Worrying About Proposition I on the Nov 2014 Ballot

AGAINST PROP I smI 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.


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.

prop i 5
The Anti-Prop H Clause – Prop I – Nov 2014


 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:

  1. Pick any project and estimate it will at least double usage within a calendar year;
  2. Hire a consultant to complete an EIR and agree that it will double forecast usage in a calendar year;
  3. As long as the EIR is certified, SFRPD can implement the project without any community input or challenge.
prop i 2
Estimating doubled usage in a calendar year is enough reason?



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 3
“Liberal Construction” – Prop I – Nov 2014

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.

prop i 4
“Amendment” – Proposition I – Nov 2014


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.

ocean edge poster - yes on H - no on IJUST ABOUT SOCCER FIELDS?

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.



Coyotes, Glen Canyon Park, and Runaway Dog

Glen Canyon Park — both the canyon itself and the flat “Safeway Park” above it and adjacent to the Diamond Heights Safeway parking lot — is many things to many folk. Kids play on the grass and the play structure, there’s a ball-field, I’ve seen police cadets training by running around the paved trail of the Safeway Park. It’s a gopher haven — and a de facto dog play area where off-leash dogs run around and socialize and chase each other in circles.

It’s also part of the territory of a pair of coyotes. I’d posted about an encounter I saw between a dog and the coyotes recently. (This picture is from that event.)


Yesterday’s encounter didn’t go so well. I wasn’t there, but heard about it from someone who was. Around 10 in the morning, two dogs being walked in the park spotted the coyotes. The “dogs chased after the coyotes — who then turned around and chased back. The dogs ran off and away.”  Spectators helped hunt for the dogs; one was found, but the other is still missing as of this post. [ETA: Found!] Quoting from a message we received from Avrum Shepard of the West of Twin Peaks Council:

Xena is all-black, smooth coat, about 25 lb., pointy ears. She was last seen at the edge of Safeway Park in Diamond Heights. She’s very, very shy and won’t come near you, so please just call … [ETA: Phone number removed, not needed now].

I really hope Xena gets back unscathed and in good shape. [Edited to Add: She was found the following morning, around 3 a.m., according to Avrum.]


Coyotes don’t have much interest in people, unless someone is feeding them — and that, thankfully, doesn’t appear to be happening in San Francisco. I actually saw a coyote one night in the park. It was hunting gophers. I was taking a walk. I caught it in the beam of my flashlight, and yelled. I needn’t have bothered yelling; the moment I flashed my light on it, it was gone.

However, coyotes are very aware of dogs, which are from the same animal family. (They’re canis latrans, dogs are canis lupus familiaris.)  Dogs are potential rivals, potential enemies, even potential friends (though it’s probably not a good idea to permit or encourage such friendships).

What this means is, Glen Park shouldn’t be treated as an off-leash area, even in the day time.  The easiest way to keep a dog safe is to keep it leashed; it won’t be tempted to chase after the coyote pair even if it spots them, and a coyote is not going to chase a dog that’s up close to a person.

Rec and Park have put notices everywhere, saying there are coyotes around. They’ve put big notices saying it’s not meant to be an off-leash area for dogs. I can see why people ignore the signs. Dogs need a place to play, and this is convenient and friendly. It’s a delight to watch them romp, and one of the reasons I like to walk there.

But it’s not a good idea. If it goes on, it’s only a matter of time before it ends badly for the dogs or the coyotes or both.

(Clicking on the notices will enlarge them.)

Report: JP Murphy Clubhouse Meeting

I attended this evening’s the Rec & Park Department (RPD) meeting about the  plan to lease out the JP Murphy clubhouse. I’ve written about it twice, (here and here) but hadn’t attended the earlier meeting.

The opening was dramatic.

A large number of neighbors attended (I’d estimate 80-100) — the room was full. There was some annoyance at the layout. Instead of theater-style seating, it was restaurant style. Chairs surrounded a number of plastic kiddy tables arranged all about the room. It was awkward, especially for anyone in a wheelchair or with movement issues, because there were no clear aisles. No one could understand why.

When the meeting started, it was explained. Speaking for Rec & Parks, Bob Palacio (present there with Nicole Avril, Lev Kushner and Alex Randolph), told us the planned format for the meeting: Breakout groups, coming together at the end to report on what they’d discussed.

It didn’t fly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a vociferous and instantaneous rejection of a plan. Bob tried to explain it was because people had complained of the format of previous meetings. “It wasn’t the format,” someone pointed out. “It’s that Rec & Park was not listening to us. No one from Rec & Park was taking notes.”

Bob tried to push through the format that had been decided on; no one was buying. “It’s our meeting,” someone yelled. “We pay your salary.” For a minute, it looked like Rec & Park would walk out.

Saner counsel prevailed. Once it was decided this wasn’t going to be a meeting to vent dissatisfaction with Rec & Park, and we’d stick to the agenda, Bob salvaged the situation. (He offered to meet with anyone who wanted to complain, one on one.) We moved forward — in a single group, not broken out.


They were seeking answers to five questions, said Bob. The idea was that if the clubhouse was leased out, it would be leased to a non-profit that would provide services the neighbors want. (We presume for a fee.) The questions:

  1. What sort of recreational programming do you want to see at JP Murphy?
  2. Thinking of another recreational facility you liked, and what did you like about it?
  3. What age groups are a priority here? (The choices were tots, pre-kindergarten, youth, afterschool, tweens, teens, adults, seniors.)
  4. When did you last use JP Murphy, and for what?
  5. Do you know of any non-profits that offer these types of programs?

The idea, Bob said, was to find a lessee who could provide the kind of programs neighbors want. Currently the clubhouse is rented out for birthday parties and the like. If it were leased out, only the clubhouse would be leased. The lessee could use public areas like everyone else, not exclusively. The bathrooms, outdoors and indoors, would remain open and available to the public.

Would such a lease ever preclude access? people wanted to know. Apparently, in other RPD leases, if there’s a conflict, the lessee takes precedence. Nicole said it wouldn’t ever happen that way; external areas would not be blocked by a lessee. Someone else pointed out that at Diamond Heights, a program ropes off an area at parent pick-up time, apparently to clarify who’s to be picked up. “It’s a concrete walkway,” said Nicole, “with no recreational facilities.”

“It has tables and benches,” someone said.

“There are other tables and benches…” responded Nicole, and there was silence. The point had been made. Even one trivial instance cast doubt on the earlier assurance.

The meeting moved on to Question 1: Ideas for recreational programming. Ideas started flying. Lev Kushner noted them down on butcher paper. Many of them were for small children, and someone noted that the playground’s configuration — enclosed, back from the road — made it especially safe for little ones. That value, she suggested, should be preserved.

From the applause, it sounded like the most popular ideas (besides things like Tiny Tots and other kiddy activities) were Community College classes (suggested by John Rizzo, who’s on the Board of City College); and NERT emergency preparedness in cop-operation with the Fire and Police Departments. There was talk of involving Neighborhood Empowerment Networks (NEN).


All these ideas were good, but how could they be implemented? How much money was required?

Bob said that a part-time director, 20 hours a week, would cost $36-38 thousand (fully loaded cost to RPD) annually. A full time person would cost $74 thousand per year (including benefits, pension etc). If there wasn’t money for that — and right now it doesn’t look like it — they would find a non-profit to lease the clubhouse and provide those activities.The non-profit would have to be approved by the community. (Of course, they hadn’t yet figured out how to determine or measure “community approval.”)

Would it be all or nothing, someone wanted to know.  Would one non-profit have to provide all the services?

Nicole said that one could act as a sort of “lead agency” and allow others to provide the classes or activities they didn’t. Apparently, at one clubhouse, Self-help for the Elderly uses the clubhouse in the mornings, but then keeps it open for other activities in the afternoon. This sounded like a reasonable arrangement (though some people had some negative things to say about that organization in its South Sunset location).


The list of what people liked at other centers was quite diverse: Swimming programs; “Parks Sessions” for young adults with dancing, skateboarding, poetry-reading and other activities; tennis; latchkey with pottery and soccer; picnic tables and benches. One person mentioned Sharon Art Studio in Golden Gate Park before it raised its prices and restricted its hours.

Then it was on to Question 3: What have you used JP Murphy for?

The answers were predictable:

  • Private birthday parties
  • Community meetings
  • Kids’ playground time
  • Tennis
  • Teen basketball
  • Adult basketball
  • Preschool graduations
  • And someone remembered the teen dances.


Someone pointed out that RPD’s drive to raise money to fill budget gaps ($6.4 million shortfall in 2011) is self-defeating. The following year, the city assumes that RPD can raise fees or start charging for formerly free activities, and reduces its support still further. Though San Franciscans are very supportive of their Parks — every bond measure has passed — they’re not getting the services they paid for. The only way around this is for citizens to advocate for RPD with City Hall.


The Next Steps part was unclear. RPD is taking this information back to evaluate it, and will look for ways to fill the community’s desires for programming. “JP Murphy has been dark for way too long,” said Bob.

When? people wanted to know.

Lev didn’t want to commit to a time table. “Six weeks is too short, and two years is too long,” he commented.

By this time, people were starting to leave, so Bob attempted to determine priorities. It seemed like programs for tiny kids and latchkey kids were a priority, but also classes and activities — like aerobics — for adults and seniors. There was talk of providing classes led by volunteers.

There were some questions about how meetings would be publicized; people had missed the earlier one since they didn’t know about it. Bob said they would work with community groups, email lists, The Friends of JP Murphy Playground Facebook page, and put a large door sign at JP Murphy.

Then we all left, including the meeting’s cutest attendee: The best-behaved little poodle it’s been my pleasure to meet.

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.