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No on Proposition B – Reform is Needed at San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department

Editorial by Jamie Whitaker

I’ve made a video to share my SoMa point of view …

I’ll be adding to this editorial over the next week or so … there’s so many reasons to vote NO on Proposition B and insist on a more equitable set of beneficiary projects which account for SoMa’s dearth of open spaces while increasing in population intensities (and revenue contributions, frankly) that I can’t write them all in one evening.

While the San Francisco Examiner’s editorial page dismisses criticism of the Recreation and Parks Department rental of Civic Center Plaza for 16 continuous days in their Sunday, October 21, 2012 editorial as “nonsensical complaints,” I hope to enlighten the Examiner’s editors and others who do not have the perspective of a South of Market (SoMa) or Civic Center/Tenderloin resident.

Do you live downtown in a 150 square foot SRO?

I can only assume the Editors at The Examiner are not aware of the extremely compact living quarters many San Franciscans who live downtown consider home. A 150 square foot single room is quite average for residents around Civic Center, the Tenderloin, and SoMa’s Mid-Market. For those San Franciscans living in a 10′ x 15′ room, it is extremely important to have public open space in which to exercise, relax, and otherwise get some fresh air. When Civic Center Plaza is fenced off for 16 days in one of the nicest weather months of the year, surely you can find some compassion to recognize that it is more than a “non-sensical complaint” to point out that 16 days is an awfully long time to prevent typical Civic Center Plaza park users from using the park for the benefit of their physical and mental health. Parks serve as community gathering and social interaction spaces for urban dwellers who often live alone – especially SRO dwellers. People who have access to parks exercise more, saving us money in the long run on health care costs.

Are rental revenues from downtown San Francisco parks reinvested to try to adjust the disparity in access to public parks for downtown residents? In other words, is it fair that downtown parks are closed off from public use to raise revenues to benefit parks located in areas of San Francisco that are overflowing in open space per 1,000 residents?

If you read the San Francisco Neighborhood Parks Council’s 2oo7 Green Envy report and the report’s related maps and tables, you learn that neighborhoods on the east side of San Francisco are the most deficient in open space, yet it is frequently those downtown parks that get closed off from public use when Oracle, Salesforce, or any one of dozens of other companies or events are able to rent them for private functions. In The Examiner’s editorial about the Transbay Tower on Thursday, October 18, 2012, the editors wrote that the project helps to provide “open space the South of Market neighborhood desperately needs. Green space is limited in the Financial District, too…”  Before shrugging your shoulders, you should also know that downtown San Francisco residents are among the least likely to own a car to be able to drive to one of the regional parks when their neighborhood park is closed off. Lower income downtown residents cannot necessarily afford to join private clubs like 24 Hour Fitness to get their exercise. For the sake of equality, shouldn’t we require that some portion (30%? 40%?) of rental revenues received by the Recreation and Parks Department are reserved specifically for investment in expanded or improved parks access in the neighborhoods that get closed off from their park for the private uses?

San Francisco is second only to New York City in population density. In New York City, there are about 4.6 acres of parks for every 1,000 residents (see page 43 or Table 2). The National Recreation and Park Association’s national standard is 10 acres of open space per 1,000 residents. In San Francisco’s South of Market District, the Recreation and Parks Department manages a TOTAL of 4.6 acres of park space (Victoria Manalo Draves Park 2.51 acres, Gene Friend Recreation Center 1.02 acres, South Park 0.85 acres, and the community garden at Howard and Langton Alley 0.23 acres)  for a residential population that has increased from about 10,000 in 1990 to over 40,000 and growing today. More alarming, the increasing amount of auto traffic and congestion in SoMa as more building development projects get approved and the economy improves have created an air pollution hot zone that according to our San Francisco Department of Public Health increases the probability of cancer for SoMa residents by 27.8% compared to most other neighborhoods in San Francisco.  The lack of trees to absorb the volume of cancer causing particulate matter in our air is killing us and causing our kids to develop asthma in SoMa.

Vote No on Prop B: A $30 million tab for only $1 million in neighborhood parks investments in return in SoMa

Based upon the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder’s publicly available listing of assessed values for secured (excludes personal/business unsecured like Giants Ballpark or the Metreon or the Marriott on 4th Street which are essentially leased) properties located in the South of Market District (basically 13th Street/Division on the SW end, along Townsend Street, to The Embarcadero on the NE end, and the south side of Market Street) were worth about $22.5 billion (see my spreadsheet created from the Assessor’s data here).  That’s 15.3% of the total secured assessed value in the City of $146.9 billion.  This means that South of Market (SoMa) property owners will pay about 15.3% of the bill for any General Obligation bonds approved by voters. For the $195 million 2012 Parks Bond proposed, SoMa property owners would pay $29.8 million plus the interest related to that share of the bond debt service.

When the bond was first presented to the SoMa community back in the spring, it was a $185 million bond without a single improvement scheduled for a SoMa park despite our share of the bond costs of $28.3 million (15.3% of 185 million).  At that time, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department listed no projects within the SoMa District. I along with other SoMa residents raised a little hell about the outlandish inequity demonstrated by the first draft of the 2012 parks bond, and thanks to the efforts of our Supervisor Jane Kim and her staff, a revised bond offering of $195 million that we’re voting on this November includes $1 million to help fix up the City’s oldest park which happens to be in SoMa – South Park. You may ask yourself why I would be advocating for folks to vote NO if the parks bond now includes $1 million to be invested in a SoMa park when originally there was nothing targeted for SoMa.  The answer is that the $1 million is better than nothing, but it is “Plan B” from my perspective.  Plan A is to defeat this discriminatory, disproportionate, and exploitative parks bond in 2012 so that a more equitable bond can be created that takes into account the property tax contribution of 15.3% (and growing) from SoMa and the desperate need for more open space in SoMa …  and Recreation and Parks refuses to take the donation of a new park at 333 Harrison Street from Oz Erickson’s Emerald Fund because they refuse to maintain it at $30,000 or so per year. Did I mention that Rincon Hill’s existing buildings contribute about 20 times that amount just to the 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed value Open Space Special Revenue Fund set aside? Instead, SoMa neighborhoods like Rincon Hill are told that we have to form our own non-profits called Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) and tax ourselves a parcel tax in addition to our ad valorem property taxes to take care of any parks in our neighborhoods.  When did San Francisco become a supporter of such blatant inequality between geographic regions of the City?

Why not require all neighborhoods to form a CBD to maintain their neighborhood parks instead of just treating SoMa like a second class group of citizens where residents must form CBDs if they wish to have neighborhood parks?

 

This posting will have additional content as I find time …

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