Planning for Parks Renaissance
Planning for Parks Renaissance
In September of 1997, SPUR and the Neighborhood Parks Council initiated the Community Parks Task Force, charged with developing a comprehensive set of recommendations to fix the underlying problems with San Francisco's park system. Two hundred community leaders and parks activists, along with representatives of businesses, foundations, unions and City departments, met over the next half year to debate, deliberate, and problem-solve. In May of 1998, the Task Force released its final recommendations. The SPUR Board adopted the Management section in May and it was the subject of the July SPUR Newsletter (SPUR Report, #365). In July, the SPUR Board adopted the Funding section.
San Francisco's parks are in trouble. Recreation and Park Department staff levels have gone down or remained steady while usage, service expectations, and park acreage have increased. Since 1975:
• Gardener positions in neighborhood parks decreased 20%
• Custodial positions decreased by over l0%
• Structural and maintenance staff decreased by 21%
• Recreation staff decreased by 10%
• Administrative personnel decreased by 30%
The 1997 Capital Projects Needs Assessment estimated that a minimum of $125 million is needed to renovate Recreation and Park facilities. This estimate does not include the cost of new capital projects, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, lead abatement or landscaping and forestry.
$104 million in park bonds have been approved for capital repairs and improvements in the last 30 years. The $76 million Golden Gate Park Bond of 1992 represents almost 3/4 of this total. The last Recreation and Park Bond for the system as a whole was passed 11 years ago for $18 million.
Funding Section of the Community Parks Task Force
The Funding Committee investigated sources of additional funds for San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (R&P) in both the public and private spheres. Its aim was to find promising ideas to build both the annual operating budget and the longer-term capital budget for the department.
The recommendations fall into four categories:
1. Department Initiatives: Operating Budget
2. Legislative Initiatives: Operating Budget
3. Improving the Capital Budget
4. Boosting Both Operating and Capital Budgets
1. Department Initiatives: Operating Budget
1A. Concessions and Leases
Recommendation: Improve concession & lease operations and increase property management staff. Why? Many R&P concession agreements and leases are up for renewal. They present an opportunity for creative reuse, increased service, and additional revenue, but they require substantial management time and attention to identify and expedite.
How? Hire an outside consultant to work with the Department. Prepare a report to include:
1) Analysis of current contracts & leases. Identify high priority lease and contract situations.
2) Evaluate an increase of current staffing levels of the property management and leasing unit to handle the backload.
1B. Facilities Usage
Recommendation: Maximize revenue from R&P facilities through:
1) Restoration and reuse: Identify facilities that pose opportunity for restoration and improved uses,
significant revenue and new programs. Consider new concessionaire arrangements, public/private
partnerships and community partnerships to leverage department resources.
2) Off-time use: Evaluate facilities for expanded off-time use.
3) Events: Expand events in parks. Consider hiring an events manager to promote use of park
Why? Off-time use can produce additional revenue and community alliances as well as bringing vital, positive activity to neighborhoods in off-hours. Recreation centers can be used for events such as theater productions or receptions.
How? Hire an outside consultant to work with the Department and a project advisory Group (R&P staff, community reps, private interests) to:
1) Develop guidelines for revenue-generating activities so that the push for earned income doesn't degrade or excessively commercialize the feeling of the parks.
2) Survey parks and facilities to identify and evaluate opportunities where reuse, improved or off-time use, or restoration would generate additional or new revenues. Recommend priorities. Prepare a report of the detailed findings.
3) Tour City park and recreation facilities with community and business leaders to brainstorm ideas for new/improved uses, better programs and services, public/private partnership opportunities and income generation.
4) Recommend ways to strengthen current operations that generate revenue.
5) Within guidelines, expand events in parks to promote use of park facilities. Consider hiring an events manager.
1C. Golf Courses
Recommendation: Allow private management of one or more golf courses to generate maximum income potential if the Mayor's Office guarantees no loss of positions for R&P.
Why? City golf courses are proven revenue generators. Golf's popularity and growing appeal, especially to youth, make developing better facilities and programming in San Francisco golf courses desirable, and makes possible a stronger concessions package. Some of these leases are currently up for renewal. The concessionaire contracts can be more favorable to the City. The use of outside developers, consultants and new management options should be explored. Bringing a golf management specialist on to the R&P staff should also be considered. Staff should evaluate an innovative arrangement with one or more golf courses. In addition to monetary considerations, the City could acquire better services and programs for youth and other under-served populations in trade for rights to develop concessions and facilities.
How? Hire a consultant to work with R&P and a Project Advisory Group (R&P staff, community representation, private interest) to:
1. Evaluate current leases to improve concession structure.
2. Develop guidelines for new management contracts that ensure:
a) no loss of City jobs, with gardening positions moved to neighborhood parks.
b) special hours, fees and programs for youth, seniors, and low/moderate income to ensure access to
1D. Marina Yacht Harbor
Recommendation: Evaluate the economic potential around an improved Marina Yacht Harbor.
Why? The Marina Yacht Harbor's tired facilities are tied to a low fee structure that is reportedly below market value. While the Tideland Trust Doctrine restricts how revenues of tideland lands can be used, increased revenues can be channeled to improved facilities and to improved youth boating programs at City marinas.
How? Work with the Port Authority to obtain comparable market-rate fee structures at Bay Area marinas. Bring City rates up to market. A Marina Advisory Committee organized through SPUR could work on this issue citywide and develop the political will to make reforms happen.
1E. Parking Fees
Recommendation: Expand parking fee revenue for R&P.
Why? Parking in our City and in our parks is an appropriate source of revenue to support our park and open space system. For example, some measure is appropriate to mitigate the concentrated influx of cars and traffic into the City and County that will be brought by the new 49ers stadium and mall.
1) A parking surcharge for parks maintenance from the 49ers' new stadium.
2) Parking revenue opportunities in Golden Gate Park.
a. Expand parking charges at Music Concourse to apply to weekend hours.
b. Evaluate parking fee structures at Kezar lot, Music Concourse and the Japanese Tea Garden and
bring them to market.
c. Institute metered parking in the East end of Golden Gate Park.
1F. Local Initiative Funds
Recommendation: Create local initiative funds for select R&P sites that allow donations and certain program fees to be kept, controlled, and used for purchases and hires by the facility manager.
Why? Ability to capture fees by site fosters a sense of entrepreneurship and responsiveness to community needs. Los Angeles uses this model to help generate charitable funds and to spur staff initiative. Other cities have also found that the ability of staff to control donations and revenues can improve efficiency and service delivery since, as in San Francisco, procedures in most cities to obtain even a ball or paper are lengthy. The ability to hire community groups or neighborhood residents to assist with service delivery can also improve relationships between the community and R&P.
How? Set up separate fund accounts in R&P's accounting system for individual facilities or develop a partnership with Friends of Rec and Park or The Neighborhood Parks Council to facilitate simple purchases and allow quick access to donations by facility staff and gardeners.
2. Legislative Initiatives: Operating Budget
2A. Political Liaison
Recommendation: Establish a new position of political liaison in the R&P Department and hire someone experienced in legislative matters and in coordinating of multiple interests including R&P, Mayor's office, Board of Supervisors and citizen interests.
2B. Park Fund
Recommendation: Create a dedicated Recreation and Park Fund.
Why? This arrangement would allow R&P to capture fees and revenue that the Department generates and retain them for recreation and park operations, improvements and maintenance. This would also create incentives for creative and exemplary R&P property management.
How? Amend the City Charter by creating a Drafting committee of key stakeholders. Seek assistance from the Controllers Office to ensure the preservation of existing levels of general fund support for the R&P.
2C. Open Space Fund
Recommendation: Revamp and renew the Open Space Fund NOW before it expires in 2005.
Why? Measures to preserve and expand this critical source of funds should be pursued now, when public awareness of park issues is high.
How? Fund renewal requires voter approval. Working with the Department, a citizen's advisory committee initiated by the Board of Supervisors should evaluate and revise the modus operandi for the Fund, consider the possibility of increasing the funding level, and develop an outreach plan for public approval.
2D. Maintenance of Funding Level
Recommendation: Seek a maintenance of City funding level for the operating budget of the Recreation and Park Department.
Why? A secure commitment to maintain an adequate funding level for park and recreation services would protect our current investment in recreation and park facilities and programs. It also would provide a defined base from which private funds can be sought to supplement public resources for neighborhood projects, community programming, and facilities not covered under existing budgets. A maintenance-of-funding provision helps to ensure that private funding sources will not be a substitute for City funding obligations.
How? Research other maintenance-of-funding and maintenance-of-effort provisions and agreements within San Francisco and other U.S. cities. Develop a proposed formula, consulting with the Department, the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor's office to ensure an effective provision. The formula must take into account the coverage of future maintenance costs associated with improved facilities and programs resulting from any future bond improvement program, as well as new facilities and programs under a new Recreation and Park Fund. This proposal can be part of the legislative package for parks.
2E. Hotel Tax
Recommendation: Tap the future growth segment of the hotel tax fund.
Why? While there is fierce competition for hotel tax monies, the direct relationship between tourism and park attractions is significant. A larger portion of the hotel tax should support visitor attractions, park maintenance and operations.
How? The R&P Commission should establish a working group including a R&P Commissioner, R&P staff and high-level civic leadership to investigate tapping future hotel tax revenue for recreation and parks. The new R&P political liaison could serve as staff to the group.
2F. Parking Revenue Tracking
Recommendation: Develop an improved system for tracking revenue from Candlestick Park City Park parking lot and future parking facilities.
Why? The City needs a user-friendly system that reduces staff time currently spent in tracking deficiencies.
How? The Tax Collector's Office would specify the easiest tracking method for auditing City Park and other parking facilities and would require contracting entities to use this system when recording inflow of revenues. New guidelines would be presented to audit staff, with in-house training for auditors to occur at least biennially.
3. Improving the Capital Budget
3A. State and Federal Funds
Recommendation: Expand the solicitation of state and federal funds.
Why? Although state and federal funding has declined radically in the last few years, funding could be significantly increased through a concerted lobbying effort.
1) Hire a grants manager at R&P to seek funds from government sources.
2) Identify and solicit pocket funds available at state and federal level.
3) Direct City lobbyists (state and federal) to work with groups and legislators seeking park
4) Create a local coalition of R&P environmental and urban planning groups to organize and push
for increased state and federal funding for parks.
5) Prepare a list of future projects to be accomplished with the Land and Water Conservation Fund
3B. Capital Bond Committee
Recommendation: Establish a bond development committee and move at a measured and deliberate pace toward development of a capital bond measure for parks and recreation.
Why? Preliminary assessments by R&P have documented that significant capital will be needed to repair and restore our park and recreational facilities and landscapes. The 1998 Facilities, Landscape and Program Assessment, to be completed this year, will provide accurate cost estimates for bringing our neighborhood parks and facilities up to first-class condition. A variety of measures will be pursued to enhance department revenue, including sponsorships, alliances, partnerships and efficiency initiatives; however, it is anticipated that capital costs will be significant and will require a capital bond.
How? Several Department initiatives must be successfully in motion before the pursuit of a public bond measure. Strategic planning, an enhanced management team, detailed operating and maintenance plans, and a customer service approach should strengthen the Department and build the public confidence needed to bring forward a bond measure. A bond development coordinator and team of community leaders will be needed to conduct research, polling, and political analysis in a park bond development phase, and to launch a bond campaign as civic and political commitment to the park system strengthens.
3C. Connect Capital Budget to Planning
Recommendation: Establish a 10-year capital plan for both deferred structural maintenance projects and new projects, and connect it to a capital budget.
Why? Limited funds, a triage approach to park management, and deferred maintenance have all contributed to growing capital needs throughout the system. However, there is no long-term capital plan or budget.
How? The R&P Facilities Assessment will provide an accurate account of the current condition of our neighborhood parks and facilities and estimated costs for bringing them up to first-class condition. Establish a capital-budget planning section within the R&P that works with a community/professional advisory team. Prepare a detailed, 10-year capital plan. Dedicate staff resources to identify and secure capital revenue sources.
3D. Redevelopment and Parks
Recommendation: Use redevelopment funds and tax increment financing for the creation and redevelopment of parks.
Why? New City projects in redevelopment areas create opportunities to include new parks or open space. Park creation/redevelopment in these areas is eligible for tax increment financing. The Redevelopment Agency issues bonds to cover project costs against projected tax increment revenue accruing to those Redevelopment areas.
How? The political liaison of the Department, in coordination with other R&P professionals, should monitor new City projects and ensure inclusion of park/open space/ recreational components.
4. Boosting Both Operating And Capital Budgets
4A. Private Partner
Recommendation: Establish a private funding partner to promote and support the park and recreation system.
Why? With elevated public and media attention on parks, there is an opportunity to augment private support and civic commitment to the park and recreation system. It is time to establish a private funding partner that can fully engage willing private partners (individuals, foundations, businesses, corporations) to carry forward a funding effort for parks to an enhanced level.
How? Establish a small, representative committee to work through the concept, mission, goals and roles of such an entity. SPUR or the San Francisco Foundation could convene the committee. The potential and effectiveness of private funding cannot be realized without excellent core management for park and recreation services by the R&P and a stable, ongoing and consistent commitment of General Fund/City dollars to the Department. For this reason, any proposed private vehicle must be crafted with an eye to securing a base of City support and promoting a strong and highly qualified management structure and strategic plan for the R&P.
4B. Sponsorships and Programs
Recommendation: Aggressively pursue sponsorship opportunities for events, projects and programs within the R&P.
Why? San Francisco has many opportunities to match private funding with public recreation needs. Sponsorships will improve recreation programs and lead to greater use of facilities.
How? The R&P should first assign a full-time staff member to encourage sponsorships. Then, working with private-non profit partners, the R&P should identify events, programs and facilities that businesses and organizations may be interested in supporting, and package these opportunities. Examples abound for sponsorships: staff uniforms, specialty gardens, computers for kids at recreation centers, free season swim passes for disadvantaged youth, etc. Famous athletes and artists from the Bay Area could be enlisted. Guidelines for sponsorships should be developed that will prevent the parks from becoming excessively commercialized.
4C. Park Improvement Districts (PIDs)
Recommendation: Encourage and offer technical assistance to neighborhoods that desire to implement PIDs for park improvements.
Why? Park Improvement Districts (PID) can provide a dedicated revenue stream to neighborhood parks if property owners are willing to levy an annual voluntary contribution for parks maintenance within a self-selected district. Currently in San Francisco there is a mechanism to form local voluntary assessments districts in neighborhoods where residents petition to underground overhead street wires.
How? The R&P should develop internal staff expertise to offer technical assistance, support and encouragement to neighborhoods seeking PID financing.