Supervisor Connie Chan is not done snooping into the finances of the San Francisco Parks Alliance, with an audit she ordered finding millions in anonymous donations, but no smoking gun.
They have very similar names, but the SF Recreation and Parks Department and the SF Parks Alliance are two different entities. SF Rec and Parks is a city department that manages and maintains our parks. The SF Parks Alliance is a “Friends of”-type outside nonprofit that raises money or provides philanthropic services on park-related matters, donating money back to the city's Parks and Public Works departments for various projects. And that is precisely the sort of structure that allowed Mohammed Nuru to bilk a $1 million slush fund out of the Parks Alliance, as the City Controller discovered in September 2020.
That corrupt slush fund — really just a minor piece of the wider public corruption scandal — put a dark cloud over the Golden Gate Park’s SkyStar Ferris wheel, because the Parks Alliance gets and manages the proceeds from all of those $18 ferris wheel rides. Back in March, Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan said they smelled a rat with this arrangement, though they never really found the rat, so the Ferris wheel was extended another four years, with the Parks Alliance still managing the attraction.
But Supervisor Chan is not done with the Parks Alliance yet. She ordered a budget analysts’ office audit into the organization, which NBC Bay Area reports found $3.5 million in anonymous donations to the group, which is not proof of wrongdoing, but raises “questions about potential conflicts of interest,” according to the audit.
“The audit has confirmed a very problematic relationship between the San Francisco Parks Alliance and city departments,” Chan told NBC Bay Area, “particularly with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department.”
But it’s more of a “potentially problematic” relationship, as the report found no smoking gun, and the alliance has since agreed to not accept anonymous gifts of $100 or more. The audit found the alliance took in $44 million overall, $3.5 million of which was donated anonymously, so about 8% of the money they rake in is donated anonymously.
In a statement to NBC Bay Area, the Alliance played up how willing they are to accept any new ethics rules, while not acknowledging any potential for wrongdoing.
"We will implement any additional common-sense policies that provide greater transparency and allow us to continue to support and improve San Francisco’s parks and public spaces," the organization said in a statement. "Along with many other nonprofit groups, we continue to work with city departments to meet or exceed these good government controls."
Supervisor Chan has a point about potential conflicts of interest. But this audit seems like the latest chapter of her ongoing feud with the Parks Alliance, wherein she alleges potential corruption, and the Alliance threatens to pull money out of projects in her district. And that wheel, apparently, is still going round and round.
Image: SkyStar Wheel