Commissioners Cash-in on Free 49ers Tickets

SF Rec and Park Department Scores Big

In San Francisco, a win at the ballot box brings power, prestige and season tickets to the 49ers- even for commissioners who aren't elected, but appointed by the mayor.

The city of San Francisco has retained seats at Candlestick Park for every 49er game according to their lease with the football team.

That means, the city rents all of Candlestick Park to the 49ers except for a group of seats and boxes designated in the lease.

And nobody attended more games for free than the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission- a board appointed by the mayor to 4-year terms.

The 7 commissioners have access to a luxury box every game that seats 20.

The mayor of San Francisco controls 12 tickets per game in a luxury box.

The city’s 11 supervisors each get 2 tickets per game.

The General Manager of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park’s department has a luxury box that seats 12.

His department also receives an extra 10 stadium seats.

Public Records show Recreation and Parks Commissioner Gloria Bonilla used her 2 luxury box tickets to attend 9 games. That’s 18 tickets valued at $3852.

Commissioner Larry Martin didn’t miss a game. He attended 10 games, using 26 luxury box tickets, valued at $5564.

Commissioners Gloria Bonilla and Larry Martin both declined our requests for an interview.

Commissioner David Lee also used the perk, attending 9 games, 18 tickets valued at $3852.

We spoke with the Commission President, Mark Buell about the Commission’s use of the tickets.

“They serve at $97 a month and they put in a lot more time and effore than that,” Buell tells NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski.

“So that justifies getting free tickets to the 49ers game?” Kovaleski asks

“When the 49ers are doing better, it’s a bigger perk,” Buell laughs.

“Should this practice continue?” Kovaleski asks Buell.

“Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to continue because they are moving to Santa Clara,” Buell says, “historically commissions that oversee property have some association with it.”

“If something is wrong, it doesn’t make it right by the fact that you’ve been doing it a long time,” San Francisco-based attorney and ethicist Peter Keane weighs in, “it’s wrong to begin with, it’s wrong now.”

Another recipient of tickets is the Recreation and Parks Department General Manager, Phil Ginsburg.

His department oversees the distribution of tickets and is responsible for defining the public purpose lawmakers have for receiving the tickets and attending the games, as required by California law.

After several calls and emails were not returned from Ginsburg’s staff, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit stopped by their San Francisco office.

On a second visit, staff agreed to an interview the following day.

An hour before the scheduled appointment, they called to cancel.

A free ticket program with state-mandated accountability to California taxpayers run by a General Manager and directed by 2 commissioners, who by all indication want nothing to do with public accountability.

“The citizens of San Francisco looking at this will say, ‘this isn’t proper,’” ethicist Keane says, “it builds disrespect for government, which is unhealthy.”

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