May 31, 2006

A daily report on the happening in Golden Gate Park(ing lot)

The Public/Private Partnership in Public Parks

To serve the Public in America today, our public servants are increasingly turning to private donations. Public schools court private donors to fund athletic and music programs. SF General Hospital has clinics running almost entirely on grants from private foundations. Our Recreation and Parks Department are allowing the SF Fields Fund to pay contractors to upgrade some of our parks to FieldTurf, the hot new synthetic playing surface.

This is how America works now. HUGE tax breaks to the very wealthy result in here-to-for publicly funded services going begging for private donations from these same very wealthy. Seems simple enough, BUT this means that the very wealthy get to decide what is funded, and it is not unusual for public funds to be added to complete the privately funded “public” projects. The $4.5 million the SF Fields Fund is spending is matched by $1 million of public funds to basically fund the public approval process. Not necessarily a bad thing. Some might quibble over the parks the Fund have chosen, but “never look a gift horse” and all that.

The problem manifests when the public servants allow their priorities to be defined by the private donors. Recreation and Parks officials praise the private donations that went into the Harding Golf Complex, but siphoned off $24 million or so of “public funds” to complete a project that serves at best 1% of the cities population and then at most a couple times a month. $4.5 million alone was taken from state funds voter approved for Golden Gate Park to help build a new bar, pardon me clubhouse, for Harding. This money could have completed the Music Concourse, which will stands silent until a “grant” can be found to fix the Bandshell. No plans at all to restore to working the fountains, or to complete the restoration, which will only be a third complete, when the contractors leave soon. Funny, but not, how the Concourse was a functioning space until private projects dismantled it; the deYoung Museum and Concourse Garage, both privately managed and one entirely privately owned.

The rule here for our public servants should be don’t allow a private donor to start something they won’t finish. But this is nothing new. Truth be known, almost all of the major structures in Golden Gate Park were from private donation. Sharon Lodge, the Conservatory of Flower (several times, about $24 million this last time), Spreckel’s Temple of Music, the Hass Children’s Quarter (in process) all privately chosen and funded projects. Not all work out so well. Speedway Meadow was the privately funded Speed Road. Stanford, Crocker, Huntington, and the usual cast of characters wanted a racetrack to show off their horses. They beat on the Park Commissioners until finally in 1890 they were allowed to build one about half the length of Golden Gate Park. BUT they never fully funded it and John McLaren converted it back to meadow and the Golden Gate Park Stadium in 1906. The Polo Field we call it now.

When it comes to our parks, one major contrast with private donations of today and yesteryear is that the new donations usually result in ticket booths for the public. The Fine Arts Museum (now deYoung) and the California Academy of Science were originally free to the public along with the Conservatory and Tea Garden. There was actually a park wide policy that attractions in the Park must be free. Now if you visit Golden Gate Park, don’t leave home without your Visa card. A family of three can expect to spend about $75 to visit all the “attractions” and that doesn’t include a hotdog or a boat ride.

Of all functions our Public Parks must serve, providing unobstructed space for all our citizens to gather at equals, whatever their economic condition is foremost. Sadly, today the wealthy are allowed to build palaces in our parks, where they can through grand private parties for themselves, and the free public space is last to be maintained.

May 28, Art coming to a meadow near you.

May 25 LOST IN THE FOG or Homeless in Golden Gate Park

May 23, Those That Ignore History...

May 22, Faces of the Bay to Breakers 2006

May 20, An Open Letter to the Mayor: How can we take back our Park?


May 18, DEDE to allow some of her Oscars to be viewed by visitors to her museum.














Remember it's not a Park it's a Parking Lot.