Well, As Expected, the $7 Fee at the Strybing Arboretum is Going to Become Permanent – A Little History

Boy there’s a lot of overhead involved with the whole process of charging people $7 to walk through the former Strybing Arboretum, it sure looks like.

Anyway, here’s a little background on how we’ve gotten to this point:

LMA-BOS-Supporter Talking Points-6-4.21.13 Budget Hearing

Arboretum Contract Critique

And here’s a post from 2010:

“Not sure how many people were at last night’s “workshop” to discuss the idea of charging admission at San Francisco Botanical Garden (aka Strybing Arboretum) in Golden Gate Park ’cause I left before it ended. But the hand-count totaled 225 souls, so let’s call that a gentleman’s 250 altogether for the crowd.

Here’s the thing - people on both sides all seem to know each other and care deeply about The Garden. This conflict seems a kind of civil war (hence the Antietam name check, yes it rhymes exactly), a family squabble. It’s plant-loving Brother against plant-loving-but-other-stuff-too Brother. Get up to speed on this dispute here.

Now, once more into the breach, dear friends.

The mise-en-scene last night. It’s Recreation and Park Commission President Jim Lazarus taking individual questions from a hostile crowd, split up unnecessarily, it turned out, into three sections. This is what the bulk of the meeting looked like. Click to expand:

But let’s start at the beginning. Below, it’s the organized neighbors! They taped up hundreds of small signs to draw attention to the meeting. Did workers from DPW spend a lot of time taking down the unofficial notices? Apparently. Were any official notices put up, like last time? Not that I could see.

Inside, the fellow on the left, (didn’t get his name, someone called him The Kid) tried to get things started, but vocal members of the crowd didn’t like the agenda that was handed out, particularly they didn’t like being split up into three groups.

The guy with the ponytail went off, and the Eli in the Yale jacket on the right pleaded for calm. Thank Gaia for Yalies:

After a couple go-arounds like that, The Kid threatened to cancel the meeting. (Arboretum staff appears to view hosting public meetings like these as doing a favor to Arboretum visitors, and truth be told, if San Francisco officials are dead-set on allowing the charging of admission, they can do it regardless of what regular Arboretum visitors want.) Here’s a ten-minute video of the action.

But after a brief huddle, redolent of a friendly car salesperson taking your low-ball offer to the Big Guy…

…out comes lawyer Jim Lazarus calling an audible to change the meeting’s format. He seemed every bit the experienced pol he is.

The new agenda that got worked out with leadership elements from the masses: an uninterupted 10-15 minute “general presentation” of the plan. “Then you can decide how much you want to beat us up after that,” said Jimbo. “You can shoot us all when it’s over.”

This Lazarus Effect resuscitated the meeting. So, let’s hear The Proposal.

The Arboretum would set up pre-fab ticket kiosks at the Main Gate and the Friend Gate (near the Japanese Tea Garden) for $65K and then hire four part-time cashiers, a manager(?), and also a part-time accountant for $148K per year. San Francisco residents would enter for free after showing some sort of ID. Those useless freeloading parasites known as Everybody Else in the World would pay $7, or $4 (students and seniors), or $2 (kids) each time they go in. They’d have the option of getting a $75 annual pass that would also allow entry at the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers – something like that.

The projected 100,000 in paid admissions would have a “blended average” of $5.50 per, resulting in a gross take of $550K. Take away $150K for expenses and you end up with an annual net of $400K, of which $100-150K would go into the Rec and Park kitty and the rest could go into whatever, like hiring more gardeners at $68K salary (plus 25% more in benefits).

The goal would be to eventually get up to a full complement of 16 gardeners, which will “never happen” without some new source of Arboretum-specific cashola.

That’s it.

“KEEP THE ARBORETUM FREE”

What about residents of neighboring counties in the Bay Area you say? It doesn’t matter, all auslanders gotta pay.

What about the rumoured $1.3 million cost of building the kiosks and other related expenses? That was just a “Cadillac proposal” dreamed up by somebody or other – the bare bones approach discussed last night would not be as nice, but it would get the job done.

This charismatic-messianic type got lots of applause for questioning the whole idea of charging anybody anything, regardless of the numbers:

Mr. Lazarus acknowledged the fear San Francisco residents have of being the next in line to be charged, the fear that admission prices would then increase after that. No promises on that front. Que sera sera.

But I’ll let the Keep the Arboretum Free people delve into these issues more. When I left, Lazarus was answering questions one by one, Phil Donahue-style.

“FREE means NO FEES, NO I.D.s”

Oh yes, the “next terrible meeting” promised by Jimbo will concern paid parking in Golden Gate Park. (Do people really plant their vehicle in the park for free and then run all over town all day? People do.)

Random observations:

The estimate of $148k annually to pay salaries for  the paid admission scheme sounds low. Way low, particularly in light of what cashiers at the Japanese Tea Garden get paid.

Park and Rec knows how to notice a public meeting but, for whatever reason, it appears to have done a bush-league job of noticing last night’s workshop.

Next up next month in June: the action will move over to City Hall and the Board of Supervisors. When will our civil war end?

Public Workshop – Botanical Garden

When: May 28, 2009 – Thursday 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Where: County Fair Building, 9th Avenue and Lincoln Avenue, San Francisco
What: In response to the feedback received on the proposed admission program at Botanical Garden, the Rec & Park Department decided there will not be a fee for residents. The revised proposal does include a $7. fee for nonresident visitors. Public workshop is to take feedback regarding revised proposed admission fee and will be seeking topics including:
Implementation of the new fee for non-San Francisco residents.
Amenities at the Garden.
Potential new revenue sources.

To Be Continued…

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One Response to “Well, As Expected, the $7 Fee at the Strybing Arboretum is Going to Become Permanent – A Little History”

  1. On June 21,2013 the Budget committee of the board of supervisors voted 3-2 to advance the Arboretum fee to the full board on July 16.
    Supervisors Breed, Farrell and Wiener voted in favor of making the fee permanent. Supervisors Avalos and Mar voted against the fee.

    In 2010 the vote at the board was 6 to 5 to impose a non resident entry fee. It was passed under the framework of a severe budget crisis and promoted by a study commissioned from the private Botanical Garden Society that a projected revenue of $250K would pay for 3 gardeners positions in possible jeopardy within the Rec and Park dept.

    At that time Supervisor Wiener argued that more time was needed to determine the impact of the fee on revenue and attendance, so Supervisor Chiu crafted a compromise and the Board extended the sunset to September 30, 2013.
    At the same time, an amendment was made that if there was new revenue to the City, the fee could be eliminated..

    We now know, that since the fee, non-resident attendance has declined by over 50% and resident attendance has declined by 35%.
    We also know that the City has a $96M surplus this year, Rec and Park budget received a 16% increase and that the Real Estate Transfer Tax,
    promoted in part as allowing the fee to sunset, has brought the City more than the projected $36 Million/year.
    The fee demonstrates a failed policy which adversely impacts people of lower income, youth, the undocumented, and taxpayers who must prove ID to walk in a public park. The fee and gating off of open space has inevitably made the Garden
    less inclusive, popularizes partitioning off 55 acres of public land in Golden Gate park, and encourages the efforts for small and large park privatizations

    The RPD is simultaneously rushing through the budget process without separate Board review a 68 page 30 year lease management agreement of the Arboretum to the private SF Botanical Garden Society. This agreement needs to have important changes to include protections for public access, accountability and environmental issues.
    Please join us in our efforts.

    We have two requests:
    (1) Please write to the Board of Supervisors urging them to let the entry fees expire with a NO vote on ordinance file #130548.
    (2) please ask them to POSTPONE VOTING on the lease AND CONTINUE the Lease Agreement (file #130537) with the SF Botanical Society until such time as it can be fully heard and reviewed by the Board with additional public comment.

    You can click on the link below which will help you send an e-mail to all Supervisors in one simple step:
    http://www.keeparboretumfree.org/contact-board-supervisors-2013
    Thank you
    Keep the Arboretum Free