City Parks are Strapped for Cash

By Matt Baume
|  Saturday, Dec 4, 2010  |  Updated 6:45 AM PDT
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City Parks are Strapped for Cash

City parks are strapped for cash.

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These are dark days for San Francisco's parks.

Strapped for cash, the city's Recreation and Parks department has had to get creative with its fund-raising. In the past, it's coped with budget shortfalls by laying off gardeners, which has a variety of negative effects: not only does it mean that parks aren't maintained as well, but it also means more cost-cutting measures like harmful pesticides. A recent study showed that San Francisco's public golf courses were a major source of chemical pollution in the water.

This year, a $12.4 million deficit left the department scrambling to generate cash by making arrangement with private vendors. By allowing limited food stands in public parks, the city hoped the close financial shortfalls while also providing much-needed amenities to visitors.

But that hurt some peoples' feelings. In Dolores Park, plans to install a Blue Bottle cart were scrapped after complaints from a few noisy activists and from other nearby coffee merchants.

That bitter battle is set to repeat itself now in Golden Gate Park, with tensions mounting over plans to revamp an aging hut on the bank of Stow Lake. Although concessions at the hut have been run by a family for 65 years, the park is considering a transfer of the operations to a New Mexico company called Ortega Family Enterprises. The city would get a lot out of the deal: a roomy new building for guests to enjoy themselves near the water, along with a fleet of new boats.

Limited experiments with vendors in parks have been successful, when they've been allowed to go through. A lobster roll vendor behind the bandshell in Golden Gate Park's concourse has proven popular, as has a falafel vendor in Civic Center.

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