I don’t consider myself particularly political. But in recent years, I’ve become aware of various kinds of community activism, and developed a real appreciation of what democracy means.
So I’m especially concerned about one Proposition that will be on the Ballot in November 2014. It’s Proposition I: Increased Usage of Children’s Playgrounds, Walking Trails, and Athletic Fields Act.
Prop I is being talked about as the opposite of Proposition H (opposing artificial turf on the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields), hence such campaigns as Yes on H/ No on Prop I.
But it’s not just that.
Here’s what I worry about: If passed, Prop I would sharply erode community voices in future decisions made by SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) regarding our parks and open spaces. It tips the scales strongly in favor of SFRPD.
WHAT IS PROPOSITION I?
Proposition I changes the Parks Code so that any major project that SFRPD forecasts will double usage in an calendar year gets the go-ahead once its Environmental Impact Report is certified. Here’s the proposition (as a PDF): Nov2014_ParkCode
Here’s what it does:
- Applies to any SFRPD project concerning athletic fields, children’s playgrounds, or walking trails – which sounds like it would cover most SFRPD parks and open spaces.
- Makes “doubles usage in a calendar year” as a benchmark – even if doubling usage isn’t a good objective or usage would fall after one calendar year. (And of course, since it’s about the future, it’s a forecast.)
- Says that once such a project’s EIR has been certified, it “should be allowed” – presumably cutting off appeals, ballot measures and other community input.
- It’s also got a “poison pill” for Proposition H. If it gets more votes that Prop H, then it invalidates Proposition H even if Prop H got over 50% of the votes.
Because of the “poison pill” some people are saying Proposition I is ‘the anti-H.’ However, its impact is much broader.
MUCH WIDER IN SCOPE THAN JUST AN ANTI-PROP-H MEASURE
It allows SFRPD to proceed with any major project that they estimate will double usage in a calendar year, independent of the community’s desires or priorities. It removes nearly all means of appeal or review. So if this Prop I passes, then for any SFRPD project, they need only:
- Pick any project and estimate it will at least double usage within a calendar year;
- Hire a consultant to complete an EIR and agree that it will double forecast usage in a calendar year;
- As long as the EIR is certified, SFRPD can implement the project without any community input or challenge.
WHAT ABOUT CEQA?
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is what requires projects to get Environmental Impact Reports, is enforced through lawsuits. There’s no regulatory body.
It’s not clear whether Prop I would take away the right to a legal appeal, or to a ballot measure. But the way it’s worded, it could do so.
Even worse – the language specifies it shall be “liberally construed.” This could mean anything.
Prop I can also be amended by a two-thirds majority vote of the Board of Supervisors with the Mayor’s approval. It doesn’t need to go back to the voters. This means the Supes and the Mayor can change a lot of the wording afterward.
WHY THE SUPERVISORS MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND
I know that City Hall is much in favor of Prop I. Seven supervisors signed to put it on the ballot, including Scott Wiener and David Chiu, both people whom I respect. Supervisor Wiener in particular feels it’s wrong for people opposing an SFRPD project to get more “bites at the apple” – after the Supervisors have approved it, and the EIR has been certified. I do understand that it’s frustrating when a multi-million dollar project is held up because a group of people in the community don’t want it.
What that argument doesn’t allow for is that the situation is inherently asymmetrical. The saying “You can’t fight City Hall” exists for a reason. All these rules – the Sunshine Act, the ability to go directly to the electorate via a ballot measure, the ability to take legal action – they all exist to redress the power imbalance, at least somewhat.
Theoretically, “City Hall” represents us. But a lot of things have to be weighed in any decision – from funds to feasibility to desirability of a project. And these can set up things so that what City Hall wants is not aligned with what the community wants.
Taking away avenues of recourse – including putting things on the ballot – feels efficient. But ‘efficient’ decisions are not always the right decisions.
Even though the main campaigners against Prop I are those who support Proposition H (and oppose artificial turf in Golden Gate Park), the issue is so much broader.
That’s why I hope that Prop I doesn’t pass, no matter what happens to Prop H.
I was talking to friends who plays soccer, and are willing to accept artificial turf as the price of play. “I’m voting No on H, No on I,” they said.
From where I sit it looks like Proposition I muffles the public voice about what happens in our parks.
I’d love to hear your views.