San Francisco “Natural Resources” Herbicide Usage Up 57% in 2017

We have recently analyzed the data for herbicide use in the full year 2017 for San Francisco’s so-called “Natural Resources Department” (NRD – formerly Natural Areas Program). It’s up 57% from the previous year.

NRD is a department of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). We were greatly encouraged when NRD started reducing herbicide use in 2014. Before that, pesticide use had increased sharply from 2009 onwards. (You can read an article about that here: SF’s Natural Areas Program – more pesticide in 2013.) Another sharp reduction in 2016 was even more encouraging – though it’s never come down to 2008 or 2009 levels. (The graph above shows annual NRD herbicide usage in fluid ounces of active ingredient.)

But this year, it’s up again, almost to 2015 levels. We have been hoping that SFRPD is working to eliminate all Tier I and Tier II herbicides, with leadership from the Department of the Environment (SF Environment).

For the rest of SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course, which is managed under a PGA contract), they have actually reduced usage. They use a greater variety of herbicides than NRD, of which more later. But they are using less – across all their parks and golf courses – than the NRD is. NRD forms a quarter of the area of SFRPD.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE HERBICIDES?

NRD uses four herbicides: Two that SF Environment classifies as Tier I (“Most Hazardous”) and two classified as Tier II (“More Hazardous”). The Tier I herbicides are Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate) and Garlon 4 Ultra (triclopyr); and Stalker/ Polaris/ Habitat (imazapyr) and Milestone VM (Aminopyralid) are Tier II. (In the first picture, with the white dog, the sign posted on Mount Davidson indicates they are using Aquamaster, Garlon, and Milestone in March 2018.)

These hazard rankings can change: Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate) was reclassified from Tier II to Tier I when the World Health Organization found it was a probable human carcinogen. Milestone (Aminopyralid) was reclassified from Tier I to Tier II, despite the fact that it is extremely persistent and mobile in the environment.

THE FEARSOME FOUR

As you research these herbicides, you may find – as we did – that much of the research originates with the companies that produce them. It may be unbiased, but the evidence is that it often is not. So we looked for other sources, which are easier to find for well-established herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup or Aquamaster). It doesn’t mean the others are innocuous.

ROUNDUP or AQUAMASTER (Glyphosate)

  • Carcinogenic. In April 2015, the World Health Organization determined glyphosate was a “probably carcinogenic.”  EPA scientist Dr Marion Copley  sent a letter before her death saying it was essentially certain that glyphosate  causes cancer. She also said that as a chelater, it was likely an endocrine disruptor.
  • Associated with birth defects. It’s been associated with birth-defects, especially around the head, brain and neural tube — defects like microcephaly (tiny head); microphthalmia (tiny undeveloped eyes); impairment of hindbrain development; cyclopia (also called cyclocephaly – a single eye in the middle of the forehead).
  • Bad for the soil. Research indicates it kills beneficial soil fungi while allowing dangerous ones to grow.
    It binds to the soil, and acts as a “chelating agent” – trapping elements like magnesium that plants need to grow and thus impoverishing the soil.
  • Bad for other living things. It’s very dangerous to frogs and other amphibians, and quite dangerous to fish.

GARLON (Triclopyr)

  • Garlon is even more hazardous than Roundup. It’s been classified as Tier I for at least as as long as we have been monitoring pesticide use in San Francisco.
  • Garlon “causes severe birth defects in rats at relatively low levels of exposure.” Baby rats were born with brains outside their skulls, or no eyelids. Exposed adult females rats also had more failed pregnancies.
  • Rat and dog studies showed damage to the kidneys, the liver, and the blood.
  • About 1-2% of Garlon falling on human skin is absorbed within a day. For rodents, its absorbed twelve times as fast. It’s unclear what happens to predators such as hawks that eat the affected rodents.
  • Dogs  may be particularly vulnerable; their kidneys may not be able to handle Garlon as well as rats or humans.  Dow Chemical objected when the Environmental Protection agency noted decreased red-dye excretion as an adverse effect, so now it’s just listed as an “effect.”
  • It very probably alters soil biology. “Garlon 4 can inhibit growth in the mycorrhizal fungi…” ( soil funguses that help plant nutrition.)
  • It’s particularly dangerous to aquatic creatures: fish (particularly salmon); invertebrates; and aquatic plants.
  • Garlon can persist for up to two years in dead vegetation .

The NRD uses Garlon extensively against oxalis. If it terminated its war on oxalis, it could stop using Garlon altogether.

POLARIS, HABITAT, STALKER  (Imazapyr)
This is a relatively new pesticide, and not much is known about it — except that it’s very persistent. In Sweden, it was found in the soil 8 years after a single application. It not only doesn’t degrade, some plants excrete it through their roots so it travels through the environment.

It can cause irreversible damage to the eyes, and irritate the skin and mucosa. As early as 1996, the Journal of Pesticide Reform noted that a major breakdown product  is quinolic acid, which is “irritating to eyes, the respiratory system and skin. It is also a neurotoxin, causing nerve lesions and symptoms similar to Huntington’s disease.”
It’s prohibited in the European Union countries, since 2002; and in Norway since December 2001 because of groundwater concerns.

MILESTONE (Aminopyralid)
Milestone is a Dow product that kills broadleaf plants while ignoring most grasses. This is even more problematically persistent than Imazapyr; a computer search yielded warnings of poisoned compost.

What?

It seems that this chemical is so persistent that if it’s sprayed on plants, and animals eat those plants, it still doesn’t break down. They excrete the stuff in their droppings. If those are composted — it still doesn’t break down the chemical. So now the compost’s got weedkiller in it, and it doesn’t nourish the plants fertilized with the compost, it kills them.

The manufacturer sees this as  a benefit. “Because of its residual activity, control can last all season long, or into the season after application on certain weed species,” says the Dow AgroSciences FAQ sheet.
Nevertheless, after an outcry and problems, Dow AgroSciences stopped selling Milestone in the UK for a number of years. It’s also prohibited for use in New York.

IT’S TIME TO STOP

There’s growing evidence that herbicides are more dangerous, more mobile, and more persistent than their manufacturers claim. Glyphosate, for instance, is widely found in all water sources, in the soil – and in people. A UCSF study of glyphosate in urine found: “Glyphosate residues were observed in 93% of urine samples in voluntary public testing in the U.S. general population; this is higher than the frequency observed in Europe using GC-MS (43.9%)”  and “exposure is likely due to dietary intake or environmental exposure.”

With endocrine disruptors, the old theory “the dose makes the poison” doesn’t work. They are potent at very low levels.

These are parks that we visit with our families, including kids and pets. Kids are particularly vulnerable to pesticides because of their low body weight and rapid growth. These are the watersheds that feed chemicals into our groundwater (which is also now being added to our domestic water supply).

The San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for No Pesticides in our Parks.

Better Parks for People Who Need Them, 2: Improving the Equity Metrics

This article expresses further concerns about the Equity Metrics developed by San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department (SFRPD). The first article is here: The  Proposed”Anti-Equity Metrics”.

Proposition B provides SFRPD with set-aside funds for the next 30 years. It also requires them to ensure equity for the parks, by spending more on parks in under-served areas. Let’s call those the “Equity” tracts (they’re based on census tracts showing below-average income).

Now SFRPD proposes a calculation method (“metric”) that indicates it’s actually devoting more resources to those parks already. (You can see that calculation HERE: item-2-equity-metrics-staff-report-final-080416) How? By simply assuming that only the “Equity” tracts use the parks within a quarter-mile of their homes, so that they get ALL the resources spent on those parks. Of course, that’s simply not true. The Equity tract users use those parks, but so does everyone else who lives nearby. (Large parks may even attract people from across the city.) They share the resources, they don’t get all the resources.

Tom Borden provides a more detailed explanation from of what’s wrong with SFRPD’s current Equity Metric (i.e., how it will calculate how it’s doing on sharing resources with under-served areas). We need improved metrics to make sure that under-served populations get more resources.


PROPOSITION B EQUITY METRICS

by Tom Borden

The Equity Metrics currently proposed by SFRPD are misleading and inadequate. The calculation method chosen by SFRPD cheats the people in under-served neighborhoods by dramatically overstating the park resources provided to them. The individual metrics chosen are indirect, subjective, open to manipulation, irrelevant and even backward to what we are trying to measure.

The Calculation Methodology
Defining census tracts based on the CalEnviroScreen data (as the current metric does) seems to be a good choice. The logic of including parks within 1/4 mile of tract boundaries also seems sound. The logic breaks down when it comes time to assign park resources to Equity census tracts. The per capita measures are based on the resources of all of the parks captured in the “Parks Serving the Equity Zones” divided by the total population of the disadvantaged census tracts. Any census tract that is within 1/4 mile of a park captures 100% of that park’s resources.

Based on this methodology, Golden Gate Park should be included, but it is not in the list of “Parks Serving the Equity Zones”. Why? Because allocating 100% of Golden Gate Park to Outer Richmond census tract 478.01 would expose the fallacy of SFRPD’s calculation method. It systematically allocates far more resources to equity zones than the residents actually enjoy. The same logical problem exists for every other park where there are non-equity tracts sharing the resources with equity tracts. It’s just that the scale of the systematic error is smaller because the parks are smaller.

When there are 20 picnic tables in a park the people from the neighboring equity census tracts do not get all of them. They share them with the other tracts within a 1/4 mile of the park. If half of the people around a park are from regular census tracts and half are from equity tracts, 10 of the picnic tables should be allocated to the equity population. The SFRPD system allocates all 20 to the equity population. All of the per capita metrics need to account for sharing in order to produce results that can be compared to the citywide averages.

[See our earlier article “The Anti-Equity Metric” for a graphic example.]

A Better Measurement

All parks are shared between census tracts. When calculating metrics, it should be done on a park by park basis based the number of people in all census tracts with tract boundaries within 1/4 mile of each park. table-for-eq-metricsSee the spreadsheet here that illustrates the calculation for McLaren Park, Palega Rec. Center and the surrounding census tracts.  (Click on it for a larger version). A spreadsheet like this could be built out to include every park and census tract in the City.

For example, let’s assume McLaren Park received $3M in capital investment in a year. That would be allocated as follows:
Capital per person = $3M / 79,740 total park users = $37.62 per person
Capital per Equity tract resident = $37.62 per person (the same as everyone else)
Capital for the 10 equity tracts adjoining McLaren = $37.62 * 35,461 equity users = $1.33M
or
Capital for the 10 equity tracts adjoining McLaren = $3M * 44.5% = $1.33M

The per capita metrics for Recreational Resources, Park Acres, Maintenance spending, etc. can be similarly calculated. To get a measure of city wide Equity in Capital spending, we would sum up all of the parks:

Capital spent in Park A * % equity users for Park A
+Capital spent in Park B * % equity users for Park B
+Capital spent in Park C * % equity users for Park C
+….
And divide that result by the total population of all equity tracts to get a citywide per capita measure.
It would also be useful to look at this from the perspective of individual Equity tracts. The per capita resources associated with each park within a 1/4 mile of the tract could be added up to see how the particular census tract was being served.

This may sound complicated, but once the assignments are made between individual census tracts and individual parks based on location, the calculation could be easily done in a spreadsheet.

This is a key issue. If it is not fixed the equity metrics are useless and the under-served communities are cheated.

The following points should also be considered in developing an improved metric.

Transparency
All of the metrics calculations should be available to the public from start to finish. Presentation of final results from a black box calculation is not acceptable.

Excluded Parks
The metrics exclude parks that have schools and libraries, Francisco Reservoir, Marina Harbor, Candlestick, the Zoo, 17th & Folsom, 900 Innes, Geneva Car Barn and Noe Valley Town Square. Some of these should be included.

  • Parks at schools and libraries are frequently larger than mini-parks and are used as neighborhood park space. They should be included.
  • The new parks should be included for the capital spending metric. Once they open, the rest of the metrics can be applied. It looks particularly bad to exclude Francisco reservoir.
  • Excluding Candlestick makes sense.
  • The harbor and the zoo do seem like special cases. If the harbor produces a positive cash flow, excluding it is ok.

Recreation – hours of recreational resources
As defined, recreational resources includes those provided by volunteers and “recreation partners”. Those should not be counted since they are not funded by SFRPD and represent efforts by the public to make up for SFRPD’s shortfall of the needed services.

Investment – Hours of Volunteer Service
We volunteer to improve our parks beyond what SFRPD is doing. Including volunteer service in this metric means that the harder we work on our park, the less SFRPD would be required to spend. The whole intent of these metrics is to insure equitable spending of the Prop B money. Volunteer hours are more likely a measure of SFRPD’s failure to spend money in a park, the opposite of what we are trying to measure.

It does, of course, make sense to account for SFRPD’s expenditures on volunteer recruitment, scheduling, and on-site management and assistance by SFRPD staff. These expenditures should be under the Maintenance heading, not Investment. Clearing brush, pulling non-native plants, repairing trails, tending native plantings and picking up trash are all maintenance, not capital improvements.

Volunteer service hours is not a valid metric.

Recreation – scholarships granted
By definition, these program discounts are granted to low income families. Of course, more will be granted per capita in disadvantaged neighborhoods. There is no point in comparing this metric between average and disadvantaged neighborhoods. A meaningful measure would be number of people participating in SFRPD programs per capita from disadvantaged tracts versus the City at large.

Access – acres per capita
This should be acres of usable parkland. It should not include parkland that is off-limits to the public such as Natural Areas under the Natural Areas Program (NAP). According to SFRPD’s Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) less than 5% of NAP controlled parkland will be open to the public.

This is a critical issue since the City’s southeast Equity region contains a disproportionate share of Natural Areas acreage. See the map below. Half of McLaren Park, almost all of Bayview Hill and most of India Basin are Natural Areas.

park-map

Investment – Capital
Capital spending on the Natural Areas Program should not be counted since it does not benefit local park users. Trail closures, land closures, access control fences and proscriptive signage do not benefit the local public. Spending money on the NAP in Equity Zone parks is a form of environmental racism. Wealthier neighborhoods get usable landscaped parks while the disadvantaged neighborhoods have their parkland closed off for native plant preserves. These equity metrics should not promote that outcome.

Maintenance – Park Scores
The Park Scores are a useful metric. They are a good attempt at creating an objective assessment of our parks. However, it’s hard to imagine that bias does not creep into these assessments.

This should be used as a metric, but with other robust measures beside it.

Maintenance – repair requests completed
This refers to maintenance requests logged into SFRPD’s internal TMA system. Entries are made by SFRPD staff and checked off as completed. The metric is proposed as the percentage of the requests opened during a particular year that are closed in the same year. This is not a reliable metric.

If a different level of care continues to be applied to parks in disadvantaged neighborhoods, staff would not lodge repair requests for things in those parks that they would in others. A high closure percentage for the fewer requests would not mean the disadvantaged parks were being as well maintained. There is no dollar value tied to the TMA entries. A request in a nice park might be, “the rec center windows look old, replace with new windows. “ In the Equity park it might be, “the bathroom window hinges are rusting out, nail window shut.” The TMA system is subject to manipulation and is opaque to the public.

A better metric would be number of TMA requests closed per year per capita of Equity population. However, this is still of very limited meaning since the value of the requests cannot be determined.

This metric should not be used.

Maintenance – money spent per capita
This is one of the most direct and meaningful measures. Why isn’t it in here? The previous two metrics are indirect and much less reliable. RPD says this metric is not proposed because they do not know how much they spend for maintenance in any given park. Can they be serious? They do not know how many gardeners, janitors and managers are allocated to each park? Their TMA system does not track time and materials associated with a job? If they do not have this information, they need to figure it out now. How can they do a good job of managing our parks without it?

As with capital spending, maintenance spending should not include the Natural Areas Program. The activities of the NAP do not benefit park users at large. Of particular concern is the reliance of the NAP on toxic herbicides. The NAP enjoys a special exemption from Department of Environment rules that allows it to use the most toxic herbicides freely in Natural Areas. (See the new guidelines HERE: 032216_restrictions_on_herbicides )

These metrics should not promote spraying toxic chemicals in Equity Zone parks.

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.

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.]

Alma Hecht, Certified Arborist: Saving the Trees

This is a 5-minute talk from Alma Hecht, Certified Arborist. She gave it at an SF Forest Alliance meeting in Glen Canyon Park before the Elk Street entrance trees were cut down. The trees are gone; the talk still matters. More trees are threatened in every park and wild land across the city.