For the fiscal year that began July 1, the city of San Francisco faced a $522 million budget deficit and one solution officials resorted to in order to close the budget gap was the commercialization of the city’s park clubhouses. However, local residents have called the move “privatization” and are none-too-pleased with plans to lease such buildings when their tax dollars go toward the funding of parks. Take the J.P. Murphy Playground, as Recreation and Park Department officials announced at a public meeting last month plans to lease the park’s clubhouse building on the site for as long as five years to an unspecified nonprofit group. The so-called privatization of certain services has become a more common occurrence as municipalities struggle with fiscal woes. The Wall Street Journal reports:
“Now come the parks commercialization, which first came under consideration early this year as part of a significant expansion of an existing leasing program. In most cases, the plan entails leasing park clubhouses mainly to nonprofits or private groups while leaving outdoor areas including playgrounds and fields open for general use. Traditionally the clubhouses have been open to the public and staffed by city workers. Programs such as after-school care and parenting classes often are held at the facilities. Since July, at least three of the city's 48 park clubhouses have been leased to private schools, while city officials say they want to sign up tenants for 14 more. In some cases, the city has leased an entire park, under a separate revenue-generating program that has been in place for some time.”
Officials from the Recreation and Park Department have pointed out that the plan would allow parks to stay open while the department grapples with cutting $12.4 million, or 10.8%, from its fiscal 2010 budget of $115 million. Residents have concerns about park access if private interests lease certain facilities. For more on the revenue-generating plan, see here.