I am responding to Mr. Buell and Mr. Ginsburg directly, since they have signed and distributed an article questioning my facts and credibility regarding the privatization of the RPD. I am also requesting that the RPD's proposed November 2011 Parcel Tax be voted down, unless services to the public are restored.
I respect Commission President Buell for his service to the community. Mr. Buell is a wealthy developer who was appointed president of the Recreation and Park Commission (RPC) to be … a developer. You can't fault a guy for being good at what he was asked to do. Mr. Buell and the other six Recreation and Park Commissioners were all appointed with the understanding that they would have to make the RPD self-supportive.
This Newsom-appointed RPC supports park privatization issues 100% of the time and votes unanimously approximately 95% of the time. The RPC is the poster child for why the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor's office should have split commission appointments. The current RPC acts as a rubber stamp for park privatization.
Mr. Ginsburg was appointed to his job because he is a good friend of Gavin Newsom. He had no prior Recreation and Park experience, no development experience, and no real experience managing a City department. Newsom told him to privatize the parks and Ginsburg he's doing that.
Ginsburg states, "Regrettably Mr. Wooding makes too many ill-informed accusations about our budget to respond to all of them here," and then he doesn't respond to any of the accusations because — regrettably — they're all true. Let's list the accusations Mr. Ginsburg forgot to mention, deny, or clarify:
• 99.9% of parkusers had no idea that the RPD was about to fire the Rec and Park directors in 2010. True.
• The park needs of SF's citizens are now secondary to the attempt to generate more revenue from the parks. True.
• Being broke is no excuse for poor judgment, management, public notification, or poor prioritization of resources. True.
• According to Nicole Avril, RPD's Director of Partnerships and Development, higher-paid RPD management employees were not fired because of an informal RPD salary multiplier program that asks higher-paid employees to generate revenue of 5 to 10 times their paid salary. RPD's management has become a sales force. True.
• The RPD budget decreased children's services $13.4% ($1.5 M) and increased the planning, development and privatization budget 633.3% ($1.9 M). Absolutely true.
• Ginsburg and Katie Petrucione misled/lied, stating that the $3.3 M in lump sum parking fees from renting Civic Center parking spaces to the PUC would reduce layoffs. All fees went to the General Fund and not to the RPD. True.
Ginsburg and Buell are upset because no one wants to pay parcel taxes for operational services that we are not receiving. We paid for Directors, but they were all fired in 2010. Meanwhile, Ginsburg hired 13 new employees making over $100,000 in pay and increased the payroll by $1.4 M (benefit packages averaged an additional 33%). Also True.
What services do these people provide the public besides fundraising and public relations? Do they mow a lawn or coach a kid? If we are not paying the RPD directly for recreational services, we are alternatively being asked to pay for services from private, for-profit businesses who lease park facilities. Some people can no longer afford to use their own parks. The RPD insists that their privatization of park assets will make them self-sustaining as City General Funds dry up. None of this is true, as the RPD's money is constantly being sent to the City's General Fund.
These are some of the other RPD funds that went to the City's General Fund in 2010: $3.3 M in PUC garage funds, $1.6 M in AIDS Memorial Grove and turf management funds, $0.4 M in Marina Harbor Yacht funds, $0.1 M in RPD bequest funds, $1.2 M in RPD "savings incentive" resources, and $1.6 M in Open Space Funds, among others. Just the funds above account for a combined $8.2 M — but there's more.
My favorite is the $1.1 M "Downtown Park Fund" (a.k.a., the "mid-Embarcadero Fund"), which money was donated by citizens and businesses to develop a specific open space parcel on the Embarcadero on which to place the 1915 Pan American Exposition's pipe organ. Once the City located the "donated" $61,000 bocce ball courts on this parcel, it freed up the $1.1M to be given to the City's General Fund; the pipe organ stays in mothballs. That takes us up to at least $9.3 M quietly returned to the General Fund, with Ginsburg's and Buell's tacit permission.
San Francisco and the RPD can't have it both ways. Don't charge the public for services that we no longer receive. Don't make the public pay twice for services for which we've already paid. Don't send RPD employees with a combined salary of over $500,000 to a meeting at J.P. Murphy Park — which was just renovated for $3.9 M in public bond money — and tell us that the RPD has no money and that the brand new park clubhouse needs to be rented to a private, for-profit business for $1,500 per month. Don't prioritize the six-figure salaries of professional bureaucrats who have no Rec and Park experience, over children's services.
The next disaster on the RPD budget horizon: San Francisco's Capital Planning Committee (CPC) suddenly announced in mid-March that they are moving the $150 M, 2014 Neighborhoods Parks and Open Space Bond to the November 2012 election. The CPC is also adding $35 M to RPD's proposed new General Obligation Bond, "to incorporate critical open space needs to the Harbor," bringing the total to $185 M. Sure … let's pay off a $35 M dollar bond debt with $15 M in interest for the America's Cup over the next 30 years. Ginsburg is a member of the CPC and Buell is Chair of the City America's Cup Committee. They haven't even presented this information to the Recreation and Park Commission yet — there's probably no need to, since the RPC rubber-stamps every RPD proposal.
The CPC's report states, "The Port will participate with the RPD in a proposed General Obligation Bond—subject to completing review required pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)." But the RPD won't be ready. The RPD also needs to spend the remainder of the prior "2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond" money, but it is doubtful that they will.
The new RPD bond for 2012 is so rushed and confused that the City's Capital Planing Committee states, "The allocation between [RPD] programs and specific sites has not been determined, and the substantial renewal and enhancement needs of the RPD are not met by the project funding." In bureaucratic language, this means that Ginsburg doesn't seem to know what he is doing. I expect that a wafer-thin master plan will be hastily developed to support RPD's ill-conceived 2012 bond.
Finally, Ginsburg states, "Sorry George, your math just doesn't add up." Well, Phil, if my math doesn't add up, it's because I'm using RPD's own budget numbers, and other public records.
In its February newsletter, the Westside Observer featured George Wooding's ill-informed attack on the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department's efforts to navigate one of the most serious fiscal crises it has ever faced. We are all frustrated by the budget cuts our parks have incurred, but hostile finger pointing won't keep parks clean or clubhouses open.
Government is broke. Last week I attended the 2011 National Recreation and Parks Association Legislative Forum in Washington, DC, where park directors from all over the country descended on the Nation's Capital to lobby for greater federal investment in state and local park agencies. Every park agency director I met is scrambling to offset cuts by raising revenue through concessions, special events, new partnerships, sponsorships and philanthropy. Budget cuts will force the City of Houston to close half of its recreation centers this year. The Los Angeles Parks Department expects hundreds of layoffs and significant park maintenance reductions. Detroit closed 77 parks last year. Seattle and Colorado Springs have non-profits running their rec centers. Denver will be generating revenue from more admission-based events in its parks. Miami is entering into public private partnerships to restore recreation, swimming, arts programs and park maintenance tasks.
Here in San Francisco, where we are blessed with over 220 parks and 80 recreational facilities, if we want to keep our parks and programs thriving, we must creatively find new sources of revenue to fund them. All told, we manage nearly 15% of the City's real estate yet we receive just 2.3% of its General Fund. We operate with a barebones staff -- we are short 200 gardeners, 80 custodians, 60 structural maintenance workers and 30 park patrol officers -- and have more than $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance projects assessed in our system. Over the past seven years, the Recreation and Park Department has been asked to reduce its general fund subsidy by $43 million. No single year may have been as daunting as last year's general fund budget reduction of $12.4 million. To put the size of last year's cut in perspective, it equaled 60% of our entire gardening staff.
Balancing last year's budget was agonizing, but frankly, service impacts on the public could have been much worse. We solved nearly two thirds of our deficit by raising new revenue instead of cutting services, and by managing our Department more efficiently. On the revenue side of the ledger, we renegotiated expired leases, added exciting programs, events and amenities, and found new sources of grants and philanthropic support. On the expense side of the ledger, we cut workers compensation expenses, shrank overtime costs, consolidated functions, eliminated a senior management position, and reduced administrative expenses.
Despite our budget woes, we have not closed a single recreation center or swimming pool, we have not laid-off a single gardener or custodian, and our budget included no new fee increases for existing permits or recreation programs. While we have fewer recreation staff we are on pace to add over 20,000 hours of new recreation programs over last year. Take a look at our Spring Activities Guide. We are proudly re-establishing ourselves as the recreation provider of choice in San Francisco. To ensure no one is turned away, we have created our largest scholarship fund ever – now in excess of $250,000 and growing. (Visit our website (www.sfrecpark.org) for more details.)
Without adequate staff to keep all of our clubhouses open ourselves, we are asking community partners to program our clubhouses. One community partner now provides free exercise and wellness classes for seniors at a clubhouse in Portsmouth Square. Another operates a highly touted, free after-school enrichment and sports program for youth in clubhouses in Visitation Valley. Others are operating pre-schools for tiny tots. With community partners, we are successfully keeping most of our clubhouses open and vibrant, a strategy supported by 94% of respondents to a recent poll conducted by the Neighborhood Parks Council.
The Recreation and Parks Department is not privatizing parks. We are building public-private partnerships to keep our parks and programs thriving when budget cuts mean we can no longer do it alone. We are working with neighborhoods, non-profits, labor, business, labor and the philanthropic community to keep our parks and rec centers clean, safe and fun.
A hundred years ago Golden Gate Park visitors were charged to ride the carousel and could patron a private casino and bar near the Conservatory of Flowers. Today the casino is gone, but the carousel remains – and it still costs money to ride. Modern day Golden Gate Park now hosts music festivals like the Outside Lands concert and offers food and beverage options, bike and boat rentals, and, yes, even Segways. Enjoyable park amenities provide financial support for our operations and actually increase, not decrease, access to our underfunded neighborhood parks and programs. Over 85% of the Neighborhood Parks Council's survey respondents agree with our approach to raising revenue to avoid service cuts. And, in instances where we do charge for programming and permits, 73% of survey respondents find our fees affordable.
Our revenue strategies are actually working. Although we've been asked to cut another $4.5 million from our budget next fiscal year, we think we can meet this challenge without additional layoffs, fee increases or service cuts because of the smart decisions we're making. At four recent community budget meetings the public let us know what services were important to protect, and offered creative ways to raise additional revenue for the Department. We are following your feedback.
Regrettably, Mr. Wooding makes too many ill-informed accusations about our budget to respond to all of them here, but a couple of points are worth correcting. First, Wooding argues that Rec and Park doesn't keep the money it earns. We do. In fact, we are using over $800,000 of revenue earned over budget this year to help us balance next year's deficit. Second, our budget process is certainly not secret. Last year we participated in over 40 budget-related meetings with our staff, in the community, and at City Hall. Our new recreation model was developed in partnership with the Neighborhood Parks Council and our recreation directors' union, which courageously supported our plan despite the harsh reality of layoffs.
Mr. Wooding says Rec and Park should hire more staff and increase programming and services. We'd love to. But, he also stridently demands no fee increases, no new revenue initiatives and no new taxes. Sorry George, your math just doesn't add up.
Community support and stewardship are critical to our parks' survival. We do not expect agreement from every neighborhood advocate on every park issue. Scarce resources create tension, and our financial challenges are far from over. But, we all love our parks and we all agree our parks are worth fighting for. Let us unite in support of them. Our parks deserve it.
Connie Chan: email@example.com
Did you know that the electricity that PG&E is delivering to residents and businesses in San Francisco is only 15% renewable and won't meet the state's 2010 goals for clean, renewable energy? Let me reiterate that point. It's 2010 and the energy to power our homes and businesses is only 15% renewable.
CleanPowerSF is a simple solution to our dirty energy problem. CleanPowerSF's goals are to deliver San Franciscans cleaner, more renewable energy that meets our state's requirements. The program will rely on more renewable resources like solar and wind energy and aims to be 51% renewable by 2017.
Today, most energy customers must get their energy from PG&E; there is no choice in the matter. PG&E generates your electricity from nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and other energy sources. PG&E then transmits and distributes this energy directly to San Francisco homes and businesses.
CleanPowerSF will change only the "generation" part of this equation by providing customers with energy from resources like solar and wind energy. And that's it. PG&E will continue to transmit and distribute electricity directly to residences and businesses and provide billing services. If you have an electrical outage, customers will still call PG&E and they will still be responsible. The only difference will be the type of energy you are receiving; it's going to be much cleaner.
With CleanPowerSF, energy customers finally get a choice. Instead of one energy supplier, residents and businesses will have a choice between two energy supplies and mixtures
"Participation in CleanPowerSF is also easy and completely voluntary. Do nothing and you will receive cleaner energy; it's that simple. Energy customers who wish to remain with PG&E's energy supply may opt-out of CleanPowerSF at any time. At the beginning of the program, CleanPowerSF will send out a total of four opt-out notices both before energy service begins and after the energy changeover."
(CleanPowerSF's clean energy or PG&E's energy). Ultimately, the choice is yours; consumers benefit by finally having a real and meaningful choice in their electric energy supply. CleanPowerSF will put you in the driver's seat of your energy needs. We hope you will consider choosing the energy provider that offers the most stable rates and the cleanest, most renewable energy.
Participation in CleanPowerSF is also easy and completely voluntary. Do nothing and you will receive cleaner energy; it's that simple. Energy customers who wish to remain with PG&E's energy supply may opt-out of CleanPowerSF at any time. At the beginning of the program, CleanPowerSF will send out a total of four opt-out notices both before energy service begins and after the energy changeover.
Contrary to claims by opponents, CleanPowerSF will not cost the City taxpayers anything. CleanPowerSF will be funded entirely by participating ratepayers. In fact, with more renewable energy pouring into San Francisco's electrical grid, energy prices will be much more stable over the long-term and less subject to the wild price fluctuations of fossil-fuel energy sources. CleanPowerSF's goal is to have rates that are competitive with PG&E, while significantly increasing the amount of green energy supplied to the San Francisco electrical grid.
Right now, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has certified the CleanPowerSF implementation plan. The SFPUC will also shortly sign a service agreement with PG&E in order to facilitate smooth program operations. Finally, once the SFPUC completes a draft contract with the energy service provider (the entity that provides the City with the cleaner energy) the SFPUC will present it for full public consideration by your elected officials. As is the City's standard practice, your elected officials will seek the advice of both the City's Budget Analyst's Office and City Controller. The Board of Supervisors, the Rate Fairness Board, the SFPUC Commission and the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) have held numerous hearings on the program already and will also hold public hearings on the contract. Once the legislative approval and transparent public review process concludes, shortly thereafter the City will begin finalizing the contract.
When CleanPowerSF begins serving energy customers, San Franciscans will see no change when they flip on a light switch or plug in their appliances. PG&E will continue to own and operate the electrical grid in the city and provide billing services for customers. However, CleanPowerSF will provide consumers with two things that PG&E currently lacks —long-term rate stability and a cleaner energy portfolio. CleanPowerSF is the best opportunity for our City to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make San Francisco a greener, cleaner place to live and work.
Michael Campbell is the CleanPowerSF Director
From the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission homeowners have received a mailer promoting CleanPowerSF: "I Choose Clean Energy." The mailer promises that if the homeowner does nothing then he or she will receive energy that is "much cleaner than the energy currently provided by PG&E."
Sound too good to be true? What is really going on here?
CleanPowerSF is San Francisco's knife to stick into the back of PG&E. Elements within the City despise PG&E. Those who have ever read the Bay Guardian have probably seen it rant against PG&E and for public power. Also, "progressive" Supervisors love to hate PG&E.
In 2002, in the aftermath of the energy crisis, a state law passed allowing local agencies to form entities competing with the current electric lutilities such as PG&E. The price of electricity had spiked after companies like Enron had gamed the deregulation system of the mid-Nineties. California found power scarce, and prices multiplied. PG&E went into bankruptcy. To legislators it looked like backup was needed. The 2002 law resulted.
Then the crisis abated.
Still, among those who despise PG&E and had long called for "public power" the 2002 enabling law was tempting. It allows "community choice aggregators" to organize, and to sell electric power in competition with the utility that had long had a monopoly (for good reasons widely accepted across the country). As environmentalists advocated for more renewable power generation, two forces combined: environmentalists and those who want public power. The result in SF is CleanPowerSF. Marin, too, has moved to create a competing public provider of electric power.
"San Francisco is scampering to beat the deadline by organizing and registering its competing company before June 8. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the city department providing water, sewer, and power for public places, is carrying the ball."
As San Francisco and Marin marshaled forces and support, PG&E decided to fight back to protect its turf–with Prop 16 on the June 8 ballot. Faced with the Prop 16 threat, which would require a two-thirds vote to spend public funds to create a competing public power provider, San Francisco is scampering to beat the deadline by organizing and registering its competing company before June 8. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the city department providing water, sewer, and power for public places, is carrying the ball.
Lately the Commission authorized its general manager to enter into a contract necessary accomplish a competing electric power provider by June 8. Usually the Commission accepts contracts – with all terms and conditions written. But, given the urgency it was willing to perhaps play fast and loose with the law, and certainly with custom.
You the customer must act to reject CleanPowerSF, or otherwise you will be deemed to have accepted it as your new provider of electricity. If this strikes you as cheeky, well, you are beginning to get an education about how theses lefties work. The notice to you announcing your "choice" of CleanPowerSF as service provider unless you reject it has not gone out yet; that comes in the future. The recent mailer is just "outreach". (Of course sent at ratepayer expense.)
You the consumer of electric power might ask a few questions (but don't hold your breath awaiting answers).
Question one: will CleanPowerSF cost me more? Ah, that is one matter that is touched on only very lightly in the "outreach" mailer. "Your rates will be comparable," the mailer says. What is "comparable"? The dictionary defines it as "worthy of comparison." Is ten percent higher than PG&E rates worthy of comparison? Twenty percent? Fifty percent? No one knows.
Question two: much cleaner? CleanPowerSF promises to deliver electricity "that is much cleaner than the energy currently provided by PG&E." Really? Does it have any track record? (No.) Does it have contracts with significant providers of solar power? (None known or mentioned.) With wind power providers? (Same.) With "other" renewable sources? (None mentioned; and what would they be?)
Question three: reliability. CleanPowerSF promises that "It's Reliable;" there will be no difference in reliability. Really? Suppose you provide a service to a set of customers and they banded together to dump on you and deprive you of business; would your service continue to be as reliable? If so, you must be a saint.
When something looks too good to be true.... The City is spending public funds to stick a knife into PG&E. This will gratify PG&E haters. Greens will take some pleasure: Because of competition, PG&E will be less likely to meet renewable mandates, and then greens will then be able to beat up PG&E. Feels good. Meanwhile, the City will pay to organize a competing electricity provider, will send "outreach" and employ bureaucracy, and will engage in political theater. Well, what else is new?
Steve Lawrence is a PUC citizen activist.