Running Wild: A long,hard look at RPD finances
Vote No on Proposition B. The approval of this $195 million bond measure would only encourage the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s relentless mismanagement of some of the most beautiful public park spaces in the country. Although required by the Administrative Code as part of the annual budget process, the SFRPD has never supplied the cost information for the fees it charges. No detailed accounting whatsoever by RPD management for the cost of the parks, gardens and recreational facilities it maintains and the services provided therein. Despite a citizens’ lawsuit filed earlier this year that seeks to enjoin the RPD’s longstanding policy of hidden costs and excessive fees, RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg, Finance Director Katie Petrucione and City Attorney Dennis Herrera insist there is no limit on the extent to which San Francisco officials may profit off of the public park space.
Just weeks after the citizens’ lawsuit was filed, San Francisco officials were feeling the heat. Longtime general counsel for the Department and the author of the majority of the RPD’s fee gouging legislation over the last decade, Deputy City Attorney Virginia Dario Elizondo, was relieved of her duties for RPD. Around this same time, the Board of Supervisors quietly eliminated the local law Park Code Section 12.20 that prohibited excessive park fees. And they did so in the most gutless of ways by adding the legislation as a rider to an ordinance, File #120274, that increased the parking rates at the Golden Gate Music Concourse Underground Parking Garage. Apparently, the Board of Supervisors thought that a massive 180 degree shift in the City’s stated policy regarding the treatment of public park space and programs as profit centers might not sit well with members of the general public, so it was hidden within the Parking Garage legislation. Until the Board’s recent “amendment” of Park Code Section 12.20, local law was consistent with a state law, Government Code Section 50402, that prohibits excessive park fees. It seems the Board and the City Attorney were worried about the implications for the pending lawsuit so they quickly drafted a major change to the language of Park Code Section 12.20.
Around this same time, the Board of Supervisors quietly eliminated the local law Park Code Section 12.20 that prohibited excessive park fees. And they did so in the most gutless of ways by adding the legislation as a rider to an ordinance, File #120274, that increased the parking rates at the Golden Gate Music Concourse Underground Parking Garage. ”
Like so many of the laws in San Francisco, it appears Park Code Section 12.20 was not worth the paper it was written on. In amending the law, the Board and the City Attorney claimed they never meant what they wrote and that’s why they never complied with the law. In other words, despite a local law that specifically prohibited excessive park fees and the Controller’s annual certification in the Final Fee Schedule that all park fees are set at less than the cost of recovery, for at least the last eight years, the Board of Supervisors have approved dozens of excessive fee ordinances and the residents and visitors to San Francisco have been paying more than $10 million in excess fees to the RPD! The majority of the excessive fee revenue comes from the parking garages and lots located on RPD property, the Union Square Garage, St. Mary’s Garage, Portsmouth Square Garage, Civic Center Garage and the Kezar parking lot. The bulk of the remaining excess revenue comes from the RPD’s permit, admission and recreation and program fees.
In the last four years, the admission revenues for RPD have more than doubled from $1,750,000 reported in FY 2007-2008 to $3,592,055 for FY 2011-2012. The revenues earned by RPD for recreational service charges have also doubled in that same period from $1,161,000 reported in FY 07-08 to $2,460,000 by FY 11-12. These skyrocketing revenues have occurred over precisely the same period during which RPD has replaced the overwhelming majority of its salaried recreational staff with temporary, as needed personnel, independent contractors and non-profit partner employees. This newly adopted “model for recreation service delivery” has drastically reduced RPD labor costs. Yet, the fees charged to the public for recreational programming have continued to increase. Before approving any new bond measures, the residents of San Francisco should insist on a proper and comprehensive accounting of RPD finances. The time is long overdue to investigate exactly how RPD makes and spends its money.
Anmarie Mabbutt is a California attorney and former longtime SF resident. Feedback: email@example.com
PHIL GINSBURG: General Manager
or Special Events Promoter?
For the tenth year in a row, the Recreation and Parks Department is approving the permits for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (HSBF) secretly, behind closed doors, without any public discussion or input whatsoever. It is precisely this lack of public oversight that explains how Hardly Strictly has grown into one of the country’s largest annual music festivals. The public has repeatedly been denied its opportunity to speak out in defense of the park and surrounding communities. The pastoral western end of Golden Gate Park was never intended or designed as a mass outdoor concert arena. It was to be a series of green, open spaces that offered visitors a place of peace and quiet reflection. But under Mayors Brown, Newsom and now Lee, the Western End of Golden Gate Park has been transformed into the largest concert venue in the country.
following last year’s Festival, police admitted that SFPD could no longer handle the crowds at Hardly Strictly. The Festival had grown too large. When asked last week, less than thirty days before the opening of the 2012 HSBF, how many officers and parking control officers had been assigned to the Festival and what, if any, meetings had been held regarding public safety and outreach for the event, Richmond Station Captain Sharon Ferrigno refused to provide any details.”
The largest stadium in the country is the University of Michigan football stadium, capacity 109,901. The largest stadium in the Bay Area is Berkeley Memorial Coliseum, capacity 75,662. The maximum capacity for Speedway Meadow is 18,600, Lindley Meadow – 9,300 and Marx Meadow – 4,000 yielding a combined daily maximum capacity of 31,900. Yet, for the past five years, police estimates report average daily attendance of 200,000-250,000 for the crowds at the HSBF. RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg, Permits and Reservations Manager Dana Ketcham, and Assistant Property Manager Nick Kinsey are well aware of the Western Meadows’ capacity limits. Yet, in complete disregard for public health and safety and in clear violation of the RPD Permits and Reservations Policy which prohibits staff from issuing permits for events for which they have reason to believe will exceed the venues’ stated capacities, RPD staff continues to issue the permit for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.
According to Sue Fry, a Sunset District resident, at a local police advisory board meeting following last year’s Festival, police admitted that SFPD could no longer handle the crowds at Hardly Strictly. The Festival had grown too large. When asked last week, less than thirty days before the opening of the 2012 HSBF, how many officers and parking control officers had been assigned to the Festival and what, if any, meetings had been held regarding public safety and outreach for the event, Richmond Station Captain Sharon Ferrigno refused to provide any details. Captain Ferrigno also refused to confirm whether SFPD staff had even attended any meetings with RPD, Slim’s Production Company, or any other public agencies regarding crowd control and public health and safety for the 2012 HSBF. As in years past, it seems little if any effort is being made to keep the HSBF crowds within the stated maximum capacities for the Western Meadows.
The capacity limits for the Western Meadows and all other RPD venues were calculated using a very specific formula. The methodology was based on the SF Fire Department crowd metric of seven square feet per person. To ensure a safe and manageable crowd for concert goers and police, fire and other emergency personnel, each person is supposed to have a three-foot diameter circle. The details of the process are discussed in Board of Supervisors File #080880, the legislation that most recently amended the special event permit fees. The new special event fees are based on the maximum capacity limits for each venue and provide further evidence that SF City officials are well aware of the Western Meadows’ capacity limits, but are knowingly ignoring those limits.
RPD staff has made a determined effort to keep the RPD Permits and Reservations Policy a secret. At the December 17, 2009 meeting of the Recreation and Park Commission, Permits and Reservations Manager Dana Ketcham and Assistant Property Manager Nick Kinsey gave a presentation on the procedures for special event permits. At the meeting, Mr. Kinsey posted a slide that read “Currently, there is a sound policy for events in Sharon Meadow but not for those at the Polo Fields and the surrounding meadows.” All it takes is a brief glance at the RPD Permits and Reservations Policy, Resolution #9705-073, to realize that this is completely untrue and extremely misleading. But since the RPD has never complied with City Charter Section 4.104 that requires the Recreation and Park Commission and Department to provide a copy of all rules and regulations to the Clerk of the Board, very few people are aware of the strict limits on the use of amplified sound in the Western Meadows, or the maximum capacity limits for those same meadows.
Contrary to the RPD staff report presented to the public and the Commission at the December 2009 meeting, the RPD Permits and Reservations Policy includes very clear limits on the days and hours during which amplified sound may be used in the Western Meadows. In deference to the pastoral nature of the Park’s Western End, the Policy prohibits staff from issuing permits for amplified sound events for two consecutive days during a weekend or weekend holiday in any given week of the year. The Policy also restricts the use of amplified sound in the Western End to no more than four consecutive hours a day and twelve hours a week. For Marx Meadow, the Policy is even more restrictive, allowing no more than two consecutive hours of amplified sound a day. Yet, for at least the last five years, RPD staff has issued permits for HSBF that have allowed more than double the allowable limits, with 8 to 8 ½ consecutive hours of amplified sound per day at Lindley, Marx and Speedway Meadows, and more than twenty four hours of total amplified sound per week.
Under the RPD Permits and Reservations Policy, modifications and exceptions to the amplified sound rules are allowed, but they must be approved by the Recreation and Park Commission. The Commission must also approve any new road closure requests and any outdoor food sales. In the twelve years of HSBF, the food sales have never been approved by the Commission. The last time the Commission approved an exception to the amplified sound policy or a new road closure for HSBF was June 20, 2002. Ten years later, the residents and business owners of the Richmond and Sunset districts continue to be denied their rights to information and for an opportunity to comment on the annual preparations for the HSBF.
The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival brings great joy to many people but it has clearly outgrown its home in the Western Meadows of Golden Gate Park. The HSBF could stay free, in keeping with Mr. Hellman’s original spirit for the Festival, but ticketed, to ensure the crowds in the Western Meadows remain within safe and allowable levels. Any overflow could be directed to live streaming video of the Festival at locations throughout the city. There is no reason that each and every District in the City cannot partake in the joy and the financial benefits of Mr. Hellman’s annual gift to the city of San Francisco.
Anmarie Mabbutt is a San Francisco lawyer-feedback firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial Flim-Flam at Fisher Fields
Since its inception, the City Fields Foundation has been a driving force in the commercialization of San Francisco’s public park space. In 2005, the same year that Robert, William and John Fisher created the City Fields Foundation, the Board of Supervisors codified, for the first time, the City’s athletic field permit fees. The legislation, Ordinance #050990, increased resident fees for a single rental field 100% from $10/hour to $20/hour. Just two years later, upon the completion of the first two City Fields artificial turf projects at Garfield Square and Silver Terrace, the Board of Supervisors again increased the athletic field permit fees. Resident rates rose to $25/hour and nonresident rates increased from $30/hour to $65/hour.
As for BayCor, it listed on its company website a $5.8 million contract with City Fields for 2006 and $10 million per year for the next five years. But if City Fields has only paid BayCor Builders $451,886, then where did the rest of the money come from? Back in early 2011, members of the public began to ask questions about BayCor Builders’ contracts with the City Fields Foundation. Within a matter of weeks, BayCor Builders disabled its website.”
Under Ordinance #070815, not only did the Board drastically increase athletic field permit fees, the Supervisors took the commercialization of the city’s fields even further – codifying for the first time a “for profit” rate of $65/hour for use of the city’s athletic fields. Beginning in summer 2007, residents now had to compete for field time with private organizations running large scale year-round for-profit programs on public athletic fields. The Recreation and Parks Department further restricted resident use by limiting the $25 hourly rate to no more than four hours per month. Residents who wanted to reserve field play for more than four hours per month now had to pay the $65/hour non-resident rate.
Mayor Newsom knew that more field time meant more revenue, so for him the City Fields partnership must have appeared endlessly appealing. For Mayor Newsom, the City Fields partnership was an opportunity to appease his big money conservative base while at the same time accessing tens of millions of dollars in private funds for artificial turf conversions of public athletic fields which would then be available for rent 365 days a year. But Newsom knew that convincing environmentally-conscious San Franciscans of the benefits of covering dozens of acres of green public park space with millions of tons of toxic materials would not be easy.
Since early 2006, Mayor Newsom, the Board of Supervisors, the Recreation and Parks Department and the Recreation and Park Commission have all worked very hard to keep the details of this partnership as far removed from public discussion as possible. As part of the legislation that approved the initial $4.5 million gift, the Board of Supervisors delegated their authority for the acceptance of all future City Fields gifts to the RPD General Manager. And just like that, a process that should have been publicly vetted twice, first by the Recreation and Park Commission and then by the Board of Supervisors, had suddenly become a series of private secret decisions made behind the closed doors of McLaren Lodge. The abdication of the Board’s authority over all future Foundation gifts to the RPD General Manager is a clear violation of Administrative Code Section 10.100-305(b) which requires Board approval of all gifts in excess of $10,000.
For its part, the City Fields Foundation has spent more than $2 million trying to sell the public on this partnership. According to City Fields federal tax returns, since 2006, City Fields has paid its Communications Director and former PROSAC Chair Patrick Hannan more than $500,000. City Fields has also paid veteran big money consultant and political insider Susan Hirsch more than $1.79 million to direct the Foundation and lobby city officials. According to General Manager Ginsburg’s official calendars, for the last two years, Ms. Hirsch has had a standing monthly meeting with the RPD General Manager. But in official reports filed with the Ethics Commission, Ms. Hirsch claims she was terminated by the Fishers as a lobbyist back in June 2010 and has since reported no contacts with city officials. On its 2009 tax return, the City Fields Foundation reports $69,053 in payments to the lobbyist firm Barbary Coast Consulting. But according to official Ethics Commission records, none of the lobbyists at Barbary Coast, including Alex Clemens, have ever reported the City Fields Foundation as a client.
Like their lobbyists, the Fisher Brothers do not appear to be big fans of public disclosure laws. Sunshine Ordinance 67.29-6 requires all donors of gifts in excess of $100 to file financial interest disclosure statements revealing “any financial interest the contributor has involving the city.” Despite repeated public records requests for these statements, neither the RPD nor the City Fields Foundation has ever produced any financial disclosures from the City Fields donors. The RPD and the City Fields Foundation have also refused to reveal the identity of the contractors and subcontractors working under the gifted contracts. City Fields Communication Director Patrick Hannan claims this information is “private.”
The identity of contractors performing work on public park land, regardless of whether they are paid by public or private funds, is most certainly public information. While City Fields continues to refuse to release any details regarding its contractors, according to the Foundation’s 2006-2010 federal tax returns, the Foundation did pay $5,566,842 to Robert A. Bothman Construction, $6,236,702 to O.C. Jones Construction and $451,886 to BayCor Builders. The Bothman website only mentions the Silver Terrace project and the O.C. Jones website only mentions the Crocker Amazon project so it is unclear how much and who City Fields paid for the work completed at the remaining City Fields sites. As for BayCor, it listed on its company website a $5.8 million contract with City Fields for 2006 and $10 million per year for the next five years. But if City Fields has only paid BayCor Builders $451,886, then where did the rest of the money come from? Back in early 2011, members of the public began to ask questions about BayCor Builders’ contracts with the City Fields Foundation. Within a matter of weeks, BayCor Builders disabled its website.
The lack of public oversight and disclosure of the City Fields Foundation gifts has had disastrous results. Over the last six years, it appears more than $15 million in public funds have been illegally expended on the City Fields projects. Ordinance #060255, the legislation that approved the initial $4.5 million gift, included a Memorandum of Understanding. The MOU is a legally binding contract governing the partnership and the duties and responsibilities of the Department and the Foundation. The MOU specifically states the Foundation is solely responsible for all hard costs associated with the purchase and installation of the turf. Yet, as soon as the initial projects at Garfield Square and Silver Terrace were completed, the Department began soliciting bids for the purchase and installation of the artificial turf at Crocker Amazon and South Sunset. For just these two projects alone, the RPD misappropriated more than $1.87 million in public funds purchasing and installing thousands of tons of admittedly toxic materials over more than a dozen acres of public park land.
The MOU also limits the city’s funding of the artificial turf projects to the partnership’s “initial phase.” The “initial phase” is described as preparation of conceptual plans for up to eight Turf fields, the preparation of construction documents for the first two sites selected and construction of artificial turf fields at the two sites. Once the first two projects at Garfield Square and Silver Terrace were completed, any additional field conversion projects would be “subject to Amendment of this Agreement.” The City Fields MOU has never been modified or amended. Yet the City has appropriated more than $17 million ($8.5 million in revenue bonds in FY 07-08, $8.5 million from the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond Fund) in public funds for the City Fields projects at South Sunset, Crocker Amazon, Kimball Field, Franklin Square, Beach Chalet and Minnie and Lovie Ward.
The current artificial turf projects at Mission Playground, Beach Chalet and Minnie and Lovie Ward are clearly outside the scope of the City Fields MOU. Unless and until the MOU is amended, there should be an immediate halt to any further expenditure of city funds on these projects. It is time for the District Attorney to hold the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the RPD General Manager and the Recreation and Park Commission accountable for this massive misappropriation of public resources.
Anmarie Mabbutt is a California attorney and former longtime SF resident. Feedback: email@example.com
Golden Gate Park Garage Won’t Pay Its Bills
On February 16, 2012, Music Concourse Community Partnership President Martha Kropf appeared before the Recreation and Park Commission to seek approval of yet another increase in parking fees at the Music Concourse Parking Garage. If approved by the Board of Supervisors, this will be the third increase in three years. In 2009, the Controller applied a 25-cent cost of living increase. In 2010, the Board of Supervisors approved increases ranging from 27% to 40% for hourly rates, a 20% increase in the evening rate and a 60% increase in the monthly rate. The latest fee increases, contained in File #120274, would increase weekday hourly and evening rates another 25% and weekend hourly rates another 28%.
Since the beginning, the Garage has been operating at a loss. According to its first two full fiscal year tax returns, the Garage expenses exceeded revenues by more than $5 million…”
At the Commission meeting, Ms. Kropf insisted that increased rates were needed for the Garage to combat a serious net operating deficit. Now that both the De Young Museum and the Academy of Science have passed through their post renovation “honeymoon” stages, parking at the Music Concourse Garage has declined. She noted that revenues for December 2011 and January 2012 are down 36% and 27% respectively from a year ago. Ms. Kropf also mentioned that the MCCP is in arrears to the garage operator, City Park. In early March, I spoke to the financial director for City Park, Jack Krasner. I asked him to confirm the amount the MCCP was currently in arrears and whether or not interest was being paid on the delinquent amount. He refused to reveal any details. He said he did not want to say anything that would be “embarrassing to Martha.” Via email, the MCCP Managing Director, Jan Berckefeldt, also refused to confirm any details of the City Park arrangement. Instead, she wrote “This is a cash flow issue that we are taking strategic steps to correct.”
The current financial condition of the Music Concourse Garage is much more than a cash flow issue. Since the beginning, the Garage has been operating at a loss. According to its first two full fiscal year tax returns, the Garage expenses exceeded revenues by more than $5 million, a $5,413,837 deficit for FY 2006 and a $5,425,720 deficit for FY 2007. For FY 2009, the MCCP Form 990 shows a net deficit of $1,804,688. For FY 2009, the MCCP Form 990 also shows Accounts Payable and accrued expenses of $2,980,335 as of June 30, 2010. When asked how much of this figure was in arrears to City Park, Ms. Berckefeldt refused to comment. She also refused to comment on the complete absence of any contractor information for City Park on the MCCP Form 990 tax returns.
If City Park was paid more than $100,000 per fiscal year, detailed information, including the amount paid, should be included on Form 990, but the 2006-2009 Form 990s for the MCCP contain no contractor information for City Park. The MCCP monthly financial statements for June, September and December 2011 and January 2012 indicate an average of $94,676/month for labor operating expenses, or approximately $1,130,000/year. Averaged across five full years of operation, City Park has earned more than $4,000,000 operating the Music Concourse Garage. Yet, according to MCCP’s federal tax returns, City Park has received less than $400,000 in payments.
The Music Concourse Garage is the product of Prop J, otherwise known as the “Golden Gate Park Revitalization Act.” The Act, passed by 58% of the voters on June 2, 1998, provided for the construction of an 800-space parking garage underneath the Music Concourse. The Act specifically prohibited the use of any public funds in the construction and operation of the garage, so when the City announced plans in late 2003 to issue a 30-year ground lease to private non-profit foundation MCCP that would be used as leverage for a multi-million dollar revenue bond issue, a citizens’ lawsuit soon followed. It seemed both illegal and illogical for the City and the MCCP to argue that parking revenues, fees paid by the public per Park Code Section 12.35 for a service provided on public park property, were private funds, but the 2003 lawsuit failed to stop the construction of the Music Concourse Garage or the use of the Ground Lease as leverage for a massive revenue bond issue.
In June 2005, Board President Aaron Peskin sponsored File #050947, the legislation that unanimously approved $26,500,000 in lease revenue Bond Anticipation Notes from the California Statewide Communities Development Association. These BANs were for a term of 5.5 years and were set to expire on December 1, 2011. Without the cash or financial reserves to pay off the notes, the MCCP had always intended to seek refinancing of these Notes. So when given the option to refinance the notes under provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the MCCP jumped at the chance. The ARRA provisions, which were set to expire on December 30, 2010, allowed nonprofits like the MCCP to seek up to $30 million in financing thru Bank Qualified Tax Exempt Revenue Bonds.
In December 2010, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved File #101125 which allowed the MCCP, in accordance with the provisions of the ARRA, to refinance the 2005 BANs with $30,000,000 in lease revenue bonds from the California Economic Development Association for a 28-year term at a fixed rate of 5.5%. In her staff report in support of the bond refinancing, Public Finance Director Nadia Sesay claimed the program was a “great opportunity for the MCCP to refund the Notes.” She wrote it “requires no public underwriting, rating, trustee or ongoing public disclosure or financial information.”
Less than eighteen months after these new bonds were issued, the MCCP continues to operate the Garage at a deficit. The latest financials, included as part of File #120274, show that even with the approval of the proposed rate increases, “there would still be an estimated budgetary shortfall of $1,188,754 in FY 2011-12.” In addition, the MCCP still owes Swinerton, the original contractor, more than $1,080,000 in construction payments. The MCCP also owes $1,350,000 to the Fine Arts Museum and the Academy of Sciences for loans taken out in July 2007 to make additional payments to Swinerton. These loans became necessary in the wake of the embezzlement by former MCCP CFO Greg Colley of $3.6 million in Garage reserve funds. The MCCP also owes the RPD $200,000 in back rent payments.
No matter how much the Board of Supervisors increases the fees for the Music Concourse Parking Garage, it appears the only real solution to the financial troubles at the MCCP is greater accountability and a massive influx of philanthropic donations. Contrary to what the Controller’s Office and the Mayor’s Office of Public Finance may claim, more not less oversight and public disclosure is needed at the MCCP.
Anmarie Mabbutt is a California attorney and former longtime San Francisco resident now living on Maui. She is currently writing a book on the privatization of San Francisco’s public park space.
Hardly Strictly By the Numbers
First approved by the Recreation and Park Commission on October 4, 2001, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival began as a one day bluegrass festival in Speedway Meadow with 12 acts on 2 stages and a total of 6 hours of amplified sound. In 2011, the Festival covered all three of Golden Gate Park’s western meadows and featured 80 acts spread out over 4 days and 6 stages. All total, the 2011 version of Hardly Strictly produced more than twenty five hours of amplified sound. Fueled by Warren Hellman’s passion for bluegrass music and a Recreation and Parks Department desperate to appease one of its biggest philanthropic donors, RPD Management, the Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors have stood by and watched as the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival has swelled to massive proportions. In 2011, media reports estimate between 650,000–800,000 people attended the Festival.
Knowing full well that Commission policy and local law prohibit events of this size in Golden Gate Park, RPD officials have taken the preparations for Hardly Strictly behind closed doors. The last time the permits and the exceptions to the amplified sound policy were approved by the Commission was June 20, 2002. In 2003, when the first year estimated crowd numbers approached 75,000, the RPD began to handle the preparations for Hardly Strictly secretly through a series of unauthorized permits. In 2004, Mr. Hellman threatened to move the Festival to Oakland, frustrated by the Department’s administrative “red tape” and the preliminary injunction that temporarily halted construction of the Music Concourse Parking Garage. The injunction was eventually overturned and no longer restricted by the rules and procedures that apply to all other special events. Hardly Strictly remained in San Francisco and has since become the largest music festival in the country.
The RPD’s Permits and Reservations Policy, Commission Resolution #9705-073, specifies the maximum capacities for several Department facilities including Speedway Meadow – 18,600; Marx Meadow – 4,000; and Lindley Meadow – 9,300. The policy clearly states that staff shall not issue permits for any event they have reason to believe will exceed the stated venue capacity. Yet, for at least the past nine years, the Department has continued to issue permits for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival knowing full well that expected attendance would exceed these venues’ capacities on an exponential scale. At 200,000-250,000, the daily attendance figures for Hardly Strictly are the equivalent of jamming more than three sold out Niners games into the Park’s western meadows each day.
The fact is there is no Bay Area venue, public or private, outdoor or indoor, that is large enough to accommodate this many people. Here’s a quick look at the numbers for the area’s biggest venues: Candlestick Park – 70,207, AT&T Park – 41,503, Oakland Coliseum – 60,000, UC Berkeley’s Memorial Coliseum – 75,662, Cow Palace – 16,500, Oracle Arena – 19,200, Shoreline Amphitheater – 25,000, Cow Palace – 16,500 and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – 7,000. The largest venue the RPD controls is the Candlestick Park parking lot with a stated maximum capacity of 100,000. The largest venue in Golden Gate Park is the Polo Fields at 50,000. Department officials are well aware of these capacity restrictions. For the Outside Lands Festival, each year great care is taken to limit daily attendance to no more than 60,000. Yet, for Hardly Strictly, it appears anything and everything goes regardless of the impacts to the park, the wildlife and the surrounding neighbors.
For more than a decade, nearby residents and park users have questioned the use of Golden Gate Park as a location for large amplified sound events. In response to public concerns, the Commission did approve an amplified sound policy for Sharon Meadow back in 2004, but the use of amplified sound on all other park properties is still governed by the Department’s Permits and Reservations Policy. Approved May 15, 1997, this policy severely limits the use of amplified sound in the Park’s western end. For Marx Meadow, Department policy restricts the use of amplified sound to no more than two hours a day and one day per weekend and only between the hours of 11am – 5pm. “To minimize the impact of noise in the west end of Golden Gate Park on weekends and holidays,” the policy also prohibits staff from scheduling any events with amplified sound for two consecutive days during a weekend or a weekend holiday of any given week in the west end of Golden Gate Park.” The policy also limits the use of amplified sound in the Western Meadows to no more than twelve consecutive hours per week. Even though the Permits and Reservations Policy clearly requires Commission approval of all exceptions to the amplified sound policy, for the last nine years, RPD staff has issued the permits for Hardly Strictly secretly without Commission approval.
Even the annual gift of the Festival itself has never been approved by the Commission or the Board of Supervisors, a violation of both Commission Policy and the Administrative Code. Mr. Hellman’s annual gift of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is no different than the America Scores’ gift of the World Cup Broadcasts back in 2010, and like that gift, should have been publicly approved by the Commission and the Board. Not only has the gift of the Festival never been approved, Mr. Hellman and Slim’s Production Company representatives have repeatedly refused to reveal the cost of this annual gift to the City.
Since its inception, RPD staff and the Commissioners have embarked on a deliberate campaign to keep the preparations for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival as far removed from the public discussion as possible. Eleven years of playing host to performers like Willie Nelson, Hazel Dickens, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Steve Martin, but neither RPD staff nor the Recreation and Park Commissioners ever spoke a word about it. It was only with the imminent passing of Mr. Hellman and the proposal to rename Speedway Meadow in his honor that the Festival was ever publicly discussed by Commissioners or RPD staff. Hardly Strictly brings great joy to many people but it has long since outgrown its location in Golden Gate Park. With all due respect to the memory of Mr. Hellman, may he and “Hellman Hollow” now rest in peace.
Anmarie Mabbutt is a San Francisco lawyer-feedback firstname.lastname@example.org.
Priority One: Public/Private Parks
Public private partnerships are driving the commercialization of San Francisco's public park space. The loud voices ringing in General Manager Ginsburg's ears belong to the Department's private partners who are constantly seeking preferential access to park land and facilities while at the same time advocating for increased fees and reduced levels of service to the public. In the past year, the Department, responding to requests by the Botanical Garden Society and the San Francisco Parks Trust, reduced hours of operations at the Botanical Gardens, the Helen Crocker Russell Library and the Conservatory of Flowers without Commission approval and without any prior notice to or input from the public. In so doing, not only did the Department violate the public hearing and notice requirements of Section 4.104 of the City Charter, the Department showed how willing it is to sacrifice the public good for private interests.
Desperate for funding and all too eager to please its philanthropic donors, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department continues to increase fees for the general public while offering its private partners highly discounted rates and sweetheart deals. Since 2002, the Botanical Garden Society has paid $1/year to rent 4200 square feet of public park space in the Botanical Gardens and the County Fair Building. Yet, in advocating for the non-resident admission fee, the Society and the Department insisted $7 was a reasonable fee for a person to pay for a single visit to the Arboretum. The Society's lease expired on February 28, 2011 and it now occupies the property under an indefinite holdover provision at the sole and exclusive discretion of General Manager Ginsburg for $1.50/year.
As for the Botanical Garden Society's Grant Agreement for the administration of the non-resident admission fee program, that agreement expired on June 30, 2011 and has not been renewed or extended. Despite the complete lack of any current written agreement governing the admission fee program, the Recreation and Parks Department continues to allow the Botanical Garden Society to collect the non-resident admission fees and deposit the revenues into the Society's bank account at Wells Fargo. The Board of Supervisors should demand an immediate audit of the Society's operation of the non-resident admission fee program.
No one at the Department, the Controller's Office or the City Attorney's Office has been willing to comment on or cite the legal authority for a Department General Manager to issue a $400,000 grant of public funds to a private organization. The original Grant Agreement was never approved or even discussed by the Recreation and Park Commission. This grant was a secret, backdoor deal orchestrated by Phil Ginsburg, Katie Petrucione and former Botanical Garden Society Executive Director Michael McKechnie just days after the Board had rejected General Manager Ginsburg's pleas for a supplemental $400,000 appropriation supposedly intended for equipment purchases for neighborhood recreation centers.
Not only did the Department not require the Society to provide any of the prior financial documents or disclosures required by the Agreement, the Controller has issued three grant payments to the Society totaling $146,823.52 without first providing written certification of the availability of the funds as clearly required by the Grant Agreement. Presumably, the Controller was not willing or able to issue the written certification because there appears to be no line item in the Department's 2010-2011 FY budget for this expenditure! Since instituting the non-resident admission fee, attendance has plummeted at the Botanical Gardens. According to figures released by the Society, attendance is down 72% for non-residents and 41% for residents. The Department's partnership with the Botanical Garden Society is a testament to the increasing alienation of large segments of the population from the use and enjoyment of San Francisco's public park space.
Similarly, ever since the City Fields partnership began converting public athletic fields to artificial turf, whole communities have watched as their neighborhood parks were transformed into destination fields, used primarily by outside organizations and individuals who can afford to pay the $25-$65/hourly fee for use of the fields. Once the current artificial turf conversion is complete at Mission playground, the Department will only guarantee free open play for three evenings per week and a portion of Sunday afternoon. Like the other City Fields gifts at Crocker Amazon, South Sunset, Silver Terrace, Garfield Square and Kimball Field, the public notices for the Mission Playground project never mentioned the use of artificial turf or synthetic products.
In his book "Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin," Bay Area historian Dr. Gray Brechin notes "Power veils itself." And once exposed, it quickly reaches out for ways to manipulate public opinion. December 1, 2009, the day after the Recreation and Parks Department received a public records request regarding Dana Ketcham's volunteer work on behalf of the Foundation, Susan Hirsch registered as a contract lobbyist for the Fisher Brothers. Her first reported contacts began on January 5, 2010, the same day I sent a letter to the District Attorney's Office questioning the legality of the portion of the 2006 Ordinance that delegated Board approval for all future City Fields gifts to the RPD General Manager.
That same day, City Hall insider Alex Clemens also began lobbying for the City Fields Foundation gifts at Mission Playground and Beach Chalet. Despite thirty reported contacts, Mr. Clemens apparently could not remember the name or address of his client. In official Ethics Commission records for 1st quarter 2010, Mr. Clemens lists a fictitious entity, The Fisher Foundation, as his client. The address given by Mr. Clemens, One Maritime Plaza, is a building with hundreds of suites but Mr. Clemens did not give a suite number. The phone number Mr. Clemens gives is for the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, a philanthropic foundation devoted to educational reforms.
The Foundation and the Department have clearly gone to great lengths to conceal this partnership from public view. General Manager Ginsburg and Permits and Reservations Manager Dana Ketcham continue to refuse to provide the Budget Analyst and the public with the legally required quarterly fiscal lease reports detailing exactly who is using these fields and how much they are paying. The privatization of San Francisco's public park space is not a myth. It has just been a closely guarded secret.
Anmarie Mabbutt is a San Francisco attorney
Privatizing Our Parks: Hidden from View
The drive to privatize our public park space began on November 7, 1995. Ironically, with the same election that brought Willie Brown to City Hall, voters approved a new City Charter which contained numerous restrictions regarding the leasing of public park space. Sec. 4.113 of the new Charter reads "No park land may be sold or leased for non-recreational purposes, nor shall any structure on park property be built, maintained or used for non-recreational purposes, unless approved by a vote of the electors." Sec. 16.112 requires that public hearings be held and Notice published "prior to the leasing, selling or transfer of management" of any facility used by the public. These laws should have protected SF's parks. Instead, under the not-so-watchful eye of City Attorney Herrera, the Recreation and Park Commission and the Board of Supervisors have routinely and repeatedly ignored these open government provisions of the Charter.
Since July 1, 1996, the effective date of the new City Charter, on at least twenty separate occasions, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department has issued leases to private organizations to operate preschools in public park clubhouses. Having failed to submit this non-recreational use to a vote of the electors, it appears the Recreation and Parks Commission approved these leases in violation of Charter Section 4.113. Over this same fifteen year period, the Recreation and Park Commission and the Board of Supervisors have approved dozens if not hundreds of leases and transfers of management of public facilities in violation of the formal public Notice and public hearing requirements of Charter Section 16.112(a).
According to Clerk's Office responses to official public records requests, the Board of Supervisors does not publish a Notice of Public Hearing prior to the leasing or transfer of management of facilities used by the public. The only published notice the Board provides is the publication, normally just three days prior, of the agenda for the meetings at which these leases and management agreements are approved. The Clerk's Office insists this procedure satisfies the voter mandated public Notice and hearing requirements of Charter Section 16.112(a). But if that were true, why does the Board hold formal public hearings and file separate Notices of Public Hearing for every other subsection of 16.112? Prior to the adoption of any amendments to the General Plan, any changes in land or zoning, any proposed changes to major trolley, bus or other transportation routes and before "any fee, schedule of rates, charges or fares which affects the public is instituted or changed," the Clerk's Office routinely publishes a formal and separate Notice of Public Hearing.
Assuming the Clerk's current procedures regarding the notice of the leasing and transfer of management of public facilities do not satisfy the requirements of Sec. 16.112, the Kemper and TPC agreements for the Harding and Fleming Park golf courses, the Exploratorium leases at the Palace of Fine Arts, the SF Botanical Garden Society lease, the SF Yacht Club lease and the thirty-five year lease to the Music Concourse Community Partnership for the operation of the GG Park Underground Parking Garage were all improperly approved. Every lease represents another step in the privatization of parks.
Take the time to review the recent history of SF's leasing laws. In late 2000, Supervisor Barbara Kaufman proposed, and the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved, an amendment that severely reduced the Controller's oversight of leases of public property. Under this legislation, the Controller's duty to regularly review all leases was reduced to only those leases that exceed $100,000 annual rent. Just two months later, in early 2001, Supervisor Gavin Newsom co-sponsored, and the Board unanimously approved, amendments to several sections of the Administrative Code, including eliminating the requirement that the Budget Analyst review and report to the Board of Supervisors, all leases issued for less than fair market value. Supervisors voting to approve this legislation included Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez, Leland Yee, Gerardo Sandoval, Jake McGoldrick, Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly and Mark Leno.
Most recently amended in 2004, Sec. 23.34 requires all Boards, Commissions and Departments empowered to lease City-owned real property file quarterly fiscal reports with the Budget Analyst of all leases issued for less than fair market value or that were not approved by the Board. Section 23.34 also requires the Recreation and Parks Department to post a report of all such leases on the RPD website. But according to Clerk's Office responses to official public records requests, the Recreation and Park Department has repeatedly failed to submit the required quarterly fiscal lease reports. And the Recreation and Parks Department has never maintained a report of leases and use permits on its website as required by Administrative Code Sections 23.2 and 23.34. Not surprisingly, the majority of these improperly noticed and unreported leases were issued without competitive bidding procedures and/or for less than fifty percent of the fair market value of the property.
Finally, the Clerk's Office and the Board of Supervisors appear to be knowingly and regularly violating the agenda posting requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act and the Sunshine Ordinance. Last June I first informed then Rules Committee Chair David Campos, Board President David Chiu and the rest of the Board of their obligations to post the agendas for all regular and special meetings in a location that is "freely accessible" to the public. I even provided them a copy of a 1995 State Attorney General Opinion that specifically defines "freely accessible" to mean constant, 24/7 access. More than twelve months later, nothing has changed. The Board agendas continue to be posted inside City Hall and the Main Library. Posting the agendas in buildings that are locked for evenings, weekends and holidays does not meet the requirements of the statute.
The public notification and reporting provisions of the City Charter, the Ralph M. Brown Act and the Administrative Code are not trivial or insignificant. These open government laws are some of the public's most powerful safeguards in the battle to protect and preserve parks. Contact Mayor Lee, Clerk of the Board Angela Calvillo, General Manager Phil Ginsburg, Recreation and Park Commission President Mark Buell and the Board of Supervisors. The parks and people of San Francisco deserve better.
Anmarie Mabutt: Attorney and longtime resident, is currently writing a book about the privatization of parks space. Feedback email@example.com.
Always Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth
On Wednesday, May 11, 2011, the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department held a ground-breaking ceremony for the Mission Playground improvement project. The project includes a new playground, new landscaping, new fencing, resurfacing of the tennis and basketball courts and a completely renovated and seismically retrofitted clubhouse. The project also includes converting the open blacktop soccer area to a fenced artificial turf field. At first glance a free $500,000 gift of a new state of the art soccer field to a historically lower income minority neighborhood sounds great, but then why all the secrecy and backdoor lobbying?
The official RPD Notices for the public meetings for the Mission Playground renovations held in summer 2009 never mentioned the renovation of the soccer area or the installation of artificial turf. In fact, the notices did not provide any details about the project. The official Department Notices for the Playfields Initiative projects at Garfield Square, Silver Terrace, Crocker Amazon, South Sunset and Kimball Field also never mentioned the use of artificial turf or synthetic products. Instead, the Notices used the phrase "the renovation and improvement of the soccer field" or "the renovation and improvement of the turf field."
The San Francisco Recreation & Park Commission Gift Policy (Resolution #9716-230) reads "Any gift-in-place or in-kind gift valued in excess of $10,000 must go to the Commission for their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to accept and expend such gift before construction may begin or a gift is used." Yet, according to official Commission records, the Recreation & Park Commission has never considered or approved the City Fields Foundation gifts for the artificial turf conversion projects at Mission Playground, Beach Chalet, Crocker Amazon, South Sunset, Franklin Square or Kimball Playground.
The required Board of Supervisors approval for these gifts is also lacking. Administrative Code Section 10.100-305(b) clearly states "The acceptance of expenditure of any gift of cash or goods of a market value greater than $10,000 shall require approval of the Board of Supervisors, by resolution." But according to official Board of Supervisors records, the City Fields Foundation gifts for Mission Playground, Beach Chalet, Crocker Amazon, South Sunset, Franklin Square and Kimball Playground have never been considered or approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Why have General Manager Phil Ginsburg and former General Managers Yomi Agunbiade and Jared Blumenfeld reportedly accepted more than $10.7 million in philanthropic gifts without ever seeking approval for these gifts from the Commission or the Board of Supervisors? Back in February 2006, Commissioner Tom Harrison proposed as a last minute amendment to the City Fields Foundation partnership (Resolution #0602-010), a clause allowing the RPD General Manager to accept any future Foundation gifts without seeking Board of Supervisors approval.
Despite being described by Supervisor McGoldrick as an ill-advised and unprecedented delegation of authority over multi-million dollar philanthropic gifts to a single individual, in April 2006, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved this proposal as part of Ordinance #060255. This delegation of the Board's authority should have been presented separately as an amendment to the Administrative Code. Instead, it quietly created a singular exception for the RPD General Manager to accept multi-million dollar philanthropic gifts without Board approval.
On January 12th, 2010, Supervisor Eric Mar introduced Ordinance #100053 providing formal Board of Supervisors approval of the City Fields Foundation gifts for Mission Playground and Beach Chalet. Supervisor Mar introduced this legislation a week after a letter was sent to Deputy City Attorney Virginia Dario Elizondo requesting clarification of the legislative intent of the portion of Ordinance #060255 that had given the RPD General Manager authority over all future Foundation gifts. Ms. Elizondo never responded to the letter but it did appear to spark a flurry of activity by Fisher family lobbyists Susan Hirsch and Alex Clemens. According to official Ethics Commission lobbyist activity summaries, between January 5th (the day I sent the letter) and January 13th, 2010, Ms. Hirsch and Mr. Clemens made a total of 16 contacts including meetings with RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg, Board President David Chiu and Supervisors Alioto-Pier, Elsbernd, Dufty and Supervisor Eric Mar. But Ordinance #100053 was never calendared for a committee meeting and simply expired.
At Mission Playground, the Foundation and the Department claim they are providing the neighborhood with a new state of the art soccer field. But if the history and usage patterns at the other Playfields Initiative sites are any indication, what had been a free walk on neighborhood field will now become a locked destination field used largely by outside organizations and leagues that can afford to the pay the $25-$65 hourly permit fee for use of the field. According to information released earlier this year on the City Fields Foundation website, walk on free play at the Mission Playground soccer field will be restricted to three evenings per week and a portion of Sunday afternoon. For the rest of the week, play at the field will now be controlled by the Recreation and Parks Department and its Permits and Reservations Division.
For more information about the City Fields partnership with the Recreation and Parks Department and the future of free neighborhood play at Mission Playground, contact Permits and Reservations Manager Dana Ketcham. Ms. Ketcham is an original member of the City Fields Foundation steering committee and a former President and VP of Scheduling for the Viking Soccer League. According to records released by the RPD, Viking Soccer League appears to be the private organization receiving the greatest number of hours of permitted play on the artificial turf fields. If you would like more information about the Department's and the City's gift approval and reporting procedures, contact General Manager Phil Ginsburg. Given the events of the past few weeks, Mr. Ginsburg might be interested in talking about something other than Stow Lake and Alex Tourk.
Anmarie Mabbutt: A California attorney and former longtime resident, Anmarie is currently writing a book about the privatization of San Francisco's public park space. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org