Charter tweak would guarantee parks funding

San Francisco voters are being asked to approve a charter amendment on the June 7 ballot that would guarantee a baseline level of funding for city parks and recreation.

Proposition B, introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell, would add $3 million a year for the next 10 years to the $64 million that the Recreation and Parks Department received from the general fund in the last fiscal year.

After that, baseline funding for the department would be adjusted up or down by the same amount that The Citys’  revenues grow or decrease. The increase in baseline funding can only be suspended in years when a deficit of $200 million or more is projected.

The measure would also extend by 15 years through 2045-46 the city’s Open Space Fund, a voter set-aside that designates 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value for parks and open space. That set-aside, which generated around $46 million in the most recent fiscal year, would be in addition to the funding baseline established by the measure.

Farrell introduced the measure last fall in response to a report released by the San Francisco Parks Alliance estimating the city parks needed an additional $40 to $45 million in annual funding to meet needs including deferred maintenance, expanded access to recreational facilities, additional arborists and gardeners and improved security.

Farrell said in a statement:

“This June will represent an historic opportunity in San Francisco to both ensure increased funding and financial stability for our park system so the next generation of San Franciscans will inherit vibrant, safe and clean parks in every neighborhood.”

A controller’s office report found that the measure would have a significant impact on The City’s budget. Setting a baseline for park funding would mean that The City would either need to reduce spending in other areas or identify new sources of revenue, the report found.

In addition, the measure is not in compliance with a non-binding city policy adopted by voters in 2012 seeking to limit general fund set-asides, which limit the flexibility of the mayor and Board of Supervisors in setting budget priorities, according to the controller’s office.

Interestingly, the groups most opposed to the measure include prominent local environmental groups such as the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter and the San Francisco Forest Alliance, which argue that the measure does not provide enough oversight for how the money is spent.

The Sierra Club called the measure a “blank check” while the Forest Alliance argued that the measure removes spending decisions from the control of the Board of Supervisors and puts them in the power of the mayor’s appointees on the Recreation and Parks Commission.

The Forest Alliance said in an April statement on the measure:

“The way it’s written essentially hands the money to SFRPD with no meaningful restrictions on how the money will be spent.”