Recent budget cutbacks around the Bay Area are threatening regional park operations. We check in with East Bay, San Francisco and San Mateo County park officials about the extent of the problems facing our public parks. What concerns do you have about the status of your favorite park?

Phillip Ginsburg, general manager for San Francisco Park and Recreation Department
David Holland, assistant county manager, and former head of the county parks department of San Mateo County
Pat O'Brien,, general manager emeritus for the East Bay Regional Park District

  • Gabe Aponte

    Mr. O’Brien: To what extent is East Bay Regional considering selling off some of its substantial park lands to developers? There are rumors that the Coyote Hills area in Fremont might be open to development in the future. Can you address this?

  • Jill Olson

    Our neighbors in Menlo Park have banded together to form a support organization for our local park, Flood Park, which the county announced that it planned to close indefinately due to budget woes. We are pleased that the county has meet with members of our SaveFloodPark grassroots group and we are encouraged by their efforts to work with us and the City of Menlo Park to reopen this park. Neighborhoods may need to follow our model and organzie support organizations like our newly formed SaveFloodPark group to provide much needed funding and volunteers to keep our parks open. Thank you for this opportunity to comment on this importatnt issue. Jill Olson, SaveFlood Park volunteer

    • Jill

      Menlo Park folks can learn more about our efforts to reopen this park at Thank you once again for highlighting this important issue!

  • Cat

    Golden gate park stables have been closed for years.  Reopening the stables would create revenue.  Why hasn’t anything been done?

  • Lee Thé

    A caller wanted to know how residents-only parks could justify keeping out nonresidents. He’s probably referring to Palo Alto’s Foothills Park. Well, when it was first being planned, Palo Alto went to all the neighboring cities and asked them to participate in building it. All of them not only refused, but most of Palo Alto’s neighboring cities have very few parks of their own.

    So in the summer Palo Alto’s many open parks are flooded with residents of surrounding cities, often crowding out residents.

    If your caller wants into Foothills Park, let him tell his city to pay a share of what it cost to build and maintain this park–and to build parks in his own city so he and his fellow residents leave a little of our parks to the ones who actually paid for them with their property taxes.

    We live in the era of self-righteous moochers.

    • Gabe Aponte

      Neighboring cities build parks using their own funds (without asking for contributions from neighboring cities) and don’t exclude residents from outside cities from attending.

  • Sarah Madden

    I’m pleased that the parks are striving to be more efficient.  I’ve often wondered why the local, county and district park jurisdictions in the Bay Area haven’t banded together to maintain its parks rather than having duplicate administrative and equipment inventories.  Obviously, many of the jurisdictions overlap geographically.

  • kerry

    Parks, public schools, libraries, and museums have so much in common. As the budget continues to shrink they’re finding themselves in competition with each other, which could bring them all down. Is there any thought being given to creating more overlap? I’m thinking of the way the San José’s King library is also the SJSU library.Great shows. Thanks. K

  • Bill

    If I have my facts right, Mr. Ginsburg is a strong advocate for the soccer fields project in GG Park which will turn a very large area of the west end of GG Park where the soccer fields are from grass to astroturf (and the present area used for soccer will be expanded so the total area of astroturf will be larger than the area of the present soccer.
    As part of this terrible project, there will be many 60 foot poles put around the perimeter of this large area. These 60 foot poles will, three nights a week, completely light up the west end of the park until 11 pm, with extremely bright lights (such as the ones used at AT&T Park or Candlestick Park.
    The astroturf contains lead and other toxic materials.  With time, the material breaks down and when it rains, that toxic material will get into the soil.  And the astroturf only lasts roughly 10 years so it a massive replacement project will have to happen every 10 years if this disaster is allowed to go through.
    Finally, trees on the west end will be removed as part of this project.  Those trees prevent soil erosion from the strong winds hitting the park from the ocean.
    This project has been sponsored by the late Don Fisher’s two sons who run the City Fields Foundation.  A show should be done on this disastrous project that Mr. Ginsburg and Mr. Buell (president of the Park & Rec) are supporting.
    Tell all the supervisors and the mayor you don’t want GG Park turned into astroturf and be lit up at night with lights on 60 foot poles, nor do you want the trees that stop soil erosion removed.
    Go here for more info (there’s contact info to join the team fighting this disaster)


  • Parks4All

    Mr. Ginsburg:
    The City of SF is being sued for killing endangered species at Sharp Park Golf Course, which loses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and will require millions in capital improvements. Many feel strongly that SF should dispose the Pacifica-based golf course and partner with the National Park Service to provide a better park experience that protects our wildlife. This will also save San Francisco funds and allow that money to be reinvested in parks and rec centers in San Francisco. It is the right thing to do.

  • Turquoisky

    Hello Michael;

    I’ve only caught a portion of the show this morning and realize you are mostly discussing parks in and around San Francisco, However I wondered if anyone has mentioned yet parks in the North Bay? Here’s a sad bit of news about Jack London State Park in Sonoma County (I live next door in Napa) that appeared just ten days ago in the New York Times.

    Thanks to your guests this morning and the work they are doing (and the awareness they have) about our beautiful parks.


  • Rebeccajohnson12

    What about Jack London’s State Park? Who, How and why is it closed????

  • Adrian

    Our research shows that these are tough times indeed for parks, and park agencies around the country are doing whatever it takes to keep their resources available to the public.  As taxpayers, we should be grateful for the services our park agencies provide: outdoor green spaces are an under-appreciated element to creating great communities.  In San Francisco, Golden Gate park is a hub for social, creative and charitable activities. We support Mr. Ginsburg and thank him for his hard work, and we’ll do what we can at to keep our parks open and the public involved.

    • Ellen Leaf

      We are very grateful that we have GGP as “outdoor green spaces” not plastic/tire turf and we are working very hard to keep it that way.  Ginsburg’s hard work is trying to privatize the whole Rec/Park Dept.

  • Eharrison

    Philip Ginsburg is the most dedicated sincere effective guy. I hope he stays in the job forever. I couldn’t manage without Golden Gate Park

    • Zangsf1

      You’ve got to be kidding. He’s one if the most hated managers ever.

    • Ellen Leaf

      Hope you can “Pay to Play” and I hope you can manage with a cemented Golden “Getty” Park

  • Katherine Howard

    Thank you for doing a program on the challenges to our parks.  It is important that the public have more information about the decisions that are being made about our parks.
    However, your interview only scratched the surface, at least as far as San Francisco is concerned.  In fact there are many problems with the decisions that the current San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD) is making.  This was made evident last year, when many residents tried to change the appointment process for the Recreation and Park Commission from unilateral appointments by the Mayor (who also appoints the RPD General Manager) to a more balanced appointment system.  This effort fell victim to the politics of the budget process, with the result that more problems have developed in the Recreation and Park Department’s management of our wonderful parks.
    On your program, one of the other park directors talked about how parks serve as a ‘kind of natural benefit to the environment’, a ‘refuge for animal and plant species’ including ‘endangered snakes and butterflies’.  It is ironic that while the other parks directors were talking about the importance of getting out in nature, Mr. Ginsburg was discussing changing a beautiful area, the western edge of Golden Gate Park, into an artificial environment, with over 7 acres of artificial turf, wide concrete sidewalks, increased parking (despite San Francisco being a transit-first City), and 10 banks of 60 foot high stadium lights.  These lights, according to RPD’s own documents, will be lighted from sunset until 10:00 p.m. every night of the year.  This area is across form Ocean Beach, a beautiful natural landscape the experience of which will be marred by this project.   Both the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, as well as a myriad of other organizations, had to battle RPD just to get an Environmental Impact Report for this project.
    Mr. Ginsburg also neglected to mention that his department is supporting the construction of a 40,000 square foot water treatment factory, with up 30 to foot high walls, 24 hour lighting, and security gating in the western end of Golden Gate Park.  This is in an area of the park that the Department’s own 1998 Master Plan specifies should to be returned to meadows and recreation. 
    There were some errors in Mr. Ginsburg’s answers.  He stated that RPD employees are not being paid for “selling” the parks.  However, many of us attended a meeting in which RPD employees talked about being required to bring in multiples of funding from various leases, and that their jobs depended on this.   Mr. Ginsburg’s statement that they don’t have people to staff the clubhouses also neglected to mention that that is because RPD fired the staff!  Once the staff was fired, clubhouses were leased to a variety of groups, including one group that charges up to $14,000 a year private tuition for day care.  This program replaced a free program in early childhood development that was being run by City College.  This is not an equitable use for a public facility and certainly not one that serves the general public.
    There are other problems with the current approach of the Recreation and Park Department to park management.  In public testimony at the Board of Supervisors, the City’s own budget analyst found the Arboretum fee to be a poor investment decision.  The Stow Lake boathouse lease remains contentious; it is not clear that the best financial deal was arrived at, and it looks like it is headed to a court case.  Rec and Park is being sued by environmental groups over its management of Sharp Park.     
    It would be a public service if KQED were to invite some of the people on the opposite side of these issues from Mr. Ginsburg, to talk about why they are concerned with the direction that our parks are being taken and what other options exist. 
    Katherine Howard
    Member, Steering Committees, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance and SF Ocean Edge

  • Fire Ginsburg NOW!

    A good chance to debunk a’coupla myths: The current problems with San Francisco’s parks relate to irresponsible management under Phil Ginsburg, the SF Rec & Park General Manager, who was appointed by his buddy, Gavin Newsom, in spite of the fact that Ginsburg has no park experience whatsoever. Ginsburg is an uber-connected, uber-ambitious attorney who can bully his way around City Hall. HE decided to fire gardeners and 99% of the recreation directors so that he could hire at least a dozen six figure cronies to act as go-fers/p.r./media people to protect his image which is in need of a serious makeover. Where he’d get the money for those positions  “in this era of limited resources” he refers to…  and if RP is as broke as he claims?

    KQED, I hope you will invite members of the SF Take Back Our Parks action group that is working to protect our parks from Ginsburg’s privatization and Disneyland-ification plans. to/~takebackourparks/   to present the other side of these issues. TBOP has studied the RP budget and Ginsburg can’t even tell you accurately what his budget is.

    He is a corporate deal maker and no guardian of our precious parks or the environment. The Sierra Club and the Audubon Society both oppose his plans for multiple reasons.

    Ginsburg ignored the strong public opposition to his plan for the Stow Lake Boathouse… bringing in an out-of-state souvenir chain with no boating experience. This in spite of the fact that there was a better bid that would have generated more revenue.

    He’s embroiled taxpayers in at least 4 unnecessary lawsuits… you’d think an attorney could at least avoid some lawsuits, but he likes to play fast and loose with the rules, and then brags that the City Attorney will cover his “ash”. A lot of corruption taking place at Rec & Park and City Hall, with our parks are used as chips in corporate land grab and giveaway.

  • Kilgore Trout

    Amazing how Ginsburg can go without ever answering a question ever. Absolutely no substance!

    What is worse is that Krasny just lets him do it!

  • Suzanne R. Dumont

    Go to  to read Susan Dyer Reynold’s masterful investigative series on Rec & Park, backroom deal making and the Stow Lake Boathouse and to learn more about Save the Stow Lake Boathouse Coalition.

    Just some of the reasons why the Rec & Park’s (RP) plans for the Stow Lake Boathouse are bad for SF:
    1. RP did not choose the highest or best bid. The current tenant offered more guaranteed annual rent and higher percentage revenues from boating and food. The current tenant’s bid included 35 more NEW boats than the Ortega souvenir chain (who has no boating experience whatsoever). RP gave huge discounts to a New Mexico souvenir chain to take over the historic boathouse.

    2. The lease bid process was replete with favoritism, deception and the bids were judged by 5 RP insiders, including RP Commissioner Meagan Levitan, who said she would not both judge bids and vote on them, but did anyways. The public was promised an independent community judge on the panel but that never happened in spite of vigorous attempts by hundreds of citizens to keep Ginsburg honest.

    3. The plans to prioritize food at the boathouse are in direction violation of the Golden Gate Park Master Plan written in 1998. The Plan states that recreation should be prioritized over all other activities. Ginsburg’s plan for the boathouse, relegates the boats to the parking lot so that the historic boathouse will be gutted for restaurant use.

    4. The capital improvement numbers don’t add up. In hard economic times, Ginsburg and co. have ignored all requests for answers. Because the RP Commission are all appointed by Newsom, they see no need to respond to the public or work with the public. Attempts at community meetings were shams, with six figure RP staff watching their watches and/or mocking the public concerns.

    5. The current tenant has been on a month-to-month lease for 6 years, in spite of all of his attempts to sign a long term lease. This has made expensive capital improvements infeasible. His family has operated the boathouse since it was built in 1949. In fact Bruce McLellan’s grandfather, had noted Bay Area architect, Warren Charles Perry, design the boathouse. The family has provided safe and fun boating recreation and a constant revenue stream to the City, with a perfect safety record and no lawsuits. Claims that the family made a fortune off the boathouse and are not good tenants are false. If a criticism can be made of the McLellan family, it might be that they played fairly by all the RP rules, and believed that fairness and the best bid would prevail. They have been blindsighted by the backroom deal making and clear favoritism that are hallmarks of the boathouse lease debacle.

  • Leaf1522

    What Ginsburg is not telling you about the Soccer Complex is that it will be a environmental nightmare.  Plastic & tires are toxic.
    Also most of SF citizens do not even know about this project.
    Ellen Leaf

  • M6kohn

    I am one of a large number of the public who have watched with horror as Phil Ginsberg has manipulated the media, lied to the SF Board of Supervisors and generally wreaked havoc with his “stewardship” of the SF Rec and Park Department.

    To give your listeners a clear sense of what is really going on, you should give equal time to opposing groups, such as TAKE BACK OUR PARKS, KEEP THE ARBORETUM FREE & many others.

    Please don’t let KQED be co-opted, like so many others, by this sleazy New Yorker who is ruining much of San Francisco with his corporate ideals.

    Marilyn K.

  • Jan Mac

    I was horrified to learn that the Recreation and Parks Department, headed by Mr. Phillip Ginsburg, wants to change the western edge of Golden Gate Park, into a “SOCCER COMPLEX”, with over 7 acres of artificial turf, wide concrete sidewalks, increased parking, and 10 banks of 60 foot high stadium lights. And, in that same area of the park, he is also supporting construction of a 40,000 square foot water treatment factory, with up 30 to foot high walls, 24 hour lighting, and security gating.  It’s inconceivable how Mr. Ginsburg could consider putting these inappropriate additions in our beautiful, historical Golden Gate Park.

    Looks like another lawsuit Mr. Ginsburg will embroil the San Francisco taxpayers in, since this is in an area of the park that the Department’s own 1998 Master Plan specifies should to be left in its natural state.   The Sierra Club and the Audubon Society both oppose his plans.
    As a KQED supporter, and in the interest of fairness, I hope you will invite members of the SF Take Back Our Parks action group, that is working to protect our parks, to present the other side of these issues. Thank you.

  • Donald Ciccone

    You guys really need to hear from the community that’s opposed to this horrible ASTROTURF soccer field they want to put at the end of GG Park!  Please do the right thing and give equal time to the SF Ocean Edge group on this matter.  Nobody out here in the Outer Sunset wants this end of our park paved with plastic grass!  Not to mention the blazing lights they want to put in.  
    This is the last place in town you can see the stars at night.  Don’t take that away from us.  

  • Patricia Arack

    I have lived at Ocean Beach for 25 years. Each year, with global warming, the fierce freezing winds howl off the ocean at an increasing alarming rate of speed. Have any of the brilliant developers of this exploitative and miserable idea to install AstroTurf and stadium lights spent any REAL TIME out here? If they remove those trees, those soccer players will freeze their little behinds off, and the soccer ball will be carried away by the wind. I suggest they camp out for a few days out here and check out the wind.

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