Proposition G: A Slap in the Face at Youth

by Peter Lauterborn on September 14, 2007

At first glance, Proposition G—which creates a public-private matching fund to reopen and rehabilitate Golden Gate Park’s horse stables—is rather innocuous. It allocates one dollar of city funds for every three which are privately donated to the City, with a limit totaling $750,000 in City funds. In a multi-billion dollar budget, such a figure is well within the realm of affordability and is undoubtedly with many benefits.

But the point of contention is the City’s continual disregard for park and recreational services that youth have demanded to no avail. For years, a whole host of recreation proposals put forth by the Youth Commission were never prioritized in the City’s Budget. For Supervisor Jake McGoldrick to suddenly make the horse stables a priority is essentially bypassing the City Charter’s provisions for youth input in the budgetary process, and ignoring actual demands made by youth.

In general, McGoldrick has been a very strong progressive ally over his seven years on the Board of Supervisors, particularly on youth issues. He was a major supporter of minimum wage increases, paid sick leave, discounted Muni passes for young adults, healthcare, and housing issues. McGoldrick’s morals or perspectives are not what are in question here, but rather the process though which Prop G came to be.

At the Noe Valley Democratic Club, McGoldrick claimed that the impetus behind Prop G was a promise to a few young children on his street that he could get them horses. While I’m all for taking cues from your constituents, this does not compare to the official process which certain budget items must go through.

For those who don’t know, all youth-related polices must be brought to the attention of the Youth Commission. The Charter states:

Before the Board of Supervisors takes final action on any matter that primarily affects children and youth of the City and County, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors shall refer the matter to the Commission for comment and recommendation.

Furthermore, the Charter specifically lists “recreational activities” as an area under the jurisdiction of the Youth Commission.

If the Youth Commission had not been sufficiently carrying out its duties, McGoldrick’s proposal would be understandable. But the opposite is true. Through its annual budget priorities, the Commission has repeatedly requested investments into recreational services, large and small. For the most part, these recommendations have been ignored despite the fact that they come with broad community support.

Suggestions from this past year’s budget priorities included $100,000 to build a skate park at the old horseshoe pits in Golden Gate Park, $50,000 for regular clean-ups of the city’s athletic fields, and $600,000 for the expansion of RecConnect (a program that includes young people with planning and running recreations centers to better suit their needs).

This past spring, the Youth Commission unleashed four major recreation proposals. One of the more intriguing suggestions was to turn the abandoned powerhouse building at San Jose and Geneva Avenues (adjacent to Balboa Park Station) into a dynamic youth center. The proposal includes plans for arts and vocational training, and its central, transit-friendly location makes it perfectly accessible to thousands of young people. The $570,000 cost of this proposal, which would presumably reach more young people, is $180,000 less than the Stable rehabilitation.

Another notable example is Park Sessions, which was a monthly, youth-oriented event held at Gelnn Park. At a price tag of $100,000 a year, the events brought together thousands of young people for safe, late-night activities. Programs included all types of music and DJs, food, art stations, and dancing—all of which was performed and organized by the youth themselves. Funding was cut during the budget shortfalls earlier in the decade, but never restored.

The Geneva Youth Center proposal and Park Sessions both address major youth concerns in San Francisco. For example, in 2003, the annual YouthVOTE survey of 6,398 San Francisco high school students found that 83% of them feel that there are not enough late night activities available. Additionally, XY Magazine for gay youth rated San Francisco behind Detroit, Minneapolis, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Orlando, Dallas, Phoenix, and even Salt Lake City in entertainment options for youth under 21.

Everyone knows that there are limited funds available, and the Youth Commission most certainly does not expect all of its recommendations to be accepted. However, issues like the horse stables make it clear that with enough effort, a decent plan with a political champion can succeed.

Proponents of Prop G will argue that the promised matching funds make the proposal more feasible. But at the end of the day, the city is allocating $750,000 to recreation. Why not allocate it towards the recreational services that youth are requesting?

After all, the Youth Commission is there for a reason.

Peter Lauterborn is Issues & Actions Chair for the San Francisco Young Democrats and served as Government Affairs Officer for the San Francisco Youth Commission. Send feedback to plauterborn@gmail.com

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