A Hostile Crowd of About 250 Says No to Charging $7 Admission at Strybing Arboretum

As anticipated, the public meeting concerning the plan to start charging daily admission at the “world classSan Francisco Botanical Garden was held tonight – so it’s going to be seven dollars for those Godforsaken Souls not fortunate to reside within the City limits, and five bones for residents. The crowd, 90%+ opposed to this idea, vented its fury, as anticipated.

(If you’re not familiar with the place take a look here – this flora and fauna, with subjects like orange hummingbirds, violet blue jays, purple flowers, red foxes, blue herons, pink berries and yellow poppies, were spotted at the S.F. Botanical Garden.)

One worry is the possibility of the revenue predictions being a tad too rosy. The plan now is for the million dollar a year projected take (that’s a nice round number, in’nt?) to get partially eaten up by the $300K in annual expenses associated with collecting admission. If the number of people who decide to avoid Strybing like the plague (as many people have done with the Japanese Tea Garden) is greater than anticipated, then the fixed overhead of the admissions scheme could take a much bigger share of the gross.

(It’s not clear if the proposed “aggressive marketing campaign” is included in the $300,000/year estimated cost of overhead.)

Now of course, the idea to charge admission would still “make money,” it would still make sense under the marginal revenue productivity theory of wages, but would it make sense overall? Tonight’s Powerpoint presentation made a good case for just shutting down Strybing entirely, since it’s so expensive to operate, right? But if the proposed scheme chases out more than half the patrons, then isn’t this admissions plan more than halfway there to just shutting down entirely?

An accountant, or a business owner or a CEO can easily understand Marginal Revenue Product, but the concept of the deadweight loss to society from the admission policy is harder to understand.

Did the survey taken of visitors’ willingness to pay admission correctly determine the elasticity of demand? Only Time Will Tell.

Notably absent from tonight’s meeting was the early morning exercise crew, which will be unaffected since they’ll get in for free if they get to the park early enough in the day, apparently. Another notable point is the crowd’s hatred of the Japanese Tea Garden’s lack of a monthly free admission day. The reduction in the number of hours per week the public could get into the JTG for free was about 90% all of a sudden not too long ago. So there’s only three hours a week (9:00 AM – 10AM, M, W, F) that are still free.

(Don’t mention that fact in front of this kind of audience, else you’ll get hissed. And really, isn’t that kind of an East Coast thing, crowd, your intermittent hissing? Moving on…)

There were some gardeners and their friends in the audience – they view the admissions policy as maybe not the best thing in the world, but preferable to the idea of laying off employees.

Is this proposal a push to “change what the gardens are”? Some people think so.

[UPDATE: Hey look what commenter Audrey came up with – a link to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It seems they combine a Japanese Tea Garden and a Conservatory into the Arboretum and people can get in for one price. Could we have this kind of one-ticket-gets-you-into-all-three-things-all-day-long thing? Yes, but some of our powers that be might not cotton to that idea.]

The mise-en-scene. (Yes, the cinder block walls have been painted green.) Click to expand:

Strybing Director Brent Dennis, seen here in front of his 35-minute-long Powerpoint of unhappy words and numbers, was the primary flack-catcher for the evening. Right before question time he remarked that the audience had “hissed” its way to the end of his presentation.

A mom unhappy with the proposed changes:

A San Francisco native unhappy with the proposed changes:


Consider this person’s sign, seen here pinned to the back of his shirt, an endorsement of fees as a necessary evil to maintain the arboretum:

It was not a good day to be a Recs and Parks commissioner:

This mimeographed screed of “talking points” handed out by “retired native local son” Denis Mosgofian was deemed too valuable to disperse to those who didn’t swear fealty to the anti-fee cause. You can read it if you click on it:

Excerpts from the Powerpoint presentation from the meeting’s hosts, excerpts. Click to expand:

Extra money, yay!



That’s the bulk of the Powerpoint.

Will foxes come back to a quieter, less hectic Strybing?

Near the Primitive Garden, a half-decade ago:


And there you have it.

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35 Responses to “A Hostile Crowd of About 250 Says No to Charging $7 Admission at Strybing Arboretum”

  1. Harry says:

    This was a real “dog and pony show” It looks as if the guy to the right of Lazarus is another commissioner.

    Who is the guy to the left?

    Have to love the way they make up those silly revenue projections from ticket sales!

  2. Peter says:

    I am saddened by this. The admission fee will basically discourage local Bay Area residents from enjoying the Botanical Gardens. The only people who will pay those prices are tourists.

    Last month, when the line at the Academy was too long, I took my young daughter and her friend to the Gardens instead. It was a great free option for something else to do, and it was a good way to show them plants from different parts of the world.

    Coming from Marin, the costs just add up – $5+ Bridge toll, $7 admission (for on person), and then parking meters. One less trip for me into the city. I just can’t afford it anymore.

  3. Scott Cuper says:

    Keep it free for city residents, charge the tourists, make the tourists buy the tix at De Young/Academy/Tea Garden where box offices exists, so the only additional cost at Strybing would pay one person per shift to take tickets from tourists and check ID’s for residents. This plan should ease resident concerns and still generate some income for our strapped City Parks Dept.

  4. Melissa says:

    A lot of us “tourists” are simply people who can no longer afford to live in San Francisco and still have fond feelings for the place.

    My husband and I moved when we couldn’t afford to buy anything in The City after living and renting in San Francisco for over 18 years. I loved my time there and was sad that I had to make the choice.

    I’ll keep coming back to Golden Gate Park, but there has to be some alternative to the extremely expensive Academy of Science complex. Some area where people can still enjoy the park and not have to spend a fortune to do it.

  5. cyberbrook says:

    Whatever the deal eventually worked out, it has to at least always be free for SF residents.

  6. Joe says:

    Cant see paying 7 dollars for entrance to a park containing such poorly maintained plants. Last time I was there – conservatively – 25% of the labelled plants were dead or dying.

  7. Rob says:

    If you really want to see the Botanical Gardens survive, then you should sign up with Hands on Bay Area (which is a volunteer organization, just google it) and volunteer to help out there. The have monthly volunteer days at the Botanical Gardens, the Conservatory of Flowers, Legion of Honor, the Zoo, state Beaches etc. and you get a good look at the parks as well as free admission. Heck, if you volunteer at the Legion of Honer 6 times in one year you get a free yearly pass at the for the Legion of Honor and the DeYoung, plus you really help out the parks which are struggling to get the work needed

  8. Rick says:


  9. Roger says:

    Speaking as a volunteer at SFBG, two huge difficulties we face every day, which are destroying those “poorly maintained” plants there, are the trampling/pissing/sleeping on/vandalism caused by humans and the stripping and destruction by a gross overpopulation of squirrels, caused by hand feeding by humans.
    I feel like a minimal fee would enable the garden to better control/patrol the garden for all of the above destructive forces. More importantly, I feel that if you have to pay for something, it has a higher value in your mind. Maybe people will stop to think before running over a valued species while playing kickball, trampling on emerging bulbs just to get a photo of that cute little squirrel or, yes, pissing on a beautiful flower (things I see every week)
    Thanks for your support people!!!

  10. damnedjose says:

    $7 for entrance? have fun, you shmucks. i’ll never pay. yeah, let’s have the strybing available only for people with money, dumb tourists, and dumb other people. what a sterile environment that will be. have fun, shmucks.

  11. Smi2le says:

    San Francisco is being plundered to sustain six figure salaries and early retirements for it’s police and fire fighters. We have the highest paid police and fire fighters in the world at the expense of everything that makes living in San Francisco worthwhile.

  12. Erin Korogodsky says:

    Someone explain to me why I have to pay to use something I already pay for? This is crazy. The money won’t even be used to save a crashing business – it will be used to enhance the gardens. For who?!??????

  13. Marten Evertz says:

    The Arboretum is a museum of plants, but instead it is treated as an ordinary park. Citizens have the whole rest of GGP to walk, play, do tai-chi or whatever. I would like to see the Arboretum improved and that takes money. The City cannot provide the money needed. Strybing Society does an amazing job, but cannot raise enough funds to take the Arboretum to world class level. I am a SF native and current resident. An entrance fee needs to be charged to provide these specimen plants the respect they deserve.

  14. Mark, San Francisco, CA says:

    It’s time to recruit the professional protestors and start protesting at the homes of city and state leaders every weekend. Enough is enough! There are many wealthy SF residents and politicians who can make a difference in keeping our parks free with charitable contibutions. Every weekend we should remind Pelosi, Boxer, Newsom, et al. that we’ve had enough! We’re already being taxed enough.

  15. MTW, Berkeley says:

    Well, somebody has to pay. When you vote to not pay taxes to support things like this for everybody to enjoy, you vote to pay at the door (assuming you want it at all). No free rides people, sorry. The downside is many will just not want to go if it is going to cost $7, especially poor people obviously. So, nice things like this just become the niceties of people with money. For better or worse, that’s Reganomics 101. Good things for people who can afford it, and well, not so nice things for poor people. Back to 1890 here we go.

  16. Laura says:

    I went to the Botanical Gardens last year on Mother’s Day after going to the Japanese Tea Garden. If we had to pay $7 admission, we would not have gone. I would consider $3 but no more than that. You can walk through the rest of the park for free and see nice plants everywhere. There is nothing in there that is spectaular enough to warrant a $7 fee. If a couple wanted to picnic, it would cost them $14: a family of 4, $28 – well, they can go sit on any other lawn for free. If you charge $7 . . . they will not come.

  17. Audrey says:

    I understand needing to raise some revenue for the gardens, but I think $7 is a little much. How about combined entrance to both the Tea Gardens & Botanical Gardens for $5 or $10, or maybe a $10 family pass?

    They compare admission to other Gardens, but for $8 at the Brooklyn Botanical gardens it looks like there’s a LOT more to see, including a Conservatory complex and their own Japanese garden:

    I loved this garden for a lunchtime stop when I worked in the area, and now when I come to visit the museums it’s always nice. I’m bummed that I probably won’t visit again when it’ll be $14 to wander through for 10 minutes with a friend. Unless they really do manage to upgrade it a whole lot.

  18. sfrichkid says:

    Because of admission, I never go to the Japanese Tea Garden unless it is free. I think $1 is not so bad, but $7!!!!. That is ridiculous.

  19. Jack Kirkpatrick says:

    The comparitive charges of entry with similar gardens is silly. I wouldn’t pay it. I would go to Yank Sing or Cafe Gratitude sevral times a month. Of course, if SF charges me to go downtown like in London, they can forget me and our guests from visiting.

  20. Terri says:

    The Gardens are BOTH a collection of exotic plants AND a neighborhood park where people who live in the area can walk, read, do tai chi, picnic, sunbathe, etc. Most of the rest of the SE section of Golden Gate Park is developed, not as conducive to relaxing in a natural setting.

    The problem, I think, is that the current Arboretum management wants to change the Gardens from the way they are now into a place that is ONLY a museum. In their drive to make the Gardens “world class,” they will destroy one of its key functions, which is to provide recreational space for the residents of the city.

    Why change a good thing? Why does the plant “collection” need to be “world class” anyway? Who entered us into such a competition?

  21. Jack Kirkpatrick says:

    The nice thing about San Francisco is that you can visit it, bring a few treats to eat in the city and then leave and have a wonderful feeding experience just across the county line.

  22. some guy says:

    Can’t afford the zoo, can’t afford the academy of sciences or the Japanese Tea Garden anymore and now they want to take away the arboretum from us. SF is at war against the Working Class. Unless you are uber rich, a noe valley yuppie or some homeless drug addict SF says “Screw You.” Ya Basta! Why is the left wing board of supes at war with the working class?

  23. Jack Kirkpatrick says:

    S. F. City Government Doesn’t Pay Living Wage; Why?
    You won’t improve the situation by charging for the garden!

    If people living and working in San Francisco are having trouble paying their bills, (Editorial, “Finding it hard to make ends meet,” Sept. 28), then maybe another editorial should call on the government of the City and County of San Francisco to pay their own employees a living wage of $55,000. Ms. Latimore (Working to Survive – transportation) earns $17 an hour ($33,000 with benefits). She is responsible for her 23 yr. old daughter who’s in college and has a 7 yr. old son. Why is the daughter not paying her way and where is the court ordered child support for her son? Not all jobs are designed to make a living wage or worth the value that they serve when there are other ways to disseminate information through a social case worker. The paradox is that liberal San Francisco is intolerant of conservatives and should lead or quit whining!

  24. CLS says:

    when i was a kid EVERYTHING in this town was FREE. the zoo and all the museums were free (and i am not that old). yes, i know, it’s the economy. does that mean the arborists who lost their jobs working for the sf parks dept will get their jobs back if admission is charged? i think there are like 4 remaining arborists for every single park in this town.

  25. CLS says:

    HEY SOME GUY: as a working class noe valley native, i would like to know what neighborhood you grew up in? go back to the stereotyped world from where you moved.

  26. Philo says:

    Why these freeloaders whine is beyond me. Seven bucks is less than a movie. Yes, the City might do more to keep the place up, but it doesn’t and it won’t. Look around: the public parks are a disgrace, neglected to a point where much will need to be replanted, not just tended.
    Either get rid of the prettyboy mayor and the idiot Supervisors, or pay a very modest fee to preserve this special place.

  27. WTF? says:

    They should charge TOURISTS and keep it free for SF locals. If they don’t do this and end up charging locals, I anticipate the park will be vandalized, which I would almost condone. I’m tired of paying to keep this town nice for the international throng of moron tourists.

  28. Erika says:

    One of the reasons I just moved to the Inner Sunset was for the family- friendly feeling afforded by the Strybing Arboretum/SF Botanical Garden. I am expecting twins in a month. I have wanted nothing more than to take them to the arboretum regularly for their own health, recreation and enjoyment. It pains me that access to such an important a place for children may be restricted. I lament that the proposed fee would keep children like mine out of this beautiful, safe and clean space in the park simply because their parents and caretakers could not afford to make repeated–if any–visits. My family and I certainly will not be able to stomach a $5 fee. We feel, like so many apartment renters and home owners in the area, that we are already paying for this public space.

    I agree that instead of raising fees, there must be more creative ways to generate income and upgrade the park as needed. For instance, I appreciate the retired high school teacher’s idea of having high school students or even some of the current swelling ranks of the unemployed volunteer or intern in the park. I especially appreciate the suggestion that wealthier donors be targeted in more creative ways for fundraising.

    Finally, as a few people pointed out last night, John McClaren and Helene Strybing would have wanted us all to have appropriate recreational access to the gardens. Let’s work together to stop what one concerned citizen last night called “a theft of the commons.”

  29. VictorSF says:

    Do you need money for the parks?! Stop whining and cut those sinecura jobs RIGH NOW! Take back the city!!!
    Sampling of city climate-control jobs and what they pay
    At least 25 city employees work directly on initiatives related to climate-control efforts in San Francisco. Here is a sample of those jobs and what they are paid:

    Mayor’s Office: Director of climate protection initiatives

    Department of the Environment: Eight-person Energy and Climate Program team led by a climate action coordinator – at a total cost of more than $800,000

    San Francisco Public Utilities Commission: Projects manager for the climate action plan

    San Francisco Public Utilities Commission: Assistant to the general manager for water enterprise (works on how climate change is going to impact the region’s water supply)

    San Francisco International Airport: Manager of environmental services

    Municipal Transportation Agency: Manager of emissions reductions and sustainability programs

  30. Buck says:

    How else will everyone that works for SF city government make $100,000 plus if they do not charge for absolutely everything. Government workers now have only one focus, how much money and benefits can I squeeze from the taxpayer while providing as little as possible in return. Is there any wonder why SF city government is now running a $450,000,000 deficient. Keep charging the taxpayer and the business community more and eventually the well runs dry as individuals get to the point where they simply cannot afford to do much of anything except show at Safeway and stay home.

  31. Norita Vlach says:

    Does anyone know about a previous attempt to charge admission at
    the arboretum that failed because of stipulations by the trust (Strybing?)
    that it would not subsidize the arboretum unless it maintained free
    public access? This supposedly happened about 15 years ago. What is
    the legal status of the trust vis a vis public access now??

  32. jane says:

    Mary. a page on 3, told me she was at the hearing. Were you there?

  33. I used to live in SF, now live in Pacifica. I’m retired. I hate to see the Botanical Garden go under, but slapping a 7-dollar admission eliminates it for me, and in these times I doubt that there are that many people who will shell out seven bucks. We’ve got plenty of flowers growing in the hills out here. Farewell. Maybe someday in the future someone will be able to afford having the Botanical Garden in the City.

  34. Tom Hoover says:

    vile & disgusting–what a stupid idea

  35. Michael L says:

    There has to be some Strybing Trust or Charter prohibition against turning this into a…Tourist Amusement Park. If this fact successfully prevented a prior attempt to charge admission, as Norita suggests above, then someone likely found a loophole. I think a qualified attorney needs to review this one…ASAP. How about getting some experienced nonprofit foundations advice, such as Trust for Public Lands and the like…

    I wonder what if anything this might have to do with the recently renewed plan to build a new, corporate sponsored, state of the art nursery at Strybing? Dare I say it? I would rather see some enlightened corporate sponsorship effort bail out the Arboretum, than this horrific plan…