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News + PoliticsEnvironmentAn ongoing, private light show in Golden Gate Park? Who knew?

An ongoing, private light show in Golden Gate Park? Who knew?

New 'public-private' entity would charge $40 admission to events, threaten flora and fauna, attract 180,000 visitors—with no public notice.

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The latest “public private partnership” under the Recreation and Parks Department is calling for a winter nightime light show in the Botanical Gardens that will attract between 80,000 and 180,000 people at $28 to $40 a ticket and bring the private Botanical Gardens and Rec-Park an estimated $500,000.

The concept has upset some park advocates, including the California Native Plant Society, which says the crowded, noisy shows could disrupt the circadian cycles of both plants and wildlife in the park.

I don’t even know what that is, but it’s part of the RFP.

But it’s a classic example of the approach General Manager Phil Ginsburg has taken to running the department: See the parks as potential cash cows.

You can see the Request for Proposals here. It notes that the recently formed Gardens of Golden Gate Park

are uniquely situated and qualified to deliver key messages about biodiversity in the heart of the city while also directly contributing to global plant conservation efforts.

But the Native Plant Society says that “many plants rely on the natural light-to-dark cycle to determine when to flower, produce seeds, and go dormant. Artificial lighting can confuse these plants … This could potentially harm the very species the Botanical Garden strives to protect and conserve.”

Also: “The nocturnal animals that call that call the garden home may also suffer due to this light pollution.”

There’s also the noise, the traffic, the parking issues and all the other problems that come with attracting large crowds at night to Golden Gate Park.

But never mind: According to the RFP,

The Gardens and the selected “Contract Partner” will work to create an iconic garden experience and memorable winter destination for San Francisco, the Bay Area, and beyond. The Contract Partner will create an evening garden experience, illuminating existing plants and built elements along paved trails throughout the Garden.

The goals of the light show:

Inspire attendees to appreciate and learn more about plant diversity.

Increase the diversity of Garden attendees.

Increase overall attendance and first-time attendees to the Gardens. Connect with local light artists/community in exhibit design and execution.

Interpret the mission and vision of Gardens in its design and exhibit narratives.

Generate revenue for the organization, with a goal to net $500,000 in year one.

That money, the RFP says, will be split with Rec-Park, although it doesn’t describe the exact terms.

In the past, some of these “public-private partnerships” have been very bad deal for the city.

In this case, the GGGP is not a public agency, and doesn’t hold public meetings. In fact, it’s not really an agency at all; as of today, it hadn’t registered as a nonprofit in California.

Documents describe it as a subsidiary, or a DBA, of the Botanical Garden Society, a nonprofit that, tax documents show, had $25 million in revenue in 2020 although only $7 million in 2021, the latest year that tax returns are available.

Since it’s a private entity issuing the RFP, it may never go to the Recreation and Parks Commission or the Board of Supes.

There’s been no public notice. Nobody from the Botanical Society or GGGP responded to my emails.

So Golden Gate Park facilities, built and paid for with tax dollars, will again be used as a cash cow for a private entity, at a price that a lot of San Franciscans can’t afford.

That’s the Ginsburg legacy.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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