Golden Gate Park

‘Flexible Pricing’ Will Raise Entry Fees at Popular GG Park Attractions

By Thomas K. Pendergast

Three popular attractions in Golden Gate Park will soon see “flexible” pricing rates for entrance fees charged to visitors residing outside of San Francisco on weekends, which city officials hope will raise revenue and relieve congestion.

The SF Board of Supervisors (BOS) passed an ordinance in July that take effect Sept. 1; although SF Recreation and Park Department officials say the earliest it might actually be implemented at two of the three attractions will be Oct. 1 or sometime thereafter. 

Conservatry light 3 Tyler Hansonojpg

The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, seen above during the nightly light show, will be charging “flexible” fees to non-resident visitors to help reduce congestion and raise funds to help provide access for low-income residents. Photo by Tyler Hansen.

In Golden Gate Park, the new flexible pricing plan will apply to the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers and the Botanical Garden, although the flexible pricing plan for the Tea Garden will not take effect until March of 2020 at the earliest, according to the ordinance.  

There will also be an additional “temporary” charge of $1 added onto whatever entrance fees that non-resident adults will pay at the Japanese Tea Garden to subsidize the renovation of the garden’s pagoda. This fee could kick in as early as Oct. 1.

Right now, the entrance fee for the Tea Garden is $9 for non-resident adults ($7 for residents with I.D.), $7 for non-resident seniors and youth ($4 for residents), $3 for children between five and 11 years old for residents and non-residents. Children younger than five get in free. (Admission is free on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays before 10 a.m.)

Flexible pricing will work by raising the entrance fee for non-residents up to 50 percent of the basic price for non-residents at certain hours that have a high demand, while lowering fees back down during slower times. Rec. and Park  officials said no decision has been made yet as to what that exact percentage might be. When they do decide, it will only be changeable on an annual basis.

A spokesperson for Rec. and Park, Tamara Aperton, explained why they decided to go with this kind of fee structure.

“It’s part of the larger thinking the City is having right now around financial justice,” Aperton said. “We wanted low-income San Franciscans to be able to take advantage of all these cultural attractions and that’s one way to fund it, is with flexible pricing.

“Another reason is the congestion factor. These attractions get very, very crowded sometimes and they are pretty empty at other times,” she said. “And so we wanted people to have the choice of being able to go when it’s less crowded and paying less. That would also relieve some congestion in the process.”

Currently, the Conservatory of Flowers charges $9 for non-resident adults ($6 for residents with ID), $6 for seniors, young adults and college students ($4 for residents), $3 for children between five and 11 years old ($2 for residents), with children under five getting in for free. When it does kick in, the flexible fees will only apply on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. (The Conservatory of Flowers is free the first Tuesday of every month.)

Meanwhile the Botanical Garden is free for San Francisco residents but for non-resident adults the entrance fee is $9, $6 for youths and seniors, $2 for children between five and 11 years old, while children under four get in free. There is a family pass for $19.

Flexible fees for the Botanical Garden are only authorized by the ordinance to be applied on Saturdays and Sundays.

When the legislation was before the BOS in July, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin inserted a sunset provision to expire operation of the law on June 30, 2021 unless the board takes further action to renew it.

But not everyone is happy about charging the tourist more money at these attractions.

Local activist and frequent critic of Rec. and Park, Harry Pariser, claimed that in a city with a budget of more than $12 billion, this “flexible” plan for the Botanical Garden is not necessary and is just another step toward what he calls the “commercializing” of public spaces. Although he acknowledges that San Francisco residents are not subject to this fee, when they have friends visiting from out of town it still affects them.

“They shouldn’t be paying at all, in my view, because it’s public space,” Pariser said. “We already pay taxes. We don’t need to pay taxes a second time. The entrance fee is another tax, even though they call it a fee. A fee is still a tax. 

“We should be treating tourists, who are visitors, better than ourselves,” he said. “Tourists and visitors should not be charged discriminatory pricing in a city that calls itself progressive. And nonprofits shouldn’t be regulating public spaces.”

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