by Katharine Mieszkowski, The Bay Citizen
Less than a week before Candlestick Point State Recreation Area is slated to close, no deep-pocketed savior has emerged to keep open the waterfront park, which is located in one of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods.Unlike Candlestick Point, most of the other 16 state parks in the Bay Area scheduled to close in July will remain open, at least temporarily.
It’s still possible that the city of San Francisco or the developer Lennar, which has committed $50 million to the park in a development deal over the next couple of decades, will find a way to keep Candlestick Point open. But no deal has been struck yet.
“We haven’t had anybody step up to the plate that has offered to either enter into a donor agreement or an operating agreement thus far,” said Danita Rodriguez, acting district superintendent for the Diablo Vista District of California State Parks. The state spent about half a million dollars on the park in fiscal year 2010-2011, she said.
What closing Candlestick Point will actually mean remains uncertain, since the park has several points of entry. Even rangers who work there have yet to receive guidance from the state about shutting it down. “I have not seen the plans for what is actually going to happen,” said Ann Meneguzzi, supervising ranger for the park. “I don’t know.”
When the park closes, San Francisco 49ers fans will be able to continue to park their cars there on game days, according Eddie Guaracha, acting state parks superintendent for the Diablo Vista District. Candlestick stadium is adjacent to the park, and the parking arrangement generates substantial revenue for the state. But anglers, picnickers and wind surfers will find parking lots shut when they try to enjoy the state park.
Since last June, when state budget cuts forced the closure of 70 state parks, many parks have forged arrangements with nonprofit organizations, county governments and even the National Park Service to keep running. For instance, the Coe Park Preservation Fund will pay the state parks department more than $900,000 to keep Henry W. Coe State Park in Santa Clara County open through June 2015. The money will pay for the salaries of five employees, including rangers and park aides.
But not every threatened park is in a position to raise those kinds of funds.
“The parks that are staying open are in areas where the citizens are able to step up to the plate and chip in,” said Eddie Bartley, who live in Potrero Hill and goes birding at Candlestick Point.
Candlestick Point is not closing due to lack of use. About 126,000 people visited the 250-acre park in fiscal year 2010-11, according to Rodriguez. It’s one of the few state parks in a highly urban area.
“It’s a great, safe open space for the communities that live in the area to come walk and fish and picnic and bring their families,” said Rodriguez.
“It’s widely used,” said Meneguzzi. “There you are in the urban area, and all of a sudden all you are seeing is open water of the Bay, the East Bay hills, Mount Diablo, the Peninsula mountains. It’s great. You really get a feeling of being away from the city.”
Candlestick Point generates more than half a million dollars annually for the state parks system. The money comes from parking fees paid by fans attending events at the stadium.
When the park closes, the fees will continue to go to the state park’s general fund, according Guaracha. But that parking revenue will dry up in 2014, when the San Francisco 49ers are scheduled to move to a new stadium in Santa Clara.
A massive development project planned near the park will provide tens of millions of dollars for the park, but not until 2014 at the earliest.
“There is funding for this park in the future,” said Tiffany Bohee, executive director of the successor agency to San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency.
Under a controversial land deal struck in 2009, the state required Lennar, the company developing Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point, to invest $40 million to upgrade the park. In exchange the company will be able to develop 23 acres of state park land and other state land. Lennar will pay an additional $10 million for the continued operations and maintenance of the park.
But Lennar will pay out the money for the state park gradually, over the next 20 years as the project progresses, according to Bohee.
In the meantime, the developer does not want to see the park close.
Kofi Bonner, president of Lennar Urban, said in an interview that he is in talks with the California State Parks Foundation about creating a plan to keep the park open, but no agreement has been made yet. “We are quite concerned that it will be closed,” he said. “I am very interested in keeping the park open.”
Malia Cohen, the San Francisco supervisor whose district includes Candlestick Point, is also exploring enlisting the city’s Recreation and Parks Department to keep it from being shuttered.
Even as its future is uncertain, the park is undergoing a major restoration effort, transforming 34 acres of parkland and wetlands in the area. The project, known as the Yosemite Slough Restoration, is designed to improve wildlife habitat and water quality in the area. Funding for the multimillion-dollar restoration comes from a variety of public and private sources.The nonprofit Literacy for Environmental Justice will continue to grow plants for the restoration in the native plant nursery at the park, behind the rangers’ station. But that nursery has been vandalized repeatedly in recent months, with one incident causing $18,000 in damage.
“One of our fears is that if the park is really to close, we are very vulnerable,” said Patrick Rump, acting executive director of Literacy for Environmental Justice.
Rump expects that if the parking lots are closed, the bathrooms are shut and the trash is no longer picked up, the park will no longer be accessible to many people who now use it.
“The state park is shining example of positivity in this neighborhood,” he said. “If you close it, the story is going to be: ‘Don’t go to Candlestick. It’s unsafe.’ ”
This story was produced by The Bay Citizen, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more at www.baycitizen.org.