Golden Gate Park

Letter to the Editor: More to the Story – Botanical Garden’s History


Linda Badger’s article on the new “nursery” gated compound in Strybing Arboretum omits important history and facts.

Prior to the privatization of these 55 acres, it served as the back yard of the Inner Sunset. On an early sunny evening, I could walk down with my out-of-town friends, and we would enter through the gates behind the Hall of Flowers and enjoy. Wonderful gardens in front of the (now newly fenced-off redwood grove) awaited us. We could associate all types of people there, for it was not segregated by income level and ability to pay.

After grabbing acres in the back in the 1990s, the Strybing Arboretum Society they asked the Art Agnos administration to charge entry fees to further enrich the Society. Agnos refused. They bade their time, changing their and then Strybing’s name to the more marketable “botanical garden,” before hiring Davis and Associates to lobby for entry charges. They failed.

The current director was sent off to pasture to head the Angel Island Foundation, after which a sharp, conservative Piedmont lawyer named Schiff was brought in to drive through the privatization. After Phil Ginsburg was appointed director of RPD in 2010, BMWL’s Sam Lauter, son of an AIPAC founder and a former aide to Joe Biden, was hired and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby the supervisors to institute entry charges to support a “nursery.” He was successful. The Society was awarded control and a sweetheart contract. We locals were given the “right” to still enter for free (with appropriate ID), but, outrageously, still need to pay for our guests.

The new building was to be “sustainable,” situated atop a hill behind a fence and would have a huge parking lot. Opposition by the Sierra Club had failed to deter our elites, but then they found themselves unable to come up with the $15 million or more necessary to build their elitist haven.

In time, the taxpayer-funded hilltop sign publicizing the “Sustainable Nursery” rotted and was removed. Covert plans were made  to downsize to a new “nursery” to the area where the original nursery stood. Downsizing to a nursery meant that a new EIR — which might have uncovered problems and involved permission from the supervisors and the public  — was conveniently avoided. A stately redwood tree, outside the fence, was cut down as were other trees, and acre after acre of foliage was pulped. All of this came on top of the taxpayer-subsidized destruction of the once pristine and pastoral Demonstration Garden which is now a concrete expanse known as the “Celebration Garden” and is rented out to elites for profit.

Last year at the mayor’s behest, supervisors the Society’s corporate facility managers complete control of the formerly-public Tea Garden and (for a proposed fee of a million dollars) transferred control of the Conservatory of Flowers to the same Society. Weekend entry fees were also hiked 50%. Mainstream media only talked about the “free entry” for San Franciscans and veterans. (Veterans also need to pay for their guests!) There was never a word about the commercialization, the charges for our guests to enter or the privatization of the Tea Garden with the accompanying loss of union ticket takers.

The ambience of the redwood grove will be forever impaired by the new fence. Beloved gardens are gone forever. And taxpayers are on the hock for millions to pay bond interest for for these “improvements” as well as for the new $1.1 million fence, advertising and signage. All without a single meeting of local community members taking place!

Harry S. Pariser

Original article:

2 replies »

  1. This is what happens when you don’t have a good print newspaper with a staff to cover local issues that happen at city hall and within the city. Everything seems to move under the table with no input from the public. This is how corruption occurs.


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