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Indybay Feature
Selling Off Golden Gate Park: Privatization & Corruption Destroying Great Public Park
by Labor Video Project
The sell off and privatization of Golden Gate Park is escalating at the same time of a massive corruption scandal of top officials of the City and County of San Francisco. This program looks at the "non-profits" that are being used to facilitate the transfer of public lands at the park to privatizers.
parks_alliance.jpeg
The sell off of Golden Gate Park by privatizers is a danger to the future of the public park according to those who have been fighting to protect the park. Speakers who discuss this are David Romano, Harry Parisner and Steve Hill. They report on how this privatization is taking place and the threat this is to public access and the need to stop the transfer of the park into a commercial profit center for developers with non-union workers and a lack of health and safety protection. They also look at the lack of transparency and the growing curruption scandal in San Francisco as more officials investigated an jails for corruption directly connected to the "non-profits" involved in privatizing City resources.
While there are more than 80 billionaires in San Francisco the managers and Mayor say there is not enough money for more gardners and other public workers in the park.

Additional media:
STEALING THE PARK! SF Golden Gate Park Stables, Nepotism, Privatization & The Parks Alliance
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDZ81rocak0

More parks privatization: The horses of Golden Gate Park
https://48hills.org/2021/03/more-parks-privatization-the-horses-of-golden-gate-park/

Walton calls out Breed for her attacks on the Board of Supes
https://48hills.org/2021/06/walton-calls-out-breed-for-her-attacks-on-the-board-of-supes/?fbclid=IwAR1fqYoEFKiLQR8oErNMlVic0SUey_THzGSkPAptYeA35jG-pqiBreqavDk

Supes clash with parks director over role in private organization’s ‘threats’
https://48hills.org/2021/06/supes-clash-with-parks-director-over-role-in-private-organizations-threats/?fbclid=IwAR0GYRhvV1WhjAvyzFEk1EHZZ9vJKLLCTiXUTQKdEOWAjnE7glS9RFKq74E

SF Golden Gate Park Privatizers Face Postponement of Vote
Opposition forces postponement of vote on SkyStar Wheel
Critics say lights, noise from generator not appropriate for Golden Gate Park
https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/opposition-forces-postponement-of-vote-on-skystar-wheel/

WorkWeek
https://soundcloud.com/workweek-radio
Production of Labor Video Project
http://www.labormedia.net

SF supervisor subpoenas parks nonprofit in wake of report that calls for stronger controls

https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/article/SF-supervisor-subpoenas-parks-nonprofit-in-wake-16635626.php

Photo of Mallory Moench
Mallory Moench
Nov. 19, 2021
Updated: Nov. 19, 2021 6:54 p.m.
During a hearing Thursday, Supervisor Connie Chan issued a subpoena to the Parks Alliance to find out how many, if any, similar accounts the Recreation and Park Department has.
During a hearing Thursday, Supervisor Connie Chan issued a subpoena to the Parks Alliance to find out how many, if any, similar accounts the Recreation and Park Department has.Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle 2020
The nonprofit San Francisco Parks Alliance is being scrutinized again in the wake of the city’s corruption investigation, and a supervisor who’s criticized the group in the past now wants to look more closely at its operations.
The Parks Alliance is a major philanthropic backer for the parks and other city departments.
City officials studied the nonprofit last year after it came to light that former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, now charged with fraud, funneled donations from would-be city contractors into an account at the organization that he used to pay for staff perks. The Parks Alliance has said it didn’t know it was being used “unscrupulously” by city officials.
The organization’s employees haven’t been charged with any crimes, and the recent report found no evidence of wrongdoing, although the report author said the purpose wasn’t to investigate corruption but the processes in place to minimize its possibility.
Now supervisors are looking to find out if there any other similar schemes. During a hearing Thursday, Supervisor Connie Chan — with the support of two other supervisors — issued a subpoena to the Parks Alliance to find out how many, if any, similar accounts the Recreation and Park Department has, and to report expenses and transactions dating back five years. The supervisor and the organization have clashed before.
The organization said Friday that its books “are totally open and available,” and it would “gladly” provide park department records, which the city hasn’t requested previously.
The move followed a city report last week that investigated the relationship between the park department and the nonprofit. It concluded, “Adequate controls against the possibility of corruption and financial transparency were found lacking in our review of key agreements between the two organizations from recent years.”
Some of the concerns have already been addressed after the two entities created a memorandum of understanding earlier this year to safeguard against potential corruption, but that agreement needs to be strengthened, the report said.
The Parks Alliance is also a contractor that runs the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, which left “a lot of opportunity for conflict of interests,” the report author said Thursday in the hearing.
The Parks Alliance was subpoenaed last year alongside a host of other firmsas part of the City Hall probe.
Chan, who commissioned the report, said the results demanded reform.
“This report has validated our suspicion all along that Parks Alliance has a problematic relationship with our city departments,” she said. “While the city appreciates and wants the donations ... the public deserves to know where the money is coming from and whether or not someone is buying influence in our city government.”
Supervisors delayed voting Thursday on three city agreements to accept and spend more than $7 million from the Parks Alliance until Chan’s questions are answered.
Parks Alliance spokesperson Juliana Bunim said in a statement Thursday that the group appreciates “all ongoing efforts to strengthen transparency and collaboration between nonprofit organizations and the city of San Francisco.”
The 33-page report follows sprawling investigations into corruption across the city. Since the FBI arrested and charged Nuru for allegedly attempting to bribe an airport commissioner in January 2020, the investigation has also indicted the former director of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, two heads of trash company Recology, a former senior building inspector and a city building commissioner.
As a result, city leaders have inspected departments’ relationships with philanthropic organizations. A city controller report last year called out the connection between the Parks Alliance and the park department after discovering Nuru’s $1 million slush fund.
Since then, the organization has eliminated anonymous donations above $100, listed all donors on its public website and upgraded its customer management tools to collect and track all disclosure information, Bunim said.
A memo from the park department sent Thursday to the report author said staff appreciate the need for transparency and already follow the city controller’s guidance on accepting grants and gifts. Spokesperson Tamara Aparton pointed out the department was the only one to complete a memorandum of understanding with an outside organization as mandated by the mayor last year.
The recent report delved into inadequate controls in multiple areas, including an agreement to run the Conservatory of Flowers that expired in 2012 and hasn’t been renewed. Other agreements lack prohibitions against conflicts of interest.
Another issue was anonymous donations, with up to $3 million from unnamed sources going to the Parks Alliance during the same time period the organization gave $1.9 million to the park department. That meant it wasn’t clear who donated dollars that ended up in city coffers.
A bulk of the report focused on the Parks Alliance agreement to fund the Golden Gate Park 150th anniversary celebration and get some revenue from the Ferris wheel, which came under fire this spring from Chan.
The report criticized the park department for picking a vendor for the wheel without a competitive process and giving the Parks Alliance a cut of ticket sales to help cover the cost of the celebration, which totaled more than $1 million.
Chan blasted the agreement, saying it perpetuates inequity by creating another paid attraction in a public park.
The recent report recommended the park department establish a new conservatory agreement, report the budget for the anniversary celebration, and require the Parks Alliance to competitively select contractors and prohibit picking those who have a personal relationship or who have donated to the department or the organization.
The park department’s memo said, “For the most part we welcome the recommendations in the report and many of them are generally in place through the (memorandum of understanding) or existing policy.”
But the memo said the regulations on selecting contractors “may not be fully in the best interests of the City,” since many people who work on projects donate their services.
Chan is “exploring every legislative tool possible” to implement recommendations. She is already co-sponsoring a measure that would prohibit city officials and employees from soliciting payments from people who could benefit from business.
Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mallory.moench [at] sfchronicle.com Twitter:@mallorymoench

Supes clash with parks director over role in private organization’s ‘threats’
Ginsburg waffles when asked if he knew of and approved a Parks Alliance letter that the supes agreed was 'outrageous' and 'unacceptable.'
https://48hills.org/2021/06/supes-clash-with-parks-director-over-role-in-private-organizations-threats/?fbclid=IwAR0GYRhvV1WhjAvyzFEk1EHZZ9vJKLLCTiXUTQKdEOWAjnE7glS9RFKq74E

By
TIM REDMOND
JUNE 9, 2021
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The Board of Supes is not at all happy with the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board considered a normally routine item about spending from a bond act. Since some of that money would go to Rec-Park, the director, Phil Ginsburg, was on hand.


Sup. Connie Chan challenged the Rec-Park director about his role with a private nonprofit.
Sup. Connie Chan took the opportunity to ask him some questions– not just about the bond money but about his role in an effort by the private SF Parks Alliance to threaten Chan with the loss of support for a park in her district.

Chan and Sup. Aaron Peskin had raised questions about the Parks Alliance, its possible role in the municipal corruption scandal, and its support for a Ferris Wheel contract. Then the alliance sent a letter to Chan saying that it would stop fundraising for a park in the Richmond District, which she represents.

Board President Shamann Walton read part of the letter into the record:

Of more immediate import and concern, however, is that we are currently fundraising for the Richmond Playground. We have always enjoyed and, more importantly, relied upon the partnership of the District Supervisor as we invest in playgrounds and open spaces in our city. Without that leadership and support, our efforts would be far more challenging. Please confirm in writing whether or not you would like us to continue supporting the Richmond Playground; if we do not hear from you, we will assume that we no longer have your support and will suspend our work until your concerns have been fully addressed.

That, Walton said, was unacceptable. “That is 100 percent a threat,” he said. “It should not be tolerated.”

He added: “It is our job to ask questions about contracts.”

Chan noted that there were good reasons for her questions about the Parks Alliance and the Ferris Wheel deal, and that the board’s Budget and Legislative Analyst had raised some of the same issues.

So here’s the next question: Did the director of Rec-Park know about this letter in advance — and if he did, was his tacit agreement a sign that he approved the threat?

Chan asked Ginsburg if he knew about the letter before it was sent.

Ginsburg hemmed and hawed and said that the Parks Alliance is a private organization with its own board.

Chan: “Did you know in advance that they were sending the letter?”

Ginsburg paused, then said “I know they were upset. I did not know they sent it until they sent it.”

Chan: “I do not think that is the truth. (Mayor Breed’s Chief of Staff) Sean Elsbernd mentioned that you knew about the letter.”

Peskin interrupted to say: “He’s lying. Phil Ginsburg is lying.”

Chan went back to her questions, this time asking whether the renovation of Portsmouth Square in Chinatown had originally been on the list of parks getting bond money.

Again, he hemmed and hawed, saying that the park “has always been on the high-needs list.”

Chan asked again: Was it on the original list?

Peskin spoke up: “The answer is no.”

Chan: “It was because of Sups. Peskin and Fewer and the Chinatown community that the Portsmouth Square was included.” Ginsburg, she said, had been willing to leave it out in favor of spending in areas where more wealthy white people congregate.

She pointed out that the SF Park system is racist and that people of color and low-income areas have less access to parks and open space.

Peskin tried again: “Did you see the letter that (Parks Alliance Director) Drew Becher sent to Ms. Chan?”

Ginsburg: Long pause.

Then: “The answer is that I was certainly familiar that they were upset and their sentiment.”

Peskin: “I think that you just said yes.”

Ginsburg said that the Parks Alliance was worried that the allegations might hurt the group’s its ability to raise money.

Peskin said that Ginsburg was “deeply involved and inextricably linked to this nonprofit” and the behavior of the organization “is conduct unbecoming. … it is outrageous … the answer is to take responsibility.”

Walton wasn’t buying Ginsburg’s argument, either. He said: “I don’t believe that the Recreation and Parks Department had no role (in the letter). Director Ginsburg, it seems likely that you act on behalf of the Parks Alliance quite often and it’s inappropriate.”

None of this, I suspect, is going to change the ultimate behavior of Ginsburg, who for years has been pushing to privatize and monetize the parks – at the expense of local communities.

That, of course, is the underlying issue here. Ginsburg, the supes said, is all about working with his private partners, who are willing to threaten elected officials if they don’t get their way.

The supes, at a time when the city is coming to a serious reckoning about corruption in nonprofits that are linked to an ongoing and expanding corruption scandal, are calling out the longtime director.

I have, at this moment, seen no indication that any of this behavior bothers Ginsburg’s boss, Mayor London Breed.


SF supervisor subpoenas parks nonprofit in wake of report that calls for stronger controls

https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/article/SF-supervisor-subpoenas-parks-nonprofit-in-wake-16635626.php

Photo of Mallory Moench
Mallory Moench
Nov. 19, 2021
Updated: Nov. 19, 2021 6:54 p.m.
During a hearing Thursday, Supervisor Connie Chan issued a subpoena to the Parks Alliance to find out how many, if any, similar accounts the Recreation and Park Department has.
During a hearing Thursday, Supervisor Connie Chan issued a subpoena to the Parks Alliance to find out how many, if any, similar accounts the Recreation and Park Department has.Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle 2020
The nonprofit San Francisco Parks Alliance is being scrutinized again in the wake of the city’s corruption investigation, and a supervisor who’s criticized the group in the past now wants to look more closely at its operations.
The Parks Alliance is a major philanthropic backer for the parks and other city departments.
City officials studied the nonprofit last year after it came to light that former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, now charged with fraud, funneled donations from would-be city contractors into an account at the organization that he used to pay for staff perks. The Parks Alliance has said it didn’t know it was being used “unscrupulously” by city officials.
The organization’s employees haven’t been charged with any crimes, and the recent report found no evidence of wrongdoing, although the report author said the purpose wasn’t to investigate corruption but the processes in place to minimize its possibility.
Now supervisors are looking to find out if there any other similar schemes. During a hearing Thursday, Supervisor Connie Chan — with the support of two other supervisors — issued a subpoena to the Parks Alliance to find out how many, if any, similar accounts the Recreation and Park Department has, and to report expenses and transactions dating back five years. The supervisor and the organization have clashed before.
The organization said Friday that its books “are totally open and available,” and it would “gladly” provide park department records, which the city hasn’t requested previously.
The move followed a city report last week that investigated the relationship between the park department and the nonprofit. It concluded, “Adequate controls against the possibility of corruption and financial transparency were found lacking in our review of key agreements between the two organizations from recent years.”
Some of the concerns have already been addressed after the two entities created a memorandum of understanding earlier this year to safeguard against potential corruption, but that agreement needs to be strengthened, the report said.
The Parks Alliance is also a contractor that runs the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, which left “a lot of opportunity for conflict of interests,” the report author said Thursday in the hearing.
The Parks Alliance was subpoenaed last year alongside a host of other firmsas part of the City Hall probe.
Chan, who commissioned the report, said the results demanded reform.
“This report has validated our suspicion all along that Parks Alliance has a problematic relationship with our city departments,” she said. “While the city appreciates and wants the donations ... the public deserves to know where the money is coming from and whether or not someone is buying influence in our city government.”
Supervisors delayed voting Thursday on three city agreements to accept and spend more than $7 million from the Parks Alliance until Chan’s questions are answered.
Parks Alliance spokesperson Juliana Bunim said in a statement Thursday that the group appreciates “all ongoing efforts to strengthen transparency and collaboration between nonprofit organizations and the city of San Francisco.”
The 33-page report follows sprawling investigations into corruption across the city. Since the FBI arrested and charged Nuru for allegedly attempting to bribe an airport commissioner in January 2020, the investigation has also indicted the former director of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, two heads of trash company Recology, a former senior building inspector and a city building commissioner.
As a result, city leaders have inspected departments’ relationships with philanthropic organizations. A city controller report last year called out the connection between the Parks Alliance and the park department after discovering Nuru’s $1 million slush fund.
Since then, the organization has eliminated anonymous donations above $100, listed all donors on its public website and upgraded its customer management tools to collect and track all disclosure information, Bunim said.
A memo from the park department sent Thursday to the report author said staff appreciate the need for transparency and already follow the city controller’s guidance on accepting grants and gifts. Spokesperson Tamara Aparton pointed out the department was the only one to complete a memorandum of understanding with an outside organization as mandated by the mayor last year.
The recent report delved into inadequate controls in multiple areas, including an agreement to run the Conservatory of Flowers that expired in 2012 and hasn’t been renewed. Other agreements lack prohibitions against conflicts of interest.
Another issue was anonymous donations, with up to $3 million from unnamed sources going to the Parks Alliance during the same time period the organization gave $1.9 million to the park department. That meant it wasn’t clear who donated dollars that ended up in city coffers.
A bulk of the report focused on the Parks Alliance agreement to fund the Golden Gate Park 150th anniversary celebration and get some revenue from the Ferris wheel, which came under fire this spring from Chan.
The report criticized the park department for picking a vendor for the wheel without a competitive process and giving the Parks Alliance a cut of ticket sales to help cover the cost of the celebration, which totaled more than $1 million.
Chan blasted the agreement, saying it perpetuates inequity by creating another paid attraction in a public park.
The recent report recommended the park department establish a new conservatory agreement, report the budget for the anniversary celebration, and require the Parks Alliance to competitively select contractors and prohibit picking those who have a personal relationship or who have donated to the department or the organization.
The park department’s memo said, “For the most part we welcome the recommendations in the report and many of them are generally in place through the (memorandum of understanding) or existing policy.”
But the memo said the regulations on selecting contractors “may not be fully in the best interests of the City,” since many people who work on projects donate their services.
Chan is “exploring every legislative tool possible” to implement recommendations. She is already co-sponsoring a measure that would prohibit city officials and employees from soliciting payments from people who could benefit from business.
Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mallory.moench [at] sfchronicle.com Twitter:@mallorymoench


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Walton calls out Breed for her attacks on the Board of Supes

Simmering clash between the mayor and the supes breaks into the open after Breed attacks the board for asking tough questions of her department heads.
Ginsburg has been all about privatizing the parks for years now; his role with a private contractor that may be linked to an ongoing corruption scandal is the public’s business.

https://48hills.org/2021/06/walton-calls-out-breed-for-her-attacks-on-the-board-of-supes/?fbclid=IwAR1fqYoEFKiLQR8oErNMlVic0SUey_THzGSkPAptYeA35jG-pqiBreqavDk


By
TIM REDMOND
JUNE 16, 2021
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The Mayor’s Office has been attacking and refusing to work with the Board of Supes for some time now. Mayor London Breed refused – for no apparent reason – to spend the money the voters approved for rent relief. She threatened to go to the ballot if she didn’t get everything she wanted, immediately, on (of all things) parklets.

Her public comments about the supes have been just this side of hostile. One board member recently told me the relations between the two branches of government have been “toxic.”


Sup. Shamann Walton said he is sick of disrespect from the Mayor’s Office.
All of that broke out into the open Tuesday.

It started with Sup. Aaron Peskin announcing he was seeking treatment for alcohol dependency. That led to a series of Chron stories in which the mayor and members of her staff (and the Chron reporters, on their own) talked about how the supes, incuding Peskin, were awfully mean to poor Phil Ginsburg, the head of the Department of Parks and Recreation, at a hearing earlier this month.

That, from my perspective, was nonsense. Ginsburg was ducking key questions all during that hearing. He appeared to acknowledge, eventually, having at least advance knowledge of a threat by a private organization to try to defund a park in the district of Sup. Connie Chan. (The move by the Parks Alliance is what I would define as “bullying.” And Ginsburg was, several supes suggested, connected to it.)

This is really important information for the board and the public to know. Ginsburg has been all about privatizing the parks for years now; his role with a private contractor that may be linked to an ongoing corruption scandal is the public’s business.

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He’s a department head. He makes $200,000 a year. It’s fair to ask him tough questions, which is what the supes did. (Not just Peskin, but Board President Shamann Walton and Chan.)

Peskin’s use of alcohol has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the questioning of Ginsburg.

But with the help of the Chron, Breed tried to suggest that the board needs to be nicer to her appointees.

I have watched almost every meeting of this board, with Walton as president. It’s an effective, professional operation. Board members are generally very respectful to mid-level staff; they are tougher on department heads. That, Walton noted at Tuesday’s meeting, is their job.

But he went a lot further. His remarks on the issue were a stunning rebuke to the mayor and her senior aides.

I will quote some of it here:

There has been a lot of media pressure to turn members of the Board of Supervisors against each other lately. I have done everything in my power to be tactful and respectful, but I will not allow the mayor to disrespect or speak on my name again without a response. Enough is enough!

Our board meetings have never been more efficient and respectful than they have been under my presidency. More so than when the mayor was board president and was steadily attacking people. Several members of her staff have secretly reported bullying; some have been reduced to crying.

The Mayor’s Chief of Staff, several of her staff members and most certainly some of her department heads are the true bullies. I will not fear bullying from people in the Mayor’s Office. I have been very respectful but will not allow members of this board to be mistreated.

We will continue to conduct the business of the City in an orderly fashion and will not allow departmental leaders, nonprofit leaders or the Chief of Staff to mistreat our colleagues and aides. It is our job to understand city contracts and how resources are allocated. I hope we can move forward without threats.

Then, since it was monthly Question Time, the mayor got to come to the board and speak.

She talked about the value of city employees who have opted for a career in public service, and how they should look forward to speaking before the board. “They deserve better,” she said.

Then she said “I want to work with you, and not against you.”

Many of the supes would say the same – but that the mayor has been the one refusing to work together.
sm_golden._gate_lands_end._tickets_to_staff.jpg
Golden Gate Park officials and members of the Parks and Recreation commission are getting tickets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Lands End Festival as a payoff for their take-over of large parts of the Park. This corruption of these officials is being covered up by the SF City Attorney and other officials.
§New Plant Nursery Project Pushed Without Public Input
by Labor Video Project
sm_img_4854.jpg
The non-profits running large parts of the park are now directing the development without public participation and their privatization agenda is supported by Mayor London Breed and her Parks and Recreation Director Phil Ginsberg.
§$400,000 over run on the Tennis Courts
by Labor Video Project
sm_goldengateparktennis.jpg
The development of the tennis courts went over $400,000 which the City has to pick up. The failure of any oversight of this growing waste and misuse of public funds and the privatization of the park is a growing issue.
§Closure of Spaces At Botanical Gardens For Corporate Parties
by Labor Video Project
sm_gg_park_privatization_close.jpg
The closure of a growing number of spaces at the park for private corporate events is pushed by Mayor London Breed and the Park director who say they don't have enough money to fund the park.
§The Corruption Scandal Around The Ferris Wheel Exposed Parks Alliance
by Labor Video Project
sm_img_7832.jpg
The lack of transparency in the deal to bring the Ferris wheel to Golden Gate Park exposed the growing corruption by the Park managers and the Mayor with private contractors. These sweet heart deals without any competitive bidding or public hearings is part and parcel of the corruption of City officials who run SF City Hall. Supervisor Chan was bullied by the Parks Alliance for calling for an audit of this corrupt agency which is privatizing Golden Gate Park.
sm_img_7863.jpg
The City Attorney and District Attorney have failed to investigate and prosecute the privatizer's funding of Park and Recreation Director Phil Ginsberg and his managers. This corruption is part and parcel of the sell off of Golden Gate Park.
by repost
Stop the Privatization of Our Park

BYSAN FRANCISCO RICHMOND REVIEW ON
FEBRUARY 8, 202
Editor:

In her latest “Commentary,” San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan maintains that she is an acolyte of John McClaren’s concept of Golden Gate Park as a sanctuary from the hubbub of urban life and against the concept of “pay-to-play.” Yet, ironically, she ends up endorsing commercialization and steep admission fees.

Chan ignores the elephant in the room: Two public spaces which should remain public are to be turned over to the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society. Without any public discussion, the formerly free Conservatory of Flowers was turned over to Parks Alliance. While it is great that Supervisor Chan has circumvented the most egregious aspect of the transfer (the payment of over a million dollars to the Parks Alliance from the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society), we are still transferring a publicly administered garden to a private entity. The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society pays only $100 rent for its offices to taxpayers; everything else is on us. We have already seen restricted hours at the Arboretum, closed gates and $50 evening concerts and other such Blueblood-oriented events.

We can expect to see incredible commercialization of the Conservatory and Tea Garden if this horrific lease agreement is ratified. Think sushi dinners and sake tastings in the pavilion at a cost of hundreds of dollars, “magical” hundred-dollar evenings in the greenhouse, wedding receptions on Saturdays curtailing use (much as they do in the Shakespeare Garden) and all sorts of egregiously horrific LED lighting, much as we see elsewhere in the environs.


The lease agreement and ordinance both give Phil Ginsburg unilateral authority to set whatever rates he desires.. While stopping the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society from fleecing visitors on weekends, it still means that the Board is voting to forfeit complete control of the Tea Garden and Conservatory to a private business that pays no taxes.

As the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society maintains control over whatever revenues are gained after the substantial collection costs, they maintain control over what amounts to a slush fund. They will be free to spend this money at their whim, and they are quite likely to buy from donors or others who do favors. We already see this, in that they purchase from certain vendors repeatedly, and there is every possibility of abuse.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society has never held an open meeting. Its trustees never meet with locals, and the meeting notes are no longer archived in the library. We are harassed if we do not have the right entry papers proving our residency; outrageously, we must pay for each and every guest; gates have been closed and access hours cut.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society has also employed racial profiling on at least one individual, calling the police numerous times on the late Inner Sunset resident, a Salvadoran immigrant and USMC veteran. We see Black and Brown people not in the Arboretum itself, but on the cover of the Annual Report and those full-color non-biodegradable advertising posters that our tax dollars pay for. There is no doubt that the entry taxes are about keeping people out, while ensuring after-hours control for profitable events.

But the best reason to reject this elitist privatization is that the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society has shown itself to be a horrific administrator. They bungled the construction of the State-funded asphalt roads; they completely devastated the charming Demonstration Garden, using taxpayer funds to pave it and turn it into a corporate event space. After an extensive process, a highly controversial lease agreement was legislated giving the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society the right to construct a large building, dubbed “The Center for Sustainable Gardening” on top of the hill. New parking spaces were planned, and there was to be a fence around the compound.

However, a large taxpayer-funded sign literally rotted on the spot while the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, humiliatingly, failed to raise funds for their august edifice. So the project was downsized and moved to the current location of the nursery. An immense amount of vegetation was pulped, as were many trees collected in this “museum.” This time around, neither EIR nor public outreach was done: the contract was simply revised behind closed doors. It is unclear why this permanent fence should be constructed where none was before. But for that matter, it is unclear as to why taxpayers funded a $1.1 million fence, yet are asked to pony up for their guests and suffer other indignities, such as having the gates to 55 acres closed for months because the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society could not collect money due to COVID.

Before the Arboretum was privatized, then Supervisor Mirkarimi ordered Harvey Rose to evaluate the fee agreement. The report excoriated the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, while also harshly critiquing RPD. Supervisor Chan should order another such report before we willingly contract decades of private control of public resources.

The public should retain administrative control of the Tea Garden and reclaim control of the Conservatory. Both should be free to enter, just as they were in previous years; we can charge tour buses to make up some of that “deficit.” In addition, the Board should legislate that the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society needs to hold regular public meetings, make its trustee notes freely available, keep the Arboretum open after 4 p.m. for free from April to November and make every single state, local or national holiday a day where all are free to enter.

With the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society clutching a $20-million endowment and a city budget of $12 billion, we have the financial means to easily make this happen. The question is whether our donor-dependent “progressive” supervisors will have the integrity and vision to stand up against elites who do not live here, let alone have any long-term interest in the betterment of our city.

Let’s not allow them to get off the hook with their customary platitudes, hand wringing, false platitudes about “environmentalism” and channeling their inner Kristen Sinema. Contact them today! Also send a statement to brent.jalipa [at] sfgov.org and ask that your words be placed in the public-comment files for both File 21-1305 and File 21-1295.

Harry S. Pariser
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