Proposition G - Golden Gate Park Stables Fund

Voter Guide
November 1, 2007
This measure appeared on the November 2007 San Francisco ballot.

 

What it does

Appropriates money outside of budget process to subsidize stables shuttered since 2001.

This proposition is an ordinance that would establish a fund for donations to restore the stables in Golden Gate Park and provide for a City match of $1 for every $3 in private money donated to the fund. The City portion of the fund is up to $750,000, appropriated from the General Fund.

Why it is on the ballot

Horseback riding has been a part of Golden Gate Park for more than 130 years and the riding stables are historically significant structures built by the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal era.

In 2001, the stables closed their doors and ceased operations indefinitely. It is in need of substantial renovation before it can be used again. Previous attempts at operating the City-owned stables for profit were unsuccessful. In addition to a requirement to provide open and equal access, there the costs of operating a public stable in San Francisco were high. Prior operators had little capital or retained earnings to reinvest in upkeep and renovation.

Although the stable previously lost money, some believe that the stables could be operated at a profit if given proper funds for extensive renovations and if the new stables did not permit private citizens to board their horses there indefinitely (presumably at below-market rates).

The stables are a City-owned concession. Historically, their management was put out to bid for a private operator. The Recreation and Parks Department is preparing a request for proposals for a stable operator and manager. In order to better educate itself regarding the needs of a public stables, in late 2001 the Board of Supervisors, led by Supervisor Tony Hall, called on local equestrian experts to form a working group to develop an advisory plan to aid the City's development of an RFP.

On May 5, 2003, this plan was revealed. The working group recognized the need for expansion of the stalls, and expansion and covering of the center riding arena. The group encountered delays, including the need for a historical review of the site, but ultimately the group successfully directed the development of initial site plans. Due to costs, the proposals cited that all structures aside from the current WPA stalls would be pre-fabricated.

Pros

Those who support this measure claim:

  • This ordinance would provide City matching funds to encourage private donations. Using public funds to leverage private funds is good policy as it shares the burden for a public good.
  • San Francisco would be unique among U.S. cities in maintaining stables within city limits for public use.
  • This measure is necessary as it would overcome six years of stalemate on moving to renovate and reopen the stables.

Cons

Those who oppose this measure claim:

  • The maximum of $750,000 in City money that this measure would generate (with the $2.25 million in private donations) is far less than enough to complete the renovation. There is no assurance that additional needed funds would be forthcoming from either the City or private sources.
  • Without a developed business plan, it is not clear how the stables could be maintained. There is no way of knowing whether the enterprise would be self-sustaining or would require continuing City funds for operations.
  • The City has already adopted its 2007-2008 budget, and funds for the stables were not included. Funds for the stables should be appropriated through the budgeting process, not through the ballot box.
  • The City has a planning process for prioritizing capital expenditures. The costs of renovating the stables should be part of that planning process, not a special case.

SPUR's analysis

The San Francisco Parks Trust has already raised $1.4 million from private sources for the renovation of the stables. Some of this money is being used to develop the environmental-impact report required before any work can be done on the stables.

The proposed stables fund would receive a city match of $1 for each $3 of new private contributions, up to a maximum of $750,000 in City money. The stables would not receive a city match for the $1.4 million already raised. The Parks Trust would oversee this new fund and establish a separate nonprofit agency to oversee the future of the stables.

It is estimated that well more than $3.5 million is required to restore the stables. The restoration will include covering and lighting the arena, increasing the size of the stalls, building more stalls, building housing for the operator to give a 24-hour presence for safeguarding the horses and the relocation of the hay barn, as well as shavings storage and a manure-processing area.

The San Francisco Parks Trust is working on a business plan for maintaining the stables over time once they are reopened. Some changes to past practice are proposed. In the past, private horse owners could board their horses there indefinitely. That would not be allowed under the new plan. Further, part of the plan for renovation of the stables involves bringing in at-risk youths, providing scholarships so that children and youths from throughout the city could benefit from having horses to ride and care for.

While using tax funds to leverage private donations is often a good plan, horseback riding in Golden Gate Park is not the most pressing public priority for giving a City subsidy. The appropriation of City funds should be made through the budget process, not through the ballot. During the budget process, priorities such as riding stables can be weighed against affordable housing, homeless services and other more urgent concerns. Further, the capital expenditures needed to renovate the stables should go through the regular process of prioritizing capital investments. Lastly, the City subsidy and private match (totaling approximately $3 million) is not even sufficient to reopen the stables. Ultimately, this is a misuse of the ballot box and this measure should not be on the ballot.

SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Prop. G.