By Bonnee Waldstein
It’s beginning to look as if Glen Park’s wish list for a major overhaul of Glen Canyon Park is getting closer to a dream realized.
Soon the final design will be unveiled, and construction will begin, on the projects approved through the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhoods bond fund. Glen Canyon Park will see trails improvements, better access on Elk Street, the relocation of the tennis courts to make way for a welcoming entry plaza The bond also provided $3 million to address the most glaring deficiencies in the worn out building: the gym floor, heating, and restroom facilities.
Now the City is proposing another parks bond issue for the 2012 ballot. One of the proposed neighborhood projects calls for $12 million for a major renovation of the Glen Park Recreation Center. The other large project in District 8 is $2 million for improvement of George Christopher playground in Diamond Heights.
A series of presentations is going on at the neighborhood level – there have been 45 so far –to introduce the scope of the proposed bond and get initial feedback from the locals. On April 18, at the Harvey Milk Center for Recreational Arts, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Dawn Kamalanathan of the Rec and Park Department, outlined the features of the bond issue for District s 5 and 8, as well as the rest of the city.
By way of background, Wiener explained that six years ago the City adopted a ten-year capital plan. It catalogued all its assets, including schools, roads, parks and the airport; and assessed the capital needs, which run into the tens of billions of dollars. This results in a realistic view of what is attainable. The plan is updated every year.
The proposed 2012 bond is part of this ten-year capital plan. The Rec and Park Department, with over 220 properties, has over one billion dollars of capital needs. The bond would allocate $185 million towards that, the same amount as the 2008 bond. One factor in deciding how to allocate funds is to consider the rating system put out by the Parks Alliance every year. “Failing” parks and playgrounds get priority. Other factors that are considered are geographic balance and how much the facilities are used.
In order to get the two-thirds vote needed to pass the bond, it must include many diverse projects that will be of interest to the most voters.
One of the lessons learned from previous bonds is the need for funding ongoing maintenance and staffing. For that reason, projects such as park clubhouse renovation won’t be undertaken.
In addition to $97 million for proposed neighborhood projects such as Glen Canyon Park, the bond would fund waterfront parks and citywide parks projects, including Golden Gate, McLaren and Lake Merced parks.
Another feature of the bond is to continue, and expand to $10 million, the Community Opportunity Fund Program. The program provides funding through grants for smaller projects, spearheaded and applied for at the neighborhood level. These require a lot of community involvement and sweat equity, and are often supplemented with matching funds.
Rounding out the long to-do list are funds for playground safety in seven to eleven playgrounds ($15.5 million), water conservation ($5 million), forestry ($4 million), and trails ($4 million).
Some might question the fiscal soundness of issuing what feels like a steady stream of bonds. The city policy is not to raise property taxes beyond the 2006 rate, and to issue new bonds only as old ones are retired. That way a steady stream of investment in our infrastructure is assured.
Another issue that’s often raised is why the City can’t finance ongoing improvements out of the general fund. According to Supervisor Wiener, there is over one billion dollars in needs, which is just about the size of the City’s entire discretionary fund. Decades of deferred maintenance on City assets have turned ongoing maintenance needs into capital projects. A bond issue is the only way to address this overwhelming backlog.
After the neighborhood meetings have been completed, the bond proposal will go to the Rec and Parks Commission, then to the Board of Supervisors, and to the Budget Finance Committee on June 21.
The last truly major investment in the parks was in the 1950’s. Beginning with the 2000 bond, the city is trying for a renaissance of consistent renewal. The emphasis is on renovation rather than new building
The 2008 bond issue passed with 71.6% of the vote and the City is hoping for similar support for this year’s bond proposal. One advantage of the weak economy overall is a positive contract bidding climate – we’re likely to get more bang for our buck.
The Parks Bond 2012: http://sfrecpark.org/BondOutreach.aspx
Community Opportunity Fund Program: http://sfrecpark.org/COF.aspx