San Francisco Recreation & Parks: Leasing out Public Clubhouses?

Edited to Add: Further reports on this are here and here.


Edited to Add: Rec & Park has called a meeting to brainstorm future directions for this clubhouse:
Monday, January 31st, 2011 from 5:30 – 7 pm at the JP Murphy Clubhouse.


Recently, George Wooding, President of the West of Twin Peaks Council, sent around a letter concerning Rec and Parks plans to lease out a club-house that is currently public: The JP Murphy clubhouse. The playground was refurbished in 2008 at a cost of $3.85 million. (The PDF file with the project details and cost is here.)  Not only is this specific action a concern, it could lead to other clubhouses also being leased out also.

This clubhouse is close to our neighborhood, at 1960 9th Ave (between Ortega and Pacheco).

I couldn’t attend the public meeting held yesterday evening, but went to take a look today. It’s a very nice space. From the road, it looks quite small, with a low profile and an elegant 1950s look.

But if you go through the gate in the picture to the back, you realize it’s pretty big; the clubhouse extends behind the bushes visible on the right, and there’s another floor below.

There’s also what looks like a brand new children’s playground at the back, with all kinds of cool equipment. (There’s more, which isn’t in the picture.)  It also has several tennis courts.

When I read that $3.8 million had been spent in 2008 to refurbish this playground, I did wonder what on earth they’d done. The justification for the project, aside from ADA compliance: “The current assembly room, storage and kitchen are not sufficient to support multiple program activities for the latchkey, tiny tot, and teen/adult programs.” The project added a new activity room.

When I saw the space, it looked very good and very nicely done. It looked like a high-end job.  In fact, it looks fancier than the newly redone Midtown Terrace playground.

So it’s ironic that — having spent all this money — they now plan to lease it out to a private entity.

It gets good review on Yelp, too; when it was closed for refurbishment, people were waiting for it to re-open. So it’s not exactly deserted. Today — on a weekday afternoon — there were people playing tennis, and kids in the playground. The clubhouse was closed and locked, because Rec & Park, after having spent all that money, closed  it down and let go or moved the staff.


Here’s George Wooding’s letter (emphasis added):


Dear Neighbors,

As you may know,   in 2008 the Citizens of San Francisco spent $3,849,933, mostly from the Proposition A, Parks Project Bond to renovate the JP Murphy Playground & Clubhouse.  The Clubhouse is located at 1960 9th Avenue/Ortega.    Effective August 15th, 2010 the RPD also fired or relocated all of its Recreation and Park Directors.  The RPD is now about to lease-out our newly, renovated JP Murphy Park.  The RPD euphemistically calls this new leasing for profit scheme “park revitalization.”

RPD representative, Lev Kushner, the Assistant Director for Strategic Planning,  has been holding meetings throughout San Francisco in an effort to rent out neighborhood clubhouses, parks and facilities.   The RPD is trying to lease at least 24 of the 48 park clubhouses in San Francisco.  Usually, the RPD’s citizens notification is very lax and few people realize that their local Park is going to be leased for a minimum 5  year period.

Mr. Kushner has scheduled a 6:00pm public meeting  on Monday, November  15th at the JP Murphy clubhouse to discuss the RPD’s leasing of the JP Murphy clubhouse and park facilities. The Clubhouse is located at 1960 9th Avenue at the corner of 9th Avenue and Ortega.

It’s not that the groups that lease the parks are good or bad, the problem is that these private commercial groups take over large portions of the park at specific times and the neighbors who use these parks are not allowed to use the portions that are leased.  The groups leasing the City parks often have nothing to do with recreation and are already working from an existing commercial location.

The RPD lease clearly states , “The tenant shall have the right to shared access of all playground and garden space in areas surrounding the premises.”  Additionally , “The City shall use it’s best efforts to avoid interfering with the tenants quiet and exclusive use of enjoyment of the premises.”

Whatever happened to the neighborhoods right to “the use and enjoyment of premises” of our own park?

The RPD is claiming that this is its best way to generate revenue for now “underutilized” facilities.  With usually only one potential tenant, the Parks are leased for ridiculously low amounts of money.  The RPD started leasing parks throughout the City in July and is usually charging between $1.31 – 1.51 per square foot per month and allows full usage of the other park facilities.  It is doubtful that the JP Murphy clubhouse  will be leased for more than $1,500 per month.  Apparently, the RPD now has a tenant for JP Murphy park or Mr. Kushner would not have scheduled a meeting.

The RPD’s quest for money has actually made them predatory.   On July 15 the Rec & Park Commission voted to let an expensive private preschool displace a free, 38-year-old City College parenting class at the Laurel Hill Clubhouse.  The clubhouse was leased to Language in Action (LIA), a preschool offering nine-month terms immersing two to five year olds in Spanish and Mandarin.  LIA tuition ranges from $1,000—for two hours per day, two days per week—to $14,000 for full day , five day per week instruction.   The RPD leased the Laurel Hills playground to LIA for only $1,427.00 per month.

“On the face of it, the RPD wanted to lease this property and they didn’t really care what the public thought,” stated City College Board of Trustee President, John Rizzo.  “The RPD cared so little about the public that it was too late once they were notified.”

JP Murphy Park is our park,  located in our neighborhoods and is used recreationally by the people in our neighborhoods.   We don’t accept the premise that the Recreation and Park Department can have one meeting with the neighborhoods and then lease out our  park for five years.  We want to use our park the way we want to use them.  The RPD has not even talked with the neighborhoods about how we  might want to use our own facility.   Without citizen protest/input the new RPD tenant will probably be moving into the park within a couple of months.

If the money that neighborhoods/voters are spending on public parks is being converted to support and subsidize commercial businesses and privatize public parks, voters will have to think long and hard as to why we would want to support the RPD’s proposed 2011 parcel tax or any other future bonds supporting the RPD.

This November 15 RPD meeting (next Monday night) is the neighborhoods only chance to stop the RPD from leasing the JP Murphy Park.  The RPD will soon be leasing out other parks and clubhouses in our neighborhoods such as the Midtown Terrace park.    If you love your park and want to save it from being privatized, please bring your friends and neighbors to this meeting.  United we stand, divided we fall.

George Wooding
West of Twin Peaks Central Council


Even just financially, this doesn’t make any sense. An expenditure of $3.85 million should generate a return of at least $150,000 annually; so if the expenditure was justified, this is the minimum value of the use the neighborhood gets from the park.

Many of us couldn’t attend this meeting because of clashes or having learned of it too late.  Perhaps the best option now is to call or write to Rec & Park.

Write to Rec & Park


A member of the West of Twin Peaks Council who attended the meeting sent me the following update:

  1. There were more than 50 people at the meeting.
  2. The consensus was that we need to write letters to the Board of Supervisors and the Park Commission urging them to reconsider the service cuts that have been made.
  3. A suggestion was made that perhaps the neighborhood organizations could raise money to re-employ the playground directors and continue the needed programs.
  4. Concern was expressed that not all areas of the city would be able to raise money.
  5. Although the people from RPD told us they were trying to get neighborhood input to resolutions to the budget problems, none of the 4 RPD people who were there took notes. Not one of them took a pen to paper and wrote down any of the comments.

Someone took the sign-in sheets, and the RPD people are trying to get contact information about the people who attended the meeting.

I’d welcome comments and feedback here.

Edited to Add (2):

George Wooding wrote a follow-up article on the issue  in the Westside Observer. That link is here.

On the Friends of JP Murphy Playground Facebook page (under “Discussion”) there’s a response to Stacy Sultana (who is the Group administrator) from Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. He says that the clubhouse was closed because Rec&Park didn’t have the funds to staff it — and he didn’t get a single neighborhood complaint.  The clubhouse can still be rented for functions such as birthdays. They’re looking to renting it out to a private party during the week (during which the renter would have exclusive rights to the clubhouse) “but the playground and other facilities would absolutely remain 100% accessible” to the public. He thinks that this renting out is unlikely to happen over neighborhood objections — but the alternative is that the clubhouse will remain locked up.

5 thoughts on “San Francisco Recreation & Parks: Leasing out Public Clubhouses?”

  1. When my kids were pre-school age, we went there many times in the afternoon after school. The facility and playground look much better now and it should continue to be part of our neighbrohood.

    1. This news saddens me. I did not know of this new privatization scheme by the RPD.
      I will post this on our facebook site:
      Friends of JP Murphy Playground. We need to contact our local Superviser Sean Elsbernd
      150 Post Street, Suite 405,
      San Francisco, CA 94108

      Be well,

      Stacy Sultana
      Inner Sunset Neighborhood Group.

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