what and where, you might as well get the most out of your position.

We can assume that District 3 voters will approve the bond. Remember this is really Supervisor Peskin's bond proposal. Isn't this what a District Supervisor's job is all about, bringing home the bacon to their own part of the city?

There are no Neighborhood Parks in District 6 identified in this bond proposal. The Brannan Street Wharf is underfunded with only $3 million because it actually needs $5 million dollars to complete it. Conversely, the author of the bond measure, Supervisor Peskin, has two of the largest projects allocated for funding, as was the case with the previous bond measure.

District 3 will benefit from $22.2 million dollars spent on those projects, $14.2 million for the Chinese Rec. center, and $8 million for Port property - Pier 43 - a Fisherman's Wharf tourist attraction.

In his introduction at the Board, Supervisor Peskin said that this bond measure would not add any new projects, but that it was designed to take care of what we already have in the city's park system. Apparently he did not read his own legislation. "Acquisitions" is mentioned at least 6 times in his legislation. There was no citizen selection committee to decide if the Port should jump ahead of and compete with Neighborhood Parks for scarce funding.

If this isn't political, I don't know what is. The Port muscles their way in for an allocation of over $30 million dollars and their administrative decisions on spending were made by Port staff with no public input, no hearings, nada... zip...nothing.

Also pertaining to the Port properties, the bond states that none of the "projects" need CEQA approval, or an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and thus no money is to be allocated for this purpose. However the City attorney has confirmed that CEQA guidelines and approvals would be necessary. With no CEQA funding in the bond, who will pay for the EIR? Port projects could be rendered moot. Why is this fact being ignored by the Board?

In his opening remarks supporting the proposed park bond Supervisor Peskin said that "there are no new projects in this bond proposal." Mr. Peskin failed to consider adding Port projects to the budget and at the staggering cost of $33.5 million dollars with $8 million for the reconstruction of a Fisherman's Wharf tourist attraction, Pier 43. If this is not "pork barrel" legislation and backroom wheeling and dealing, then I don't know what is.

Mr. Peskin assumes the underfunded Port projects in District 6 are as good as local Neighborhood Parks, one in South Beach and the others in Mission Bay. Sorry, I do not consider Port property to be local Neighborhood Parks. The Port guidelines have no requirements for public vetting as our Rec. & Park guidelines require, and all of the Port projects constitute new acquisition, contrary to Supervisors Peskin's stated objectives.

Since the Port has its own bonding capacity, it is a dirty trick to glom on to a Rec. & Park bond measure and eat up $33.5 million dollars that should be allocated for Neighborhood Parks.

I cannot see why any resident in District 6 would vote for this bond. The Tenderloin and SoMa parks are nowhere to be found in this proposal, yet the Mayor's Office of Housing wants to add tens of thousands of affordable housing units into SoMa.

District 6 has the least amount of parks and open space of any other district in the city. Sorry, but I find it very difficult to support a bond proposal that does not address the pressing needs of this growing district. District 6 has been overlooked for far too long, but when it comes to trying to solve the housing crises in San Francisco, this is where the action is. People in District 6 should be outraged that there is no money for park improvements or new park acquisition in this new bond proposal.

One more fact is important to consider in our district which is 90% tenants. Because previous bonds are expiring, if this bond fails, rent controlled tenants will see their rents go down and property owners tax bills will be reduced.

As a park advocate and neighborhood activist I, and thousands of committed San Franciscans, have spent countless hours and many years going to meetings and working with citizens and different City departments to get basic maintenance and improvements for our small Neighborhood Parks. As is the case with many other city Neighborhood Parks, we have been encouraged to stay involved and have been promised repairs and improvements to our small Neighborhood Parks, to what end?

The Eastern Neighborhoods are growing exponentially faster than any other part of San Francisco, yet our Neighborhood Park, South Park, is not on any one's list, and it has been passed over once again, like most of the cities numerous small Neighborhood Parks.

We are not alone in San Francisco when it comes to promises made and promises broken by Rec. & Park. But those in control can steer the money to their comrades, and decide which parks and improvements are necessary, as is the case with Port property, Pier 43 at Fisherman's Wharf.

Instead of funding a few Port projects, there are at least 33 Neighborhood Parks that would be completely restored if given $ 1 million dollars a piece, but the bigger projects always suck up all the money because that is Rec. & Park's priority. The longer they take to fix our small parks, the more expensive it will be, thus putting forever out of reach any hope for improvements.

I would be happy to go along with these current plans in the future if Rec. & Park fixes our Neighborhood Parks first. After all, it is our money they are asking us to spend, and it is we who can refuse.

Go ahead and keep ignoring us, Rec. & Park. Digging holes is not being reserved for planting trees.

The Board of Supervisors will take public comments on this item one more time on Wed. October 3, 2007 during the Budget and Finance Committee hearing. Your comments, of course, are always welcomed. The Supervisors need to hear what park advocates and park users have to say, and maybe this time they will listen.

Be prepared to be admonished if you disagree with the Chair of the committee. Our politicians tend to forget that they were mere citizens at one time and had to take time off of work to give public testimony on issues that they cared about.

Now for one former citizen in particular, it appears to be about bringing home the bacon for his constituents.





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