Save the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park


by Harry S. Pariser

“Privatization has always been a sign of increasing poverty among minorities,” so relates Mesha Irizarry, administrative director of the Idriss Stelley Foundation. Irizarry goes on to warn that “this type of fee will be applied to other places in the city. It will lead to increased fees in other areas, such as swimming pools, or expanded to implement entirely new fees – such as at the libraries. The authorities always start with something that will provoke less outrage.” Mesha goes on to maintain that the “fees are elitist and exclusionary and will contribute to environmental classism.”

Arboretum Golden Gate ParkJohn Rizzo, president of the Board of City College, maintains: “This contract would permanently privatize the park in a way that we haven’t seen before, at taxpayers’ expense. Billboards, admissions fees and backroom-deal-style management techniques don’t belong in a publicly funded park.”

What’s this all about? Ask any San Franciscans of a certain age about Golden Gate Park, and they will wax on about the days when every museum in the park was free and they could spend a day visiting all of them. Over the years, while still receiving public subsidies, every institution has been privatized and the entry fees raised to ludicrous levels. The latest being the semi-privatized Conservatory of Flowers, which is now employed as a cash cow for the Parks Alliance, an organization funded and controlled by wealthy elites.

The last bloom in the park is the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum. The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society has long plotted to implement fees, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists over the decades. Several years ago a $7 “nonresident” fee was imposed and, despite a weak effort to repeal it the following year, it was extended for two more years. Sophie Maxwell voted in favor of the initial one-year “trial” fees, and Malia Cohen voted for the two-year extension of what is really a new tax on working people.

The Recreation and Park Department is planning to have the board make these fees permanent as well as request ratification of a 30-year sweetheart contract with the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, one which would effectively privatize the facility and hand off total control over these 55 acres to this “nonprofit.”

The City gave the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society a $725,000 grant in 2012 and one for $400,000 in 2011. Unless you can prove San Francisco residency, you must pay the $7, and plenty of people expatriated to the East Bay and elsewhere, who have returned to visit, have turned back at the gates. The Society’s long term plans are to have everyone pay.

Let’s be clear. These fees are not about revenue, because the revenues (after expenses) are paltry. This is about excluding people, especially people who may be undocumented or who find paying $7 to visit a public park to be an economic hardship. The Society plans to be ensconced in a walled $15 million new building set smack in the middle of prize parkland, so money is not the issue here. Control is!

The Budget and Finance Committee will hear testimony on this when they consider the full park budget on June 20, and they need to hear from you. So take a stand! Call Malia Cohen, 554-7670, London Breed, 554-7630, and other supervisors or email them at Tell them to separate the legislation for permanent fees and the contract from the Recreation and Parks budget and to vote to defeat both of these. Failure to act will be a disaster for Golden Gate Park.

Harry S. Pariser can be reached on Facebook.



  1. Well its seems the so called caring liberals haven't learned anything, maybe they don't want to, the facts are (as you don't seem to have figured it out) you aren't going to change anything with silly petitions and appeals the elitist clique in SF and the rest of California will do what they want while you moan and then play the victim and ultimately conform to eating the pig dung they choose to feed you, and they know that, they count on it. They have your child’s e-mail for cripe sake and you don't give a rats butt. I have been a registered Democrat most of my voting life but I have been saying for quite some time the Democratic leadership particularly in our state is complacent and elitist if not outright corrupt and I will vote for a Republican if that's what it takes to get rid of them and rebuild a party that is democratic, competent, and worthy of our trust. So if you want to get anything that is part of it think out of your silly little sophomore politics comfort zone and think long term. You need to face facts if it acts like a fascist it is a fascist and the leaders of the Democratic Party have been responsible for "too big to fail", "too big to jail", and the most egregious assault on our personal liberty since slavery; the use of IRS to suppress decent, the use of the Justice Dept. to quash the free press and control the media, the use of illegal wiretaps to collect mountains of information on average US citizens is unprecedented, and the use of summary execution of American citizens by remote control. Who is doing that? Obama and you won’t admit it. The Stazi may not be keeping files on East Germans anymore they’re here as the NSA keeping records on US citizens, information so comprehensive and power so completely concentrated that the Stazi and Gestapo could only have dreamt of having. You want to change things gut the Democratic leadership and build it the way you want. You want to stop the mismanagement of San Francisco take away their privileged status, take away their money, force the bureaucracy to shrink. When San Francisco wants to charge a special tax for using streets mostly funded by Fed and State taxes put a State ballot initiative that would tax anyone going into San Francisco or out of it. When San Francisco wants to charge people for using a public park, well change all San Franciscans a "surcharge" for using State, municipal, or Federal parks and twice as much if they work for the city or county of San Francisco. When San Francisco pushes its trash onto another county make a state law that forces them to keep their own trash. Get willing Congressional Reps outside San Francisco to stifle or un-fund programs headed to San Francisco. Its money and a political minority of power parasites behind this and shutting them down is the only way anything decent and meaningful will get don

  2. I am a tax payer and non-white. I want to see my tax $ goes to the garden and whoever wants to go there should be able to go in for free. We are San Franciscans. We don't need to be like other cities. In my honest opinion, I'm glad that the Guardian exposed the shameful behaviors of the City, and those actions of the Park and Rec.
    If you hired someone to collect the fees and runs into the red, you need to stop and kick yourself in the ass being so laughable. The fee have scared away the public not to come in to look the trees and smell the flowers,which is contrary to the core mission of GG Park. The park is a living thing; it needs to be open the public. Please don't compare it to the museum.
    Access for everyone regardless of income and race. There's shouldn't be discrimination in the park. I've wrote to my supervisor at the time of voting in this bill, all I got was spam from Carmen Chu. But I'm keeping an eye on this fee thing and I'm mad that this fee was passed in the first place. Its a very different place without family and children in the park, so sad about greed and arguing money.
    We have the tax money but how do we going to spend it is up to the voters. Do you want to charge a fee and runs the park into the red even more? yes keep your fee.

  3. and to think i really liked Malia Cohen. This fee thing is WRONG. I smell a rat!.
    Keep the park open to everyone!

Leave a Reply