Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor – Opposed to Raising Fees at GGPark and Coit Tower

June 14, 2019

Chair Sandra Lee Fewer and Members Budget and Finance Committee
San Francisco Board of Supervisors

Re: Proposed 50% Park Fees Increase and Removal of Board of Supervisors Authority to Set Visitor Entrance Fees to Botanical Gardens, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, and Coit Tower Elevator – OPPOSE

FILE NO: 190629 – Scheduled for Budget and Finance Hearing on June 19, 2019

Dear Chair Fewer and Members of the Budget and Finance Committee:

On behalf of Protect Coit Tower, a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating, preserving, and educating the public about San Francisco’s Coit Tower and its historic New Deal murals, I write to urge you to reject the Mayor’s proposed ordinance that would grant the General Manager of the Recreation and Parks Department unlimited discretion to raise park visitor admission fees by up to 50% at any time, for as long as they wish, and for such arbitrary reasons as the weather.

I oppose this ordinance as a whole and specifically as it relates to Coit Tower.

The proposed ordinance as a whole would fundamentally undermine the crucial oversight of the management of our city’s parks provided by the Board of Supervisors. The ordinance would effectively remove Supervisors from decision-making authority over setting park fees by empowering a political appointee who is unaccountable to the public with the unilateral discretion to raise park fees for people who cannot prove they are San Francisco residents by 50% above the fixed park fees that are thoughtfully and carefully set by the Board of Supervisors.

As a general matter, the Board has been the guardian of the idea that the priority for public parks should be to keep them open to the public, not monetized or privatized. By removing the Board from its vital oversight role, this ordinance would shift the decision-making on setting fair and equitable park admission fees out of public view to instead be made in the dark behind closed doors.

Moreover, the ordinance provides wholly arbitrary and truly absurd parameters to supposedly guide the decision by the Department General Manager on when and how much to raise by 50% – or in theory lower by 25% – park fees. For example, the ordinance states that a factor the General Manager could base a 50% park fee increase on is “weather conditions.”

However, the ordinance does not state whether this means that fees would be increased by 50% in sunny, hot weather (such as our recent string of 90 degree days) since people may be more likely to visit parks on beautiful days or whether this means fees would be decreased by 25% on sunny, hot days as a way to encourage visitors to take advantage of the shade by the flora in the Botanical Gardens or cool down inside the Conservatory of Flowers. Would rainy days cause fees to go up by 50% as people flock inside or down by 25% to encourage visitors? What effect would fog have on the General Manager’s decision to set park fees – any or none at all?

In addition to generally opposing this ordinance for the above reasons, I urge you to either remove Coit Tower from this ordinance or reject it for the damaging impact it would have on Coit Tower. By lumping Coit Tower into the same category as the three  locations in Golden Gate Park, the “flexible pricing” proposal assumes that random 50% price increases would simply mean that visitors who show up would either pay more than they expected to pay or go somewhere else.

However, unlike the Golden Gate Park locations where there are other visitor options nearby, Coit Tower stands alone on top of Telegraph Hill. If visitors traverse Telegraph Hill based on guidebooks that tell them they will have to pay $9 (the current non-resident fee) to ride the elevator up Coit Tower – but then when they arrive they are sometimes told they will have to pay $13.50 (the proposed increased fee), the likely result will be confusion, frustration, and a slow down to the long lines that already cause some murals to be obscured from view.

The proposed ordinance also violates the will of San Francisco voters. As expressed by voter approval of an official Coit Tower Preservation Policy at the ballot in June 2012’s Proposition B, San Francisco voters voted to prioritize the funds received by the City from any concession operations at Coit Tower for preserving the Coit Tower murals, protecting and maintaining the Coit Tower building, and beautifying Pioneer Park around Coit Tower.

In contrast, the proposed ordinance would allow Coit Tower elevator fees to be raised by 50% but devote none of that revenue to improving access to Coit Tower or supporting programs that enable children or families in need to visit Coit Tower. This would directly violate the will of voters when they passed Prop. B.

I am appalled that, at a time when the City is flush with cash, instead of increasing public access to our public parks by lowering fees – or eliminating them altogether at places like the Botanical Gardens that were fee-free until 2010 – the Mayor and Recreation and Parks Department are instead proposing to hike park fees by 50% at some of San Francisco’s most treasured places.

Instead of nickel and diming our visitors – and residents who fail to provide ID to prove they live here – as this ordinance would do, this is a time that the City should be finding creative ways to encourage more people to visit our parks to show off the magic of San Francisco.

I urge you to reject the Mayor’s proposed 50% Park Fee Price Hike ordinance.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jon Golinger

Protect Coit Tower

cc: All Members, San Francisco Board of Supervisors

Mayor London Breed

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