Prospecting in the Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park
Public input a formality long-gone in Rec & Park’s stealth agenda choreography
• • • • • • • • • • June, 2023 • • • • • • • • • •
At the May 18th meeting of the SF Rec and Park Commission, the commissioners unanimously recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the Permit for the post-Outside Lands concert.:
Agenda Item 8. GOLDEN GATE PARK – POLO FIELDS CONCERTS
Discussion and possible action to (1) recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve a permit, substantially similar to the term sheet May 18, 2023, for Another Planet Entertainment to hold a ticketed concert at the Golden Gate Park Polo Fields on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday following the Outside Lands Concert in 2023, 2024 and 2025, and to close
portions of John F Kennedy Boulevard on each day, in exchange for a minimum permit fee $1,400,000 per year for a 2-day event and $2,100,000 for a 3-day event and (2) finding that the permit fee and the granting of the permit is appropriate given the terms and conditions of the permit. Approval of this proposed action by the Commission is the approval action as defined by S.F. Administrative Code Chapter 31. (ACTION ITEM) Staff: Dana Ketcham – (415) 831-6868
This meeting was really just a formality. This was obvious when not one commissioner had a follow-up question regarding concerns that:
1. The process was undemocratic because there were only six days between the announcement of the proposed concert and the hearing date, (nowhere near enough time for community input) and
2. The contract with Another Planet Entertainment, LLC(APE) was not typical for a venue this size, potentially costing the City millions of dollars in lost revenue.
During the presentation of Agenda Item 7, the Budget Update, General Manager Phil Ginsburg remarked, “.. we loaded potential revenue from concerts at the polo field the second weekend in AUGUST. This is agenda item number 8.” (All quotations are from the video or caption record.)
I know that you guys had a bunch of secret planning meetings for that item, there was no Brown Act notice of any of those meetings and now you want to permit an additional 60,000-person event basically with no prior notice of any other meetings and that’s just totally unacceptable ...”
As one caller pointed out, “I find it upsetting that your budget is based and includes in the budget presentation items in number 8 where you are already asking the commissioners to push forward and vote today ... on item 7 on a budget that includes Item 8, so you have public comment on something that is after the fact which is absolutely wrong.”
During the General Public Comment (Agenda Item 4), a caller remarked, “I object to the Calendaring of Item 8 for consideration with only three day’s notice. Specifically, I know that you guys had a bunch of secret planning meetings for that item, there was no Brown Act notice of any of those meetings and now you want to permit an additional 60,000-person event basically with no prior notice of any other meetings and that’s just totally unacceptable ... and I think it should be taken off Calendar.”
The revenue from the permit fees had already been figured into the budget. Agenda Item 7, the Budget Update for FY 2023-24 and FY 2024-25 was presented before the hearing on the post-Outside Lands concert even took place. It was a done deal as far as the commissioners were concerned. Do they think the public are complete fools and they can just do whatever they please with Golden Gate Park and we won’t notice? The Rec and Park Dept. had already included $1.5 million from the additional concert weekend in their 2024-25 budget. Not only had the Rec and Park Commission not yet voted on recommending the permit to the Board of Supervisors (BOS), the BOS has yet to vote on it.
Since the first concert isn’t projected to take place until after the 2024 Outside Lands, what’s the hurry? Why not put off the vote for a month and follow up on some of the concerns raised? People who depend on the Polo Fields cycling track for exercise and relaxation are locked out for 4-5 weeks if the post-Outside Lands concert is approved. The grassroots community group, Friends of the Polo Fields, wanted to know why, since there were stages set-up elsewhere, APE couldn’t use those stages and let people have the Polo Fields back. Not one Commissioner thought it worthwhile to pause the vote to look into this or ask GM Ginsburg about it.
One caller was very concerned that noise levels at Outside Lands were loud enough to damage people’s hearing, that APE refuses to release the records they have on the noise levels and what can be done to monitor noise levels at the post-Outside Lands concert? Shouldn’t the Commissioners look further into this before making a recommendation with no conditions attached?
Before public comment was taken, Mark Buell, the Commission President, introduced Kate Sofis of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. According to Ms. Sofis, her office will “help to create, with our mayor and all of you, an economic future for this city that really moves us forward.” Would that be by one rock concert at a time, Ms. Sofis? “Our parks, our arts, our culture are a gleaming light of hope for the economic future of the city.” This is Rec and Park speak at its tired and cliched best. Proponents of the SkyStar Wheel in the Music Concourse spoke of the Wheel as a “gleaming beacon of hope.” Rec and Park must hold workshops to coach their troops on the buzz words they should use. From what Ms. Sofis says, this post-Outside Lands concert is the measure and the cornerstone of our economic recovery.
Sofis goes on to say, “When you look at the mayor’s economic road map for our greater downtown, a very large part of that is predicated on lifting up arts, entertainment, culture.” Our greater downtown? What is that? In any case, APE is not proposing to hold the concert in the “greater downtown” but in Golden Gate Park. If your plan is “predicated on lifting up arts, entertainment, culture,” in “our greater downtown,” then why aren’t you proposing to have the concert downtown? Many people think the post-Outside Lands concert could be held on the stretch of Market Street that is closed to cars. That really would help to revitalize downtown. Of course, it would have to be a free concert; you couldn’t fence people out. Another Planet Entertainment (APE) could sponsor it as a gesture of goodwill towards the City that has provided them the venues and permits to make tens of millions of dollars. Perhaps APE could make some sacrifices; like it’s asking the residents of the Richmond and Sunset Districts to do.
Along with the above phrase, ”...parks, arts and culture,” elsewhere in her remarks, Sofis speaks of “...arts, entertainment, culture,” “...arts and culture activations,” “...music, art and entertainment.” You must begin to wonder if she knows what she’s talking about or is just repeating something she was told. I propose that the first step in closing the San Francisco budget gap would be to eliminate the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
In any case, how likely is it that Mayor Breed thought up the idea of a post-Outside Lands concert at the Polo Fields? A concert that would be facilitated by the concrete slab poured there last September by APE. I can just imagine Mayor Breed saying to herself, “They put that slab of concrete in the Polo Fields last September because it was going to help in the restoration of the Field, but hey, why don’t we use it to stage a concert one week after Outside Lands. The stage would already be in place.” That concrete slab was placed there by APE, with the collusion of Phil Ginsburg, for the very purpose of having more concerts and commercial activity in the park. They’ve wasted no time. Can anyone doubt it was APE and Ginsburg that took this idea to the mayor?
After the speech by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, there were three Union members. First was Andrew, President of Stagehands Union, Local 16, who made the astonishing statement, “Local 16 strongly supports approval of the Rec and Park permits for these additional concerts as they create great union jobs with justice for San Franciscans ...” What are “jobs with justice for San Franciscans?” Next was Joshua, a member of Local 16, followed by Marie, Assistant Business Agent for Local 16. All this for a few days of work for a handful of people. Local 16 members may stand to benefit financially from the post-Outside by getting some extra work, but that begs the question: is this contract a good deal for the City? The members of Local 16 are not on the same footing as the rest of the residents of San Francisco.
After the Union members finished, Stephanie Linder, introduced herself as, “The Non-Profit Partner at the Gardens of Golden Gate Park.” Her organization, and her position there, were created by the Rec and Park Commission. She is hardly a disinterested party. She couldn’t be more in favor of APE. APE shows true community spirit by allowing her to set-up a booth at Outside Lands.
In part 2, I will further explore what went on at this very interesting meeting of the Recreation and Parks Commission.
David Romano is an environmental activist living near Ocean Beach