Please Don't Smell the Flowers

It's the $7 monster that won't die: year after year, the city simply can't seem to back down from its plan to charge for access to Strybing Arboretum, even in the face of public outcry.

Traditionally supported by donations and volunteers, the haven for plants and animals is free -- for now -- making it an attractive alternative to pricey nearby attractions like the Japanese Tea Garden and the museums. But administrators are seeking to bolster the budget with a fee for non-city-residents, with the possibility of additional charges for locals eventually.

The Arboretum estimates that it stands to make around a quarter million dollars if it starts charging. It costs about $1 million to maintain each year, and private financers have been paying a lobbying group $10,000 a month since October -- or $60,000 so far -- to drum up public support.

The fee has a number of hurdles to cross before it becomes reality: it must be approved by both the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

The arboretum dates back to the 1890s with Superintendent John McLaren (you might've seen his statue in the park -- he's the short man holding a pinecone near the rhododendrons). A plan to charge for admission last year was killed by community protests -- the Arboretum decided to institute "suggested fees" instead. Evidently, that compromise just wasn't enough.

A public discussion on the issue will be held on May 6th at 6:30 in Golden Gate Park's County Fair Building. Dueling groups on both sides of the issue have already been fighting it out on Facebook.

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