Movie Night at Dolores Park. Photo by Michael Patrick.

Residents attending a Recreation and Park Department budget meeting on Wednesday suggested holding benefit concerts and allowing feature films to be shot in parks throughout the city to help raise funds.

“There are a lot of avenues of revenue. You need a nice creative think tank,” a resident said, adding that the department should reach out to local celebrities such as Carlos Santana and Francis Ford Coppola.

“San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world,” a resident said. “Why not have a ‘Come Save Rec and Parks’ concert?” another resident suggested.

“It’s an intriguing idea,” said Matthew O’Grady of the nonprofit SF Parks Alliance, adding that he agrees that many benefit concerts have helped raise funds in the past. “What’s less visible are the failed attempts,” he said.

In less than three weeks, the department will have to submit its expected budget for the next two fiscal years to the mayor’s office.

At Wednesday’s community meeting, O’Grady asked the small crowd of approximately five residents and 10 department employees what the department should do.

“Put yourself in Phil’s shoes,” O’Grady said, referring to Phil Ginsburg, the parks department’s general manager.

“We need a 5 percent reduction. If you were Phil, what would you do?” O’Grady asked.

“Look for another job?” Bob Palacio, the department’s superintendent of recreation and community services, said jokingly.

In a presentation, Katie Petrucione, director of administration and finance, showed the group the challenges the department is facing.

The city’s general fund deficit is expected to increase from $262.7 million to $375.3 million in fiscal year 2013-2014.

Petrucione said that the deficit has to be erased by June 1 to balance the budget.

To address budget concerns, the parks department is looking for ways to save and to raise new revenues. In its projected budget, the department is planning on $2.1 million in revenue from concessions and leases, $700,000 from special events and permits, and $100,000 from a flexible pricing model for golf fees.

The department is anticipating saving $300,000 by delaying hiring, $50,000 by streamlining garbage service, and $50,000 in workers compensation by allowing employees to change positions if need be. An employee who is no longer able to work in the field, for example, could switch to a desk job, Petrucione said.

The department is also hoping to save $125,000 with continued philanthropic support.

“Rather than reduce, we want to try to earn more revenue,” Ginsburg said. “We’ve lost a lot of staff over the years, but we feel we’re on the rebound.”

“Over the last six years, the general fund allocation has been cut by 25 percent and the city’s general fund has increased by 26 percent,” O’Grady said before opening the meeting up to suggestions. “We think that’s wrong. It’s time to stop those cuts.”

“I’m concerned that there’s no plan to increase maintenance,” said Robert Brust of Dolores Parks Works, adding that the number of arborists is too low.

Petrucione agreed, and said the department would like to add arborists, but that was not included in the budget to be presented.

“The overall allocation in the department tree maintenance is nowhere near where it ought to be,” Brust said. “We have aging trees and it’s a long-term concern.”

He also raised concerns about the department’s desire to raise park fees.

“We believe that people who have the means to pay should pay,” Petrucione said, adding that no one would be turned away for lack of funds. Park fees include entrance tickets to attractions such as the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

“Maybe we should stop throwing rotten tomatoes at trucks in the park because we need the revenue,” Brust said referring to Chicken John’s action against the Chaac Mool taco truck when it first moved into the park.

Citing the example of City College’s horticulture department helping in the parks, a resident suggested more collaboration among departments.

The parks department has until Feb. 21 to submit its budget for the next two fiscal years to the mayor’s office. The mayor will then have until June 1 to approve the budget.

Petrucione will be presenting the budget at a Parks, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee meeting on Feb. 7, and residents are encouraged to send in suggestions by email to rpdbudget@sfgov.org.

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Hélène Goupil

Hélène Goupil is a former editor at Mission Local who now works independently as a videographer and editor. She's the co-author of "San Francisco: The Unknown City" (Arsenal Pulp Press).

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