A proposal to bring three attractions in Golden Gate Park under the same umbrella and nonprofit management is moving forward with help from SF Mayor London Breed — and it would mean that SF residents could visit all three free of charge.
While the San Francisco Botanical Garden has long been free to visit for San Francisco residents, the same is not true for the nearby Japanese Tea Garden or the Conservatory of Flowers, each of which has been managed in part over the years by separate nonprofit "friends of" organizations. Back in November, the Rec & Park Department put forward a proposal to bring all three attractions under the administration of the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.
"The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society is a highly qualified, longtime city partner with a strong track record. It has guided the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s evolution into a world class attraction," said Rec & Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg in a statement at the time. "Merging these gardens under the same successful operation will create organizational and operational efficiencies, inspire philanthropy, and deliver on our mission to connect people to nature and each other."
Now Mayor London Breed seems to have adopted the idea as her own, and/or none of the supervisors wanted to take it up. So, on Wednesday, Breed announced proposed legislation to create the new Gardens of Golden Gate Park umbrella moniker, and to bring the Tea Garden and Conservatory under the auspices of the Botanical Garden Society — with all three becoming free to SF residents in the process.
The proposal also allows for out-of-town visitors to be able to buy a three-garden pass, in lieu of paying individual entry fees at each — which could provide a new revenue stream. And under the proposal, Rec & Parks would manage all the funds, and reimburse expenses to the Botanical Garden Society.
Rec & Parks already handles maintenance and horticulture at all three gardens, and that would not change.
"The Gardens of Golden Gate Park are urban oases that offer visitors the opportunity to explore the natural world and take in our city’s natural beauty, and soon all residents will get to experience these loved attractions for free," Breed said in a Wednesday statement. She also added, "All San Franciscans, regardless of income, should have access to our city’s vibrant public spaces and cultural institutions."
The only sticking point possible with this could have to do with questions about the revenue arrangements — with supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan having made noise in the last year about the city's relationship with the SF Parks Alliance. The Alliance, which currently manages the Conservatory of Flowers and raises money for parks and open-space projects around the city, was implicated by supervisors for its alleged role in funneling donations from city contractors to former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. (A city auditor's report last fall found $3.5 million in anonymous donations to the Parks Alliance which raised "questions about potential conflicts of interest," but no definitive "smoking gun" was discovered in terms of bribery or wrongdoing.) We can expect, at the very least, questions about how much admissions revenue will filter back to them, if any.
The proposal for the Gardens of Golden Gate Park was already approved by the Rec & Park Commission in November, and is set to go before the Board of Supervisors on January 26. Once the Board has taken two votes on the matter and the mayor signs the legislation, it will take effect 30 days later, and you can stop paying seven bucks to get into the Conservatory of Flowers. Also, out-of-towners who now pay $10 to get into the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory may soon be looking at a higher ticket price unless they do a package deal.
Photo courtesy of the Conservatory of Flowers