Lincoln Park needs a mower, not more study
Dan De Vries, Eden Anderson,Richard Harris
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
San Francisco is in danger of losing one of its landmark open spaces - the Lincoln Park Golf Course, which surrounds the Palace of the Legion of Honor and overlooks the Golden Gate - to bureaucratic and political neglect, lack of accountability and indecision.
Today, the Board of Supervisors will consider Supervisor Jake McGoldrick's proposed 18-month task force to study city golf operations. But why so long? Lincoln Park is fragile, deteriorating, and an 18-month task force threatens it with literally being studied to death.
City golf operations have been studied and re-studied for years, and they always arrive at the same conclusion: San Francisco has failed to properly maintain its public golf courses, which need immediate improved care, competent management and infrastructure reinvestment.
Lincoln Park, the city's oldest and most scenic golf course, is Exhibit "A" for the need to change the public golf course maintenance status quo. Lincoln's fairways are a patchwork of gopher mounds, leaky-sprinkler-fed bogs, and brown patches where the water has been shut off to stop leaks. In June 2007, Lincoln's only fairway mower broke. Instead of repairing or replacing it, the Recreation & Park Department mowed the fairways infrequently all summer with a narrow, slow, trim mower, leaving grass so tall that the fairways became indistinguishable from the roughs. After rain, Lincoln's fairways become waterlogged and inhospitable both to golfers and mowers, due to poor drainage system. The quaint, 1920s clubhouse is dilapidated, its public rooms empty, food service minimal and the bathrooms dank. The pro shop and restaurant have been on a month-to-month lease for more than five years, discouraging the concessionaire from making needed repairs. It is more than coincidence that the number of annual rounds declined from 55,000 in 2002-03 to 35,000 in 2005-06, the last year for which complete figures are available. So far as we are aware, the city has no current cost estimates for the needed infrastructure repairs...
In short, Lincoln Park Golf Course reflects a systemwide failure of San Francisco government to competently manage its recreation and park facilities, leading to decreased public enjoyment and use. In an August 2004 recreation assessment report, prepared by a city consultant for the park and commission, the authors wrote: "... deteriorating conditions found at the recreation facilities ... were cited as a reason recreation facilities are not used ..." and "There is a lack of accountability of staff to achieve any level of measurable outcomes due to the civil service nature of jobs and the culture that exists within the system for holding people accountable." They concluded: "A commitment by the Mayor, Recreation and Park Commission, and the Board of Supervisors will be necessary for ... changing the organizational culture to hold staff accountable" and "the only way to revive the recreation system is to invest in it and put in a management and staffing structure that is accountable."
Why is this happening? Between the Recreation and Park Department, the Board of Supervisors, and the Mayor's Office, no clear statement has been made of the city's intentions at Lincoln. But one thing is perfectly clear. Lincoln is extremely valuable property, as it adjoins the exclusive Seacliff neighborhood. When neglected or abused, such property becomes target for developers. And thus civic birthrights are lost. At Lincoln, there is an ironic twist to this old story: a so-called friend of public parks, San Francisco Neighborhood Parks Council, is calling for construction of an "event center" on Lincoln's famous 17th hole. No details have been released, but an "event center" inevitably means building complexes, roads, parking facilities, congestion, noise and traffic. And all of this in the middle of the famous view of the Golden Gate now enjoyed not only by golfers, but also neighbors, strollers, schoolchildren, bikers, motorists, dog-walkers, birders, museum-goers, not to mention visitors from around the world.
Lincoln Park, however, serves as more than a greenbelt and viewshed for tourists, neighbors and museum-goers. Lincoln is a living piece of San Francisco history; it is the city's traditional home of high school and junior golf, including the San Francisco Junior Championship, one of America's oldest junior tournaments. It is home for a large number of senior golfers, and dedicated women's clubs. It offers an excellent opportunity for the First Tee's program for disadvantaged youth golf, if the program were to be offered.
The city's mistreatment of Lincoln Park poses imminent danger to this historic public property and those who love it. Lincoln cannot afford another 18 months of neglectful status quo. And so we call on the supervisors to say "no" to more study and say "yes" to saving Lincoln Park Golf Course.