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Ballot measure to spruce up city parks
Monday, February 28, 2000

San Franciscans love to play, but do they want to pay?

That's the question voters will answer on March 7 with two measures on the San Francisco ballot that call for sprucing up The City's parks, playgrounds and recreation centers.

"It's pretty clear to anyone who has gone by a neighborhood park or used a recreation center that they're run down and need help," said Isabel Wade, executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council and an ardent backer of the proposals.

Proposition A is a $110 million bond measure that would pay for buying and building neighborhood recreation and park facilities, as well as fund renovations for existing ones. Among the projects on the list: new roofs, spruced up bathrooms and new drainage systems for playing fields.

It's been more than five decades since voters approved a bond for neighborhood parks and playgrounds.

The Prop. A debt would be paid off by residential property owners. To the owner of a house assessed at $300,000, for example, the extra tax could add up to $41.68 a year, if all the bonds were sold at the same time. Usually, however, the bonds are issued incrementally, keeping the annual tax hike to pay off the bonds lower.

Proposition C, a companion measure, would extend The City's open space fund, which doesn't raise property taxes, but simply carves out a portion of the property tax revenue pie to pay for new parks, after-school programs, urban forestry and community garden projects.

Right now, the Open Space Fund, which this year is expected to take in some $16 million, is set to expire in 2005; the proposal would add on another 25 years.

In addition, Prop. C would create a citizens' advisory committee, appointed from each of the new 11 supervisorial districts, to oversee the park and rec system through regular meetings, public hearings and budget reviews. It also mandates a five-year "strategic plan" and a 10-year plan for facility improvements.

The measure would allow for the issuance of revenue bonds, which would be leveraged against the fund, and would allow the Recreation and Park Department to

carry over any unused funds from one year to the next.

Funds needed for improvements

The bond money and the open space funds would pay for improvements throughout The City.

To win, the Prop. A bond measure requires at least two-thirds support, not an easy prospect in a town where voters last year were tapped to pay for the rebuilding of Laguna Honda Hospital and also will decide next week on a bond proposal to fix up the California Academy of Sciences.

Prop. C needs a simply majority vote to be implemented.

Diamond Heights resident Richard Craib, president of Friends of Glen Canyon Park, backs both park measures, A and C. He sees the need every time he uses the Glen Park Recreation Center for community meetings or a game of pick-up volleyball.

"The gym floor is rotting," he said. "The restrooms absolutely smell like

a sewer."

Sparse Republican opposition

No organized opposition to either ballot proposition has emerged, but some individual Republicans paid for a handful of ballot arguments opposing Propositions A and C. Their bottom-line argument: "The repairs and construction . . . should be paid for out of current tax revenue - not interest-paying bonds."

Craib didn't disagree that in an ideal world it would be nice if the Recreation and Park Department's budget was plump enough to pay for everything. But, he said, the political reality has been such "that there are so many other priorities, we seem to get left out."

The Recreation and Park Department's budget this year totals some $89 million.

The big bucks proposals are a result of years of neglect by City Hall, particularly during the economically gloomy recession years of the early 1990s when rec and park programs were some of the first cut to balance the shaky budget.

The fallout is still felt, with leaky roofs at recreation centers, pocked softball fields and few new trees being planted to replace the dead ones.

A report released by the Recreation Department last year found that nearly $400 million in work is

eeded to shore up the more than 200 parks and recreation facilities in The City - excluding Golden Gate Park.

During the past couple of years, civic groups and City Hall have paid more attention to San Francisco's public parks and recreational resources.

A stronger economy, for example, has allowed Mayor Willie Brown and the Board of Supervisors to pump more general fund money into the system, and frustrated residents have adopted neighborhood parks on their own.

Philanthropists also have taken interest, vowing cash donations to pay for improvements. City officials promised to more aggressively go after state and federal grants. <

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