In San Francisco's Golden Gate Park the trend of "privatizing" taxpayer-funded public resources by turning management of them over to private companies was recently confronted by the ghost of an older movement.
Without an official permit from the San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department (RPD), a few hundred people gathered last weekend for a Human Be-in, from September 14 through 16, inspired by the original event that some say spawned the hippie movement of the late 1960s.
This time, however, there was less emphasis on spirituality and mind-altering chemicals because the focus was squarely on recent RPD policies.
This comes at a time when the department is hoping voters will pass a $195 million bond this November to fund park improvements.
Now an unusual coalition of organizations throughout the city is opposing it. The San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper reported the Sierra Club and the Green Party, along with the West Side Republicans, fiscal conservatives, former judge Quentin Kopp and the San Francisco Tenants Union all suddenly find themselves on the same side in opposing the bond.
The RPD has made a number of moves in recent years that have successively antagonized various local public interest groups. Despite considerable neighborhood opposition, grass on the soccer fields near the western end of Golden Gate Park is going to be replaced by synthetic turf and 60-foot-tall lights will be installed around the fields.
Management of an aging boathouse serving Stow Lake has now been taken from the family that has been running it for decades and given over to a company from out of town.
The Strybing Arboretum now charges a fee for anyone visiting from out of town, and San Franciscans must provide proof of residency at the gate if they still want to enjoy it for free.
After spending $3.8 million from a 2008 voter-approved bond to renovate the clubhouse and park at the J.P. Murphy Playground, some neighbors around it are fuming because the clubhouse remains locked and unused, unless they want to pay again.
For the second year in a row, the annual Power to the Peaceful concert was cancelled and promoters of the free event said this was because they couldn't raise the money required for a permit fee.
After San Francisco voters passed a bond of $185 million to help fund the department and rebuild the infrastructures of facilities in 2008, the department cut 72 recreation directors and assistant positions the next year, leaving many programs and revamped recreation centers or clubhouses with no one to manage them. Now these programs and buildings must be staffed from someone else shelling out more money; perhaps the same residents who voted for the bond.
The RPD cites continuing annual cuts to its budget, each year in the millions of dollars, as the central reason, albeit not the only reason, that these things are happening. Phil Ginsburg, the department's general manager, says the RPD is hoping community groups will provide the money for continuing programs, recreation centers and clubhouses by leasing the facilities.
The idea of "privatizing" public lands and resources has been around since the 1970s, when New York's Central Park was revitalized through a series of private and public partnerships.
More recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now pushing for a $7 billion program to rebuild that city's infrastructure. This time, however, at least $1.7 billion of that money will be provided by big financial firms; like Citibank, Citi Infrastructure Investors, Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets Inc., J.P. Morgan Asset Management Infrastructure Investment Group and union-held Ullico, according to The Wall Street Journal.
"This model of private financing for public infrastructure is happening all over the world, but not here in America," said Emanuel. "I can't get from here to there on the old model -- It's broken," The WSJ reported.
A recycling center that has been located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park for decades and has sponsored or supplied a variety of urban agriculture and community garden projects throughout San Francisco is about to be evicted by the RPD. The Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council's (HANC) recycling center has been fighting the eviction but recently lost the battle in court, and the RPD plans to move ahead with the eviction, in spite of the fact that the recycling center's management has converted about half the property they are on into a community garden.
Ginsburg cited the 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan as the reason for evicting the recycling center. That document designated the recycling center as a "non-conforming" use of park space that eventually should be phased out. Also, neighborhood groups like the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors and the Cole Valley Improvement Association have been pressuring the City for years to uphold the plan and proceed with the eviction because they don't like all the homeless people it attracts.
Ed Dunn, executive director of the HANC recycling center, negotiates terms of the Human Be-in with another organizer and SFPD officers on September, 14, 2012.
On the first day of the recent Human Be-in, Ryan Rising of Space TranSFormers, the group that organized the event, called on city officials to halt the eviction of the HANC recycling center.
"We're asking the city of San Francisco to stand up to preserve this green space, as well as the Hayes Valley Farm and the Free Farm, which are two permaculture gardens and farms in the city that are also being evicted," said Rising.
According to Rising, 22 bands and DJs were booked to perform throughout the weekend, and a variety of workshops were scheduled.
"I think that the 1967 Human Be-in was called because people were noticing a split between political activism and more of a social-music influenced, what people called "hippies" in that day, and we don't think that dichotomy really exists," Rising explained. " ... It's all one struggle to basically create a better world with each other.
"We're also looking to keep our parks a public space, to really open up the commons for the community, as they're supposed to be for, so we don't want to see private events, corporate events like Outside Lands replace Power to the Peaceful. ... We don't think people should need to apply for a permit to gather with each other and share together, which is really what our common space is for."
Peter Masek, Andrew Wong, Samsun Van Loon and Charith Premawardhana of the group Classical Revolution perform Mozart and Dvorak at the HANC recycling center in Golden Gate Park.
"Diamond" Dave Whitaker said he was at the original Human Be-in on January 14, 1967, in Golden Gate Park.
"It was the passing of the torch from my generation, I'll be 75 in a couple of months ... the Beat generation. We were beatniks. Alan Ginsburg was there. ... A lot of the beat writers were there. ... That's where Timothy Leary first said 'Turn on, tune in, drop out.' ... It was really the first free concert in Golden Gate Park," said Whitaker. "We didn't really realize that the eyes of the world were soon going to be on what we were doing."
So what's the connection with the present situation?
"We're occupying public space. We're making things happen. We're doing more together than any of us can do on our own. We're casting a wide net. We're finding the common thread. We're letting life flourish. Don't panic; we're keeping it organic."
Ed Dunn, the executive director of the HANC recycling center, indicated that the variety of groups involved with or supporting this event was a result of a broad opposition to RPD policies, which has been building throughout the last few years.
"The escapades that have been going on with (the RPD) on a number of fronts, well, from the bay to the breakers ... they've been antagonizing constituencies all across the city with their privatization policies," said Dunn. "That's led to strong opposition to the bond that's going to be on the ballot coming up this November. It's in serious trouble with the folks that they've managed to alienate."
Dunn includes himself as part of the opposition.
"We need to send a strong message to the mayor, the powers that be, that the whole privatization effort on the part of Recreation & Parks, Phil Ginsburg, is just dead wrong," he said. "That's not the way to manage what's supposed to be free, open public parks."
Walter Briscoe, a.k.a. "the Briscoe Kid" with his friends (l to r) Queen Sheba Diva, Mr. Buster Hunter and Hansome The Lion King were on their usual walk across the park when they stumbled across the Human Be-in on September 15, 2012. "There's lots of people here. Usually me and my dogs are the only ones here. It's really quiet and all you hear is birds and the wind."