Privatizing the parks


I'm not going all crazy on the idea of pretzel stands in Golden Gate Park, or even a lobster-roll place behind the bandshell. I'm kind of against the lease change at Stowe Lake because I hate to see an out-of-town operator take over a local concession (and I like the funky boats, and the popcorn, and the overall 1950s-era quality of the food stand, which -- by the way -- makes the best soda water anywhere in town, yumm, so extra fizzy and nice ....).

But it's worth sounding the alarm about the direction that Phil Ginsberg and Mark Buell are taking the Recreation and Park Department. And it's not just evicting the HANC recycling center.

I realize that the city's broke, and Rec-park is broke, and if they can't raise money by selling coffee and lobster rolls they might have to lay off even more recreation directors. I fell the pain. But there's a dangerous road ahead, and it looks like this:

Once you decide that parks have to pay for themselves, you've destroyed the whole notion of public space.

Check out what happened at the Presidio, where a plan by Rep. Nancy Pelosi to tun the park into essentially a private outfit, with the mandate to reach financial self-sufficiency, led to all sorts of problems and set the stage for a debate over privatizing more parks.

This is, of course, part of a larger discussion, but parks are by their very nature supposed to be places that the community -- the taxpayers -- support and preserve for the good of all. They aren't supposed to pay for themselves. You're not supposed to charge admission. Any commercial activity ought to be designed to benefit the users (it's nice to have a place to buy a bottle of water on a hot day or a snack for your kids) and not to pay the maintenance bills for the facility.

This is what annoys me more than anything else about Gavin Newsom. He talks about vision and sounds like an environmentalist and progressive, but he misses the whole point. You fund public services with tax dollars, not by auctioning them off to the private sector.

At least, you used to.