San Francisco’s RPD is Closing 31% of Our Parkland in “Natural Areas”

[This article has been updated 7/21/2016 to include more recent pictures. The text has been slightly edited.]

The San Francisco Forest Alliance opposes the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD)’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) for several reasons: Destruction of trees and other habitat for birds and animals; the use of toxic herbicides; and widespread access restrictions for residents and their families including their kids and pets.

NAP is restricting parks to on-trail use only – which shrinks the parks to a fraction of their original usable size.

Grandview-with-Fog-Bank1-600x400

Grandview Park with Fenced Trail

This article is about access – specifically, NAP is closing even more trails than disclosed in the Significant Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP). In the SNRAMP, they said they were planning to close or relocate around ten miles of trail, which was bad enough. But recent actions by NAP show that they are actually closing even more trail than they disclosed in that plan, and that they have already started implementation – despite the Plan not being certified. The SNRAMP is not yet certified, and as such, should not be implemented until the certification is completed. This appears to be a violation of at least three regulations.

Furthermore, this is all being done quietly. We were able to get actual maps of  “designated trails” – but only for a few parks. This article by Tom Borden spells out the details.

mclaren park 2 sign 2015

SFRPD “Welcomes” you

CRIMINALIZING PARK USE

RPD’s Natural Areas Program put up signs in its parklands early last year that say, “Stay on designated trails.”

The signs cite Park Code 3.02, which states, “No person shall willfully disobey the notices, prohibitions or directions on any sign posted by the Recreation and Park Commission or the Recreation and Park Department.” Violations are punishable by fines of $100 and up. This means we can be fined for going off-trail or for using un-designated trails. However, “designated trails” aren’t necessarily marked. How can we tell which trails are Designated and which trails are not? Does the Park Patrol know?

AVOIDING TOXIC CHEMICALS

There is another reason we care which trails are Designated. If we stick to them we can avoid exposure to toxic pesticides like Roundup and Garlon 4 Ultra, which NAP regularly uses in our parks. The Department of Environment has issued rules that govern the NAP’s pesticide spraying, “Restrictions on “most hazardous” (Tier I) herbicides” (Read the rules here: 032216_restrictions_on_herbicides). It prohibits land managers from spraying these chemicals within 15 feet of a “designated, actively maintained public path”. (As the Department of Environment worked on that restriction with RPD, that phrase went from “public path” to “designated public path” to “designated actively maintained public path“. Good thing they are looking out for us!)

WHICH TRAILS ARE “DESIGNATED”?

Of course, the rule is pointless if nobody knows which trails are Designated and Actively Maintained. How would the NAP staff and contractors know where they are allowed to spray? How would the public know where it is safe to walk?

SF Forest Alliance wrote a letter to Phil Ginsburg asking that maps of Designated Trails in all Natural Areas be posted on the RPD website. Mr. Ginsburg refused to respond. (Here’s our letter of 15 June 2016)

sffa letter to Phil Ginsburg june 2016

SF Forest Alliance also submitted a Sunshine request to RPD and was referred to the RPD website where maps for a few Natural Areas are posted. However, there are maps for only 8 of the 32 Natural Areas and two of those posted do not seem to be correct (McLaren and Lake Merced).

WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?

Why won’t RPD’s Natural Areas Program provide maps of their Designated Trails? What are they hiding? The elephant in the room is the effective closure of 31% of our parkland to public access. NAP’s intent, and the meaning of the signs, is that our use of NAP-controlled parkland is limited to their Designated Trails. We may not leave those trails.

TRAILS LIKE CATTLE CHUTES

The NAPs plans to close trails and limit the public to on-trail access only is disclosed in their 2006 Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan or SNRAMP. The SNRAMP proposes “enforcement” to keep people from wandering off-trail and as a “last resort”, the installation of fences. So far, they have skipped over enforcement and gone straight to fences. Grandview Park and Corona Heights have so many fences you feel like you are in a maze of cattle chutes. Implementation of the SNRAMP has serious environmental consequences and so the plan is subject to CEQA. An EIR for the plan has been in process since 2005 and has yet to be released to the Planning Commission for certification.

Corona Heights

Corona Heights fenced trail

In the next section are maps of the NAP areas where Designated Trails have been identified. For parks that have gotten the full NAP treatment, a tally of sharp cornered, splinter enriched, split rail, access control fencing is included. Notice how some of these trail closures cut off entire neighborhoods from their parks. The only public use of NAP parkland is along those green lines. The rest is off-limits.

Corona splinters

TRAIL MAPS BEFORE AND AFTER

On the maps, trails are marked in three colors. The green trails are the Designated Trails where we are still allowed to walk. The red trails are ones identified in the SNRAMP as unwanted and planned for closure when the SNRAMP is implemented. It is now illegal to use those trails. The purple trails are identified in the SNRAMP as Designated Trails to remain open. However, the NAP has chosen to close those as well. In some parks like Grandview, Glen Canyon and Corona Heights, the red and purple trails have been physically closed with fencing and piles of tree limbs. This has yet to be done extensively in the other parks mapped. For now the trails are closed by virtue of the signs, Park Code 3.02 and the maps posted on the RPD website. Don’t worry, the fences are coming. Each park map is followed by a skeleton map highlighting the tiny amount of parkland now open to the public. the colored areas show the usable space in the park. In all the “after” pictures, it’s just the actual – limited – trail.

billy goat hill before and after

corona hieghts before and afterglen canyon before and after1

 

 

grandview before and after

twin peaks trails before and after

hawk hill before and after

The SNRAMP states that 26% of the existing trails would be closed, leaving us with 30.8 miles of trail. Based on the information unearthed to date, the NAP is actually closing 51% of the trails in Natural Areas. If we extrapolate the actual closure rate to all of the Natural Areas, the 41 miles of existing and planned trails documented in the SNRAMP will be reduced to 20.9 miles.

SHRINKING OUR PARKS

The loss in trails is nothing compared to the loss in actual parkland available to the public. Assuming the average trail is 10 feet wide and the NAP only closes the trails disclosed in the SNRAMP (both very generous assumptions based on what we have seen so far), we can calculate how much parkland remains for the public. 30.8 miles of 10 foot wide trail only amounts to 37 acres. This is 3.4% of the 1100 acres available to the public before the new access restrictions. That is unacceptable. At the actual trail closure rate we will only be left with 25 acres. That is even more unacceptable, especially if your neighborhood park is a Natural Area.

IS SFRPD ABOVE THE LAW?

The signage, trail closures and fences implemented to date appear to violate the following:

  • BOS resolution 653-024 which prohibits the NAP from imposing, “Trail closures, or restrictions on access and recreation” until the Board of Supervisors (BOS) has approved the natural areas management plan (SNRAMP). They have not approved the management plan.
  • CEQA, PLANNING DEPARTMENT CASE NO. 2005.1912E.  The SNRAMP Environmental Impact Report has not been certified by the Planning Commission, yet the NAP is implementing its plan. All of the trail closures, fences and signage are part of the SNRAMP. RPD is brazenly violating CEQA.
  • City Charter Article IV section 4.113 RECREATION AND PARK COMMISSION: 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 nonrecreational purposes, unless approved by a vote of the electors.” The signs and fences violate the intent of this, dramatically reducing the amount of parkland available for recreational uses. The parkland is not covered by a parking lot or a gift shop, but it takes away recreational space all the same.

The Recreation and Parks Department seems to be operating outside the rule of law. It does not answer to the public or the Board of Supervisors. It appears more concerned with pleasing special interests than the public at large. Something needs to be done.

More Roundup for Glen Canyon

A couple of days ago, someone emailed us that they had seen Pesticide Warning notices in Glen Canyon. This park is one where neighbors have been sharply opposed to pesticide use, particularly to glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup. The World Health Organization has classified it as a probable human carcinogen. The areas being sprayed were on a slope, so it’s possible for the herbicide to move downhill.

petition picture against roundup

A petition they started against glyphosate use has now more than 12,000 signatures (and you can still sign it if you have not already done so).

The email said, “I saw this sign on the paved path next to O’Shaughnessy on the west side of Glen Canyon.   This was down the hill a short way from the Miraloma clubhouse.  It says they will be spraying roundup from 6/28 to 7/5 in the grasslands just east of the path.”

Sure enough, when observers followed up, they found a team of four applicators out there, spraying coyote brush (and possibly poison oak) for a couple of hours. Coyote brush is a native plant, and ironically the reason to spray it is to stop the natural succession to grassland – which consists for the most part of non-native grasses.

Said one observer: ‘I saw the workers going back and forth, spraying over areas where the other one just sprayed. It appears to me to be a “make work” effort to show that activity is being done.  It was frustrating for me to watch them going back and forth … just to kill time.’

Here’s the link to the 1:38 minute video, which shows the applicators and the location:

glen canyon glyphosate June 2016 - Shrubs encroaching on grassland video

Who is Funding the Campaign for Prop B? (And, Ooops!)

find the moneyYou’re probably going to see lots of material in support of Proposition B (the 30-year, $4.65 billion set-aside for park funding with very little oversight on how it’s spent). They have a war-chest of nearly $400 thousand to promote this measure. Where’s the money coming from?

More than half of it is from two sources:

  • The San Francisco Parks Alliance ($101 thousand) and
  • “Committee to Expand the Middle Class, Supported by AirBNB Inc.” ($100,000).

Other funders include  developers, investors, and construction companies. Here’s the list, provided by a San Franciscan who obtained it from the Ethics Commission.

Person or organization Employer Contribution
25-Apr-16 COMMITTEE TO EXPAND THE MIDDLE CLASS, SUPPORTED BY AIRBNB, INC. 100,000
11-Jan-16 SAN FRANCISCO PARKS ALLIANCE 75,000
26-Apr-16 SAN FRANCISCO PARKS ALLIANCE 26,000
10-May-16 OSL BISON, LLC 25,000
26-Apr-16 THOMAS COATES JACKSON SQUARE PROPERTIES 25,000
14-Apr-16 WILLIAM S. FISHER X INVESTOR MANZANITA CAPITAL 16,666
14-Apr-16 JOHN J. FISHER X PRESIDENT, PISCES, INC. 16,666
14-Apr-16 Robert Fisher managing director, Pisces 16,666
11-May-16 RONALD CONWAY INVESTOR, SV ANGEL, LLC 12,500
18-May-16 SUPERVISOR MARK FARRELL FOR SAN FRANCISCO COMMITTEE  11,492
6-May-16 THE RELATED COMPANIES OF CALIFORNIA & AFFILIATES 10,000
12-Apr-16 THE CALIFORNIA CONSERVATION CAMPAIGN (ID# 10,000
19-May-16 PG&E CORPORATION 5,000
12-May-16 BRIAN BOTHMAN VICE PRESIDENT, BOTHMAN CONSTRUCTION 5,000
9-May-16 VIVEK KHULLER CEO, CLEARFLY COMMUNICATIONS 5,000
5-May-16 UA LOCAL 38 COPE FUND 5,000
4-May-16 ROSELYNE SWIG 5,000
2-May-16 BOSTON PROPERTIES, LP 5,000
18-Apr-16 BAUMAN LANDSCAPE & CONSTRUCTION 5,000
4-May-16 ELLEN HARRISON ACCOUNTANT,  ROSS 2,500
8-Apr-16  JONATHAN NELSON X CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OMNICOM DIGITAL 2,500
31-Mar-16 SF FORWARD (ID# 891575) 2,500
16-Apr-16  JOHN CLAWSON DEVELOPER/CONSULTANT, EQUITY COMMUNITY BUILDERS 1,500
28-Apr-16 SAN FRANCISCO POLICE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION 1,000
9-May-16 ARCHITECTURAL RESOURCES GROUP, INC. 750
9-May-16 ARG CONSERVATION SERVICES 750
4-Apr-16  HELEN RAISER X CHAIR RAISER ORGANIZATION 750
11-Apr-16  DEBORAH ROBBINS 100
15-Apr-16 HELEN RAISER X CHAIR RAISER ORGANIZATION -500
Total 391,840

OOOPS! ERROR IN THE VOTER PAMPHLET
In related news, the Controller’s Office made an error in its statement in the Voter Pamphlet. It says that the spending would be overseen by the Board of Supervisors. It won’t. Here are the details (from the No On B campaign):

specman-mdMany of us have been concerned about the Controller’s Statement in his letter in the Ballot Pamphlet, in which the next to the last paragraph reads:

“The proposed amendment requires Recreation and Parks to set goals and measures, develop a five year strategic plan and set operational and capital spending plans. The plans must be approved by the Recreation and Parks Commission, the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors.”

However, the legislation actually states:

  1. 7  lines 21-25  “Following Commission approval of the Strategic Plan [also Capital Plan], the Department shall submit the Strategic Plan to the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. The Boards of Supervisors shall consider and by resolution express its approval or disapproval of the Plan, but may not modify the Plan. If the Board expresses its disapproval of the Plan or makes recommendations regarding the Plan to the Department, the Department may modify and resubmit the Plan.”

After being contacted about this error, the Controller issued a correction (attached):

” Upon further review of the proposed amendment, I would like to clarify the approvals required for the five-year strategic plan and annual capital expenditure and operational plans as outlined in my March 11, 2016 letter. The Recreation and Parks Commission must approve these plans prior to submitting them to the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors for review and comment. The Board of Supervisors can approve or disapprove the five-year strategic and annual capital expenditure plans, but may not amend the plan. If the Board disapproves, the Recreation and Parks Department can modify the plans. ”

“This clarification does not impact my earlier assessment of the proposed amendment’s cost to government, as outlined in my March 11, 2016 letter. ”

As we all know, “can” is not the same as “shall” and so under Prop B Rec and Park has the freedom to create and modify their plans, without BOS authority to modify those plans.

 

You can Read Draft of EIR Comment Responses Here

Children in a tree, Glen Canyon

Children in a tree, Glen Canyon

As readers of this website will know, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP – “Sin-ramp”) is still in process. The Planning Department received hundreds of comments, and the EIR can only be finalized when the responses to those comments are published. The responses, together with the Draft EIR, will constitute the Final EIR.

San Francisco resident Tom Borden obtained the Draft of those responses under the Sunshine Act and provided them to us. They are stamped: THIS DRAFT HAS BEEN PROVIDED IN RESPONSE TO A PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST (SUBMITTED 4/27/16 AND 4/29/16) FROM TOM BORDEN.

We attach them here for anyone who would like to read them. If you made a comment, you may be interested in how they intend to respond. (They carry the warning: PRELIMINARY/ADMINISTRATIVE DRAFT – SUBJECT TO CHANGE. REVIEW HAS NOT YET BEEN COMPLETED TO VERIFY ACCURACY OF CONTENT.)

Natural Areas Program fixed sign

My Hummingbird Adventure, by Laurel Rose

This article is reposted with permission from CoyoteYipps, a blog about San Francisco’s urban coyotes. We republish it here as an interesting story – and a lesson in how difficult it is to see a bird’s nest even if you are looking for it. (Emphasis added; all pictures copyright Laurel Rose)

We urge all city departments and homeowners to trim or remove trees only in the safe Fall months: September to December

 

MY HUMMINGBIRD ADVENTURE by LAUREL ROSE

I learned a valuable lesson this weekend: Do Not Prune or Remove Trees in Spring!

Over the past couple years, I’ve been removing a row of unattractive honeysuckle trees along the fence line to let more light into our shady yard and plant some ferns & other foliage. The trees all had long skinny bare trunks with foliage starting at about 15- 20 feet up so all I could see was fallen leaves on top of compacted dirt and 8 pencil-thin tree trunks.

skinny trees (copyright Laurel Rose)

This weekend 7 and 8 were scheduled for removal. After getting 7 out of the ground, root and all, my friend and & I were getting ready to start breaking the trunk & branches down to 4 foot size segments required by the city for the green waste bins. I had a hand saw and my friend was using my mini electric chain saw for the job. I kept a safe distance in a far corner of the yard and we got to work. 2 branches into it, the chainsaw turns off and I hear “Oh Noooo! Oh my god! Nooo!” then, “chirp, chirp chirp”!

Tiny hummingbird nest on a twig

This is how I found the nest (copyright Laurel Rose)

The tree had a hummingbird nest camouflaged and expertly woven very securely onto a few twig size branches. Both my friend and I love & respect nature so we were a little frantic and horrified at the thought of nearly chainsawing through this little womb-like nest cradling 2 chicks. I found a little box and cushioned it with soft material scraps and toilet paper and placed the nest inside very carefully. It took a good hour for us to calm down and stop focusing on how thoughtless we had been to choose April to remove a tree. Even ugly trees with sparse foliage provide habitat and serve a s food source. My friend, a somewhat burly guy named Terry but whose friends call him “Bubba” was on the verge of tears telling me, “I searched for a nest before sawing off each branch. . .” . Even if one of us has noticed it, it did not resemble a typical storybook nest.
I called every organization and person I could think of for help on that Saturday evening: Golden Gate Audubon Society, Wild Care, and Janet. I was able to listen to a recorded instructions for caring for a injured chick. I kept them inside for the night in a warm dark spot away from my curious little dog who likes to be a part of everything I do whenever possible. As soon as it was light outside, I placed the box up high in the area where the tree had been. Within 20 minutes, mom showed up and fed her hungry babies and I watched as she gathered nectar from the flowers overhead on tree number 8 (which will stay in my yard).

Baby hummingbird (copyright Laurel Rose)

DAY 1: a few hours after discovery

We estimated the age to be between 2 & 3 weeks and were told that hummingbird chicks leave the nest at 23 days old. A couple days before this happens, a stronger chick pushes the weaker out of the nest and it dies because mom will not feed it on the ground. The reason this happens is because the nest is very small and is needed as a “launching pad”. Once the other chick takes flight, mom will continue to feed her baby for several days, teaching how and where to find all the best nectar & bugs before she chases it away to find its own territory. Since they are in a box, neither one will be pushed out of the nest and mom will continue to feed them both. I’m not sure if this may have any negative or unforeseen consequences but I like that idea!

Two hummingbird chicks in the nest

Two hummingbird chicks on the first day

Two Hummingbird chicks

Second Day – Hummingbird chicks

Box put up to rescue hummingbird nest

A safe space for a hummingbird nest

Day 2: I secured a new box in the other Honeysuckle tree because we were having some very windy days.

 

Box fastened into tree to rescue a hummingbird nest

Box fastened well against the wind

Day 3: I wasn’t sure if Mama was feeding her chicks with the new placement of the box with a different type of access, but I caught her in the act (see video below)

 

Mama hummingbird entering box to feed chicks in rescued nest

Mama hummingbird entering to feed the chicks – click for video (copyright Laurel Rose)

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Day 4: They changed so much from one day to the next

Two hummingbird fledglings

Two hummingbird fledglings

Day 5: Just before I left late Thursday morning, I went to check on the chicks and snapped this photo. They looked like they were ready to spread their wings. I might have made them a little nervous putting the camera up so close but wondered if they were contemplating their first flight.

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

When I came home in the early evening, the first thing I did was check the box and it was empty. I stood there for several minutes wondering how such a tiny creature with only 23 days of life can survive on their own. That’s when I heard chirping above and looked up- there was mama with 1 chick shoulder to shoulder on a branch.

hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

Hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

hummingbird-in-wire-2I looked around for the other chick and had noticed what I thought was a leaf caught in one of the links on the fence, but a closer look told me otherwise.

Maybe the little guy didn’t feel quite ready, or maybe he wanted to say goodbye. He let me get real close and looked at me with that one little eye as I said some encouraging words and slowly reached in my back pocket for my camera. I snapped one photo and he flew to the branch up above where his family was.

Today would be Day 8. I’ve been seeing what I believe to be this same little chick hanging out in the honeysuckle tree where the box was. A few hours ago, I observed the mama arrive and feed the chick patiently waiting on a little branch.

If you would like to invite hummingbirds to your yard I would not recommend those feeders with sugar water because they must be cleaned every 3- 4 days or they can make the hummingbirds very sick. It’s much better and healthier to provide their natural food sources and plant things like honeysuckle, sage, fuchsia, Aloe vera and other long tubular flowers that provide both nectar as well as habitat for insects that serve as protein. Hummingbirds also need a place to perch during the day & sleep at night that offers some protection from wind & rain- usually trees. You can also hang a perch up high in a tree near the flowers and you can encourage nesting by providing materials by hanging a “Hummer Helper” you can purchase and fill with store bought material or even dog and cat hair — the “Hummer Helper” is actually just a “suet feeder” which you can buy for a lot less. The best time to start is May. The Hummingbird Society has a lot more tips and information on their website.

*One last note about trimming trees- the safest time is in the Fall during the months of September- December

Twin Peaks – Extensive Trail Closures Planned

On Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 (tomorrow!) the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency(SFMTA) Board will consider approving the proposed Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign Pilot Project, a cross-departmental project of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) and the SFMTA. The meeting (which is of course open to the public) is at 1:00 p.m. in City Hall, Room 400.

This plan goes with extensive trail closures on Twin Peaks by SFRPD. We wrote about that last June. We’re republishing that (with minor updates) because it’s immediately relevant. If you oppose the trail closures, please attend the meeting and say so. You can also email or phone them a comment (today, before 5 p.m) at:

Office of the SFMTA Board of Directors
Phone: 415.701.4505
Fax: 415.701.4502
Email: MTABoard@SFMTA.com

—————-

Here we go again – the shrinking of our parks by the Natural Areas Program (NAP). Instead of allowing visitors to experience wide natural lands, these plans want to restrict access to a very limited trail system. From these trails, you can look at the natural areas – but not touch or explore them.

It’s happened in McLaren Park recently. Now, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is planning major changes on Twin Peaks. Extensive trail closures are planned for Twin Peaks. In the map below, the trails that will be gone are marked in red.

twin peaks trail closures in red

The project was positioned as one that would close half the Figure 8-shaped roadway to cars to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists by making it a Figure 3-shape. What they didn’t publicize was plans to close most of the trails allowing access to the peaks from various points. They will make the entire south side of Twin Peaks inaccessible.

Instead, there will be only one trail going straight through, a sort of pedestrian roadway. (The solid yellow line.)

HIDING THE TRAIL CLOSURES

On June 25th 2015, SF Recreation and Park held an Open House on the Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign. Project Objectives were presented, stated as:

“We will share proposals that address the following project objectives:

• Reallocate a portion of the existing roadway from vehicle use to pedestrian and bicycle use;
• Locate pedestrian crossings to link with trail sections; and
• Recommend realignment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail to cross over Twin Peaks Blvd.”

Notice that there was no discussion on Trail closures as part of these Project Objectives now, in 2015.

However, at a September 24 2013 meeting RPD made a presentation that showed extensive trail closures, along the east guardrail and closure of the two southern lobes. See the third page of the presentation here:

http://sfrecpark.org/wp-content/uploads/Twin-Peaks-Trails-Improvement-Project_PORTOLA-TRAIL_Community-Meeting-Presentation_9-24-13.pdf

This trail closure plan was also part of a handout used at a small May 7, 2015 stakeholder meeting. We strongly suspect these closures remain part of the RPD plan, but they do not want to alert the public. The trail closures, along with the new “Stay on Designated Trails” signage, would effectively close off public access to the south side of Twin Peaks.

SF Forest Alliance feels that NAP is going above and beyond the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) before the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is even released and approved. They are using the Draft EIR as a decision-making document to decide which alternative to approve. They are putting out the road lane closure as the focus of this and then sneaking in the trail/land closures as part of the deal.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Write to SFMTA immediately at:

Office of the SFMTA Board of Directors
Phone: 415.701.4505
Fax: 415.701.4502
Email: MTABoard@SFMTA.com

Also, please call your supervisor and let them know as well.

What’s Wrong With Proposition B? (San Francisco Rec & Parks Slush Fund)

sack of gold[Edited to Add on 26th April 2016: The website of opponents to Prop B keeps a running tally of groups opposing the Proposition. HERE is the link:  http://www.sfvotenopropositionb.info/  ]

The San Francisco Forest Alliance opposes Proposition B.  Initially, Proposition B, Supervisor Mark Farrell’s Charter Amendment, looked like a good idea.  The thinking was that it would guarantee funding to San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department (SFRPD) for improved maintenance, and focus on under-served parks. There’s a big push on right now to sell this idea to potential voters. But (and it’s a very big but) the way it’s written essentially hands the money to SFRPD with no meaningful restrictions on how the money will be spent.

The text of the amendment, as a PDF,  is HERE: Prop B text PDF

The short description of the measure from the ballot simplification committee is HERE: PropB-OpenSpaceFund-Digest PDF

30 YEARS WITHOUT SUPERVISORS OVERSIGHT

Natural Areas Program pesticide noticeProposition B would set aside money from the General Fund for the Parks Department. It doesn’t raise extra money, it just makes it compulsory to set aside part of the city’s budget and give it to the SFRPD to spend how they will. What the money is actually used for would be entirely at the discretion of the General Manager of SFRPD, who is selected by the Mayor. SFRPD is nominally overseen by the Recreation and Parks Commission, but the Commission, also appointed by the Mayor, nearly always supports the General Manager. The result is a Department Manager and a Commission that align with each other and the Office of the Mayor.

Proposition B removes the Board of Supervisors from the Parks’ budget process. During the budget process, the public gets to weigh in at hearings and with their Supervisor on their parks and what is needed. (At present, the Board can influence SFRPD because the Board decides how much funding the Department gets from the General Fund each year.) Proposition B mandates that funding go to SFRPD,  so it removes that control of public money from the public and from our elected Supervisors and gives it to political appointees and bureaucrats.

Though Proposition B is being promoted as favoring maintenance and social justice, there’s no mechanism in the Amendment by which to enforce either of those goals. The BOS is allowed to comment on SFRPD plans and goals, but it will have no authority to change them.

There is no specificity in Proposition B as to how this money will be spent. If some future General Manager decided what he really needed to do was to increase middle management to privatize parks and clubhouses, boost managerial salaries to compete with Silicon Valley, hire contractors to douse the parks in herbicides, or make our parks into elaborate and expensive showpieces that end up excluding the neighborhood residents – as happened with the Mission Playground – there would be nothing outside of the Department to stop him. The Mayor could select a different General Manager, but again, all of the power is exclusively in the hands of the Office of the Mayor.

It’s for 30 years. Mayor Ed Lee and SFRPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg will be in charge for only a small portion of the amendment’s life. The people who will be running things at the end of this period are probably in kindergarten right now.

GUARANTEES FUNDING FOR NAP

Prop B guarantees funding for the Natural Areas Program.  Here’s the language:

“The annual budget for allocation of the Fund that is adopted by the Commission and submitted by the Mayor to the Board of Supervisors shall  include: 1. Allocations for after-school recreation programs, urban forestry, community gardens, volunteer programs, and a significant natural areas management program in the amounts allocated for each of those programs from the Park and Open Space Fund in the Department’s fiscal year 2015-2016 budget, to the extent that such programs are not so funded in the Department’s operating budget or in the budget of another City department.”

felled-trees-lake mercedThis means that when they decide to fell 18,500 trees, when they want to close 9 miles of trail and many dog-play areas, when they decide to use toxic chemicals to eradicate non-native plants they dislike – they’ll have the money and can go right ahead. Neighbors who object will have to fight them park by park, action by action.

(The actual Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) is on hold because the Environmental Impact Report has not even been published and  approved yet. That’s because the Draft received so many negative comments they needed years to respond. Though SFRPD appears to be implementing much of what’s in that Plan already.)

WHO LOSES OUT?

If SFRPD gets more money from the General Fund, someone else gets less. Proposition B would impact funding for other City departments. By mandating money for SFRPD, it reduces the amount of money available for other uses. The Board of Supervisors  wouldn’t be able to use the money to meet emergency needs for the City and for other City enterprise departments – not even agencies that provide social services and other public benefits. They will have to scramble for allocations from the remaining discretionary General Fund . Soon every department will need set-asides, and our elected officials will have a declining say in how public money is spent.

BILLIONS OF DOLLARS

It’s also going to be a lot of money – as much as $4.56 billion (yes, billion with a B) over the thirty years. According to an analysis provided to us, here’s how it works:

1. The baseline is the current expenditure of $64 million. It will increase by $3 million each year for the next 10 years, and the new amount will become the new baseline each year. So $67 million in 2016, $70 million in 2017, and so on for 10 years, by which time it would be $94 million.

2. Starting 2026, the $3 million stops. Instead, the addition to the baseline will depend on the city’s revenue growth. It will grow the baseline by the same percentage as the increase or decrease in city revenues. So if the revenues grow 2%, so will the baseline.

3. In addition, there’s the Open Space Fund. It’s 2.5% of property taxes, and Prop B extends it for another 15 years. Theoretically, this is used to acquire land for open space. In fact, it’s also used for other purposes. This adds a minimum of $48 million a year that is reserved to SFPRD for its own purposes. As  property taxes rise, so will the Open Space Fund.

Over 30 years, this would total an estimated $4.56 billion.  (You can see the calculations – provided to us by an analyst opposed to Prop B – HERE: RPD Funding 2016 Charter Amendment – with GF 2 percent +totals now )

SFRPD also gets income from its fees, leases, and permits. That funding would continue on top of all of the funding guaranteed by Proposition B.

Opposing Proposition B will not deprive SFRPD of any funding. They can still make a case for their needs during the budget process on an equal footing with every other department to the people and to the Supervisors.

So – in brief: What’s wrong with Prop B is that it sets aside a sizeable, untouchable slush fund with no real accountability and no control from outside of SFPRD – and it’s one that will operate long after the professional life-times of those who are setting it up.

[Edited to Add: Some minor edits were made after publication to remove typos and clarify language.]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 639 other followers