Proposition A - Parks Bond

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the February 2008 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This general-obligation bond program is a joint project of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the Port of San Francisco. Of the total $185 million in bonds, $151.5 million is for the Recreation and Park Department and $33.5 million for the Port.

Two-thirds of all voters must approve the measure for it to take effect. If it passes, the Board of Supervisors will be authorized to sell $185 million worth of bonds to finance the projects. The City will use bond proceeds to repair, replace and upgrade neighborhood recreation facilities and athletic fields, reforest parks, repair restrooms, restore trails, and improve access to open space. The bond proceeds also will help strengthen waterfront access and establish the “Blue Greenway,” a 13-mile series of parks, walkways, art and other infrastructure along the City’s southeastern waterfront, from China Basin to Candlestick point.

The Recreation and Park Department’s portion of the bond proceeds is proposed to fund:

  1. $117.4 million for playground safety and for repair, replacement, seismic work, modernization and landscaping for 12 recreation centers and playgrounds.
  2. $11.4 for the repair or replacement of park restrooms.
  3. $8.5 million to match City Fields Foundation grant funds to renovate athletic fields with artificial turf and lights, to increase the capacity and use of existing fields.
  4. $5 million to restore walking trails and improve access to open space.
  5. $5 million to provide a small-grant funding program to repair and improve parks nominated by community groups with a financial or sweat-equity match.
  6. $4 million to plant trees and restore the aging park tree canopy.

Of the funds designated for the fourth, fifth and sixth projects, 20 percent will be held back as a reserve to ensure that there is enough money to complete the first, second and third projects.

The Port’s portion of the bond proceeds is proposed to help establish a Blue Greenway plan to provide new, publicly accessible waterfront parks and open space along Port land on the eastern and northern side of the city, including:

  1. $8 million for the seismic repair of a failing seawall at Pier 43, the removal of an unsafe pier and the extension of the Embarcadero Promenade into Fisherman’s Wharf.
  2. $3 million for the Brannon Street Wharf to repair the failing wharf and to add neighborhood open space and a small-boat launch.
  3. $22.5 million to help construct the 2006 Blue Greenway open-space improvements such as Bayfront Park at Mission Bay, Crane Cove at Pier 70, Islais Creek, and Heron’s Head Park. The community planning process would be continued to further define these projects or other Blue Greenway projects.

Proposition A also features the strongest accountability and transparency measures ever included in a general-obligation bond measure:

  1. Clear criteria for the selection of projects, ensuring that the selection process is transparent and apolitical.
  2. Specific lists of projects and budgets, ensuring that voters understand how funds will be used.
  3. Extensive cost estimates to ensure realistic, deliverable project budgets, project scope, schedules and large contingency allocations for construction inflation, etc.
  4. Improved and more accessible web-based project reporting on bond expenditures, and updates on construction and schedules.
  5. Strengthened oversight of bond expenditures and implementation by the Citywide Capital Planning Committee, the Citizens General Obligation Oversight Committee, the Recreation and Park Commission, and the Port Commission, as well as mayor and Board of Supervisors. Funds are allocated for audits of the bond by the Controller’s Office, as requested by the citizens committee.
  6. Establishes processes for responding to unexpected circumstances by setting clear rules to guide any necessary reallocation of bond funds.


Why it is on the ballot

Under state law, general-obligation bonds require the approval of two-thirds of participating voters in an election. They cannot be approved by local legislative bodies, but must appear as a ballot measure. Proposition A is the first general-obligation bond under the City’s 10-year capital plan, which sets the direction for the construction and maintenance of City infrastructure for the next decade. Future bonds for capital needs will fund renovations at General Hospital and the Hall of Justice.

This bond appears on the February 2008 ballot instead of the June or November ballot because of a political calculation that voters may be more likely to reject multiple bonds when confronted with a major price tag. The June ballot may include large state bonds and the November ballot will likely include a bond measure of $800 million to $1 billion for San Francisco General Hospital.

Parks in San Francisco have serious capital needs, and there is insufficient money within the City’s General Fund to pay for all needed repairs and renovations. SPUR recognized this issue several years ago and wrote a paper, “The Big Fix,” which focused on capital planning and deferred maintenance throughout the City. The paper became the basis for legislation that was written by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and the Mayor’s Budget Office, and adopted by the mayor and Board of Supervisors in 2005. The result: the first 10-year capital plan in the city’s history that prioritizes basic life safety and public safety, as well as other critical capital projects. The plan sets a schedule for series of general-obligation bonds over a 10-year time frame. Proposition A is the first bond in the series of bonds to be put to the voters to fund deferred maintenance.

In early 2007, the Recreation and Park Department completed its first complete third-party assessment of all park properties and facilities. Based on this assessment, the department has an unmet capital need of roughly $1.7 billion. While this level investment to restore and modernize buildings and park may go beyond what is necessary in some situations (for example, replacing the historic cabins at Camp Mather in the Sierras), it demonstrates a level of capital need of which this bond is only a downpayment.

This is not the first bond for the Recreation and Park Department. In 2000, voters approved a $110 million parks bond measure. The adopted measure contained only a single sentence describing the purpose of the bond as being for construction and repair of facilities, and acquisition of open space. The lack of specificity resulted in confusion, consternation and anger that “promised projects” listed in the political marketing during the campaign for the bond measure did not get funded. Some park advocates also were very concerned by the lack of accountability and transparency, and by the nearly nonexistent cost estimating for potential projects. The poor planning and budgeting resulted in cost overruns in some cases, and projects that were never completed in others. Some parks advocates were frustrated as a result.

The 2008 bond attempts to overcome these past mistakes. In particular, the Recreation and Park Department will work more closely with the Department of Public Works, which conducts the design and construction-management services on many projects. Furthermore, the department has reorganized its capital division to provide improved project oversight and has brought on new project-management staff. They are in the process of implementing a program-management system designed to increase project controls and oversight.

If the bond passes, a general concern is how well the Port and the Park Department will maintain the new and renovated parks. All too often, City agencies renovate or build capital projects with bond proceeds, only to allow them to deteriorate because inadequate funds are used to maintain the projects. The mayor and the Board of Supervisors reversed the trend of reduced operations funding this year by increasing the department’s General Fund budget enough to hire 35 new custodians, 15 new gardeners and 13 new park patrol officers.


Arguments for this measure:

  • There is an urgent need for repair and renovation of San Francisco’s parks. An independent analysis identified $1.7 billion in structural repairs throughout San Francisco’s parks. The bonds fund urgently needed seismic repairs to heavily used recreation centers, such as the Sunset Recreation Center. The bonds fund much-needed improvements to every freestanding restroom in a neighborhood park to make those restrooms safe and clean.
  • If the bond fails in February, the Recreation and Park Department will not be able to issue general-obligation bonds until 2013 based on the proposed bond schedule in the City’s 10-year capital plan.
  • The bond measure has stronger accountability, reporting and transparency provisions than any other City bond measure. This will help ensure the completion of the identified projects within budget.
  • The measure focuses on neighborhood parks that have not received the same level of financial support in prior bonds.
  • The Parks Department used transparent and objective criteria in the selection of parks to receive funding. Criteria included seismic safety, physical conditions, core park amenities and the density of population each park serves. Those who are critical of these criteria often are those whose favorite park was excluded in this analysis.
  • The Blue Greenway projects included in this bond are an exciting way to open the Bay and waterfront to residents and visitors. Waterfront access, trails and public art along a neglected part of the Bay are investments that will enhance the overall quality of life in San Francisco.
  • The measure should be the catalyst for bringing in additional non-City monies to enhance Port and Park Department capital projects.


Arguments against this measure:

  • The entirety of the bond measure funds only a limited number of parks. While parks not identified in the bond may have access to some of the resources, they will have to apply though a community opportunity fund.
  • Although the community was involved in project selection, the fact that the measure was rushed to the February ballot means that not all stakeholders were brought on board.
  • The bond does not include sufficient monies for basic infrastructure, such as sprinklers and water fountains.
  • The Recreation and Park Department’s track record of implementing bond projects is weak. If management of the bond funds is not significantly improved, bond funds might not be used effectively.

SPUR’s Analysis

Proposition A is the first bond measure to come out of the City’s 10-year capital plan. It is an important indicator of the public’s willingness to issue debt primarily for deferred maintenance with some new construction included.

The City is reasonably confident that the issuance of the planned bond measures over the next 10 years will hold the level of property taxes steady. As the City retires existing debt from prior general-obligation bonds, that debt capacity becomes available for new bond programs —while keeping tax rates level for property-tax payers.

If two- thirds of participating San Francisco Voters do not approve Proposition A, it is likely that the Recreation and Park Department would have to wait until 2013 to submit another bond for voter approval. This is because of the schedule of bonds proposed in the 10-year capital plan. The schedule seeks to spread out needed bond measures across five or more years to increase the likelihood that voters will support them. If Proposition A were to fail and the Recreation and Park Department tried to introduce another bond measure before 2013, it is likely that other City departments’ worthy bond-funded projects would be delayed or scrapped.

To avoid waiting five years for another bond, we must focus our efforts on ensuring that Proposition A passes with more than two-thirds of the vote in February.

SPUR recommends a “Yes” vote on Prop. A.