Rebuilding Harding Park into one of the finest Municipal golf courses in the country is a major achievement San Franciscans should be truly proud of, but unfortunately where opportunities to defraud the public are possible, in this fine City, they are inevitable. The financial shell game afoot at Harding will require more than the usual public scrutiny.
One of my campaign promises in 2000 was to rebuild and restore Harding to the splendor that it deserves. My goals at the outset were:
a) To ensure that residents and visitors in San Francisco have an exceptional recreational experience on a unique golf course at reasonable rates.
b) To rebuild a treasured facility that would return enough profit to the City to maintain all of the City run courses, and provide extra cash for our park needs.
c) To give our small businesses and community at large the opportunity to reap the estimated $50 to $80 million in benefits that the Tours and Tournaments would provide.
You might recall that in 1999, Mayor Willie Brown was pushing to privatize the course and that the Arnold Palmer group was set to takeover and run Harding for whatever profits could be extracted from a wonderful but dilapidated and run-down 1925 golf course. My vision and work regarding Harding was based on the belief that, because of the physical uniqueness of the golf course, it could become a recreational treasure to San Franciscans once again; a profit yielding goldmine for the City coffers and businesses, and another example of civic pride; all possible if handled properly. Mayor Brown enthusiastically signed the ensuing my legislation and it passed by unanimous vote at the Board of Supervisors on April 25th, 2002. The legislation contained the following guidelines:
• The need for Harding to be completely renovated in an environmentally sensitive fashion.
• Green fees were to be kept at a minimum thereby allowing golf to remain affordable and accessible to residents.
• The course was not to be privatized so that City coffers and local businesses would reap the benefits.
• A special “Golf fund” was to be established to capture golf course revenues that would be used to maintain all other City-run courses, with the excesses to be applied to neighborhood parks.
• A comprehensive youth golf program was to be established.
Tournaments such as the PGA TOURS and Presidents Cup should be a means and not an end, and as such should net the City at least one million dollars per tournament after all the City’s expenses and inconveniences to the local residents.
I enlisted the help of the private sector in order to add “insurance” to the revenue stream by getting the PGA to agree to make Harding Park the West Coast home of the PGA TOUR Championship. The agreement provided for course closure for a short period of time during each championship, and required payment to the City of a minimum of $1 million (including 50% of the net revenues) for each Tour Championship, which would be held every three years. The initial term of the agreement ran from Jan.1, 2006 through Jan.1, 2015 with options to renew for three additional nine-year terms. (A potential profit to the City of some $31 million, or double the cost to rebuild Harding.)
“Without even taking into consideration profits from the Tours and other ancillary charges, something is not adding up here, or someone in this administration is guilty of
“Enron style accounting”. I highly suspect the latter…”
I might add here that the first vote at the Board regarding the Harding Plan was a 10 to 1 against my legislation until I was able to convince all of my colleagues that their neighborhood parks would reap benefits from the profits of such a plan in perpetuity because of the way it was funded. Some months prior to the vote I discovered that there existed a grant to the City under the Per Capita Grant Program provided by the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Air, and Costal Protection Bond Act in the amount of $8.1 million and under the Roberti-Z’berg-Harris Block Grant Program in the amount of $5 million for a total of $13.1 million. These were State funds intended for the use of local neighborhood parks. My colleagues soon realized that when those funds were divided among the 11 supervisorial districts, a one-time infusion of approximately $1.1 million per district paled in comparison to sharing in perpetuity the profits that a well-run Harding Park and properly administered golf fund could provide. We all assumed that there would be honest and transparent administration of the Park and the resultant golf fund, and thus the $13.1 million was applied to the re-build of Harding.
Once I left office, the fun and games began. The current administration has exploited the plan to the detriment of the residents and taxpayers of San Francisco. Because of the large amounts of money involved, and the chance to use that money for purposes other than intended, nor are the guidelines of my approved legislation being adhered to.
In 2002, the annual projected revenue that a new Harding would produce was based on calculations that green fees for San Francisco residents would be set at $28 maximum, and for non-residents, $88 maximum. Using the historic yearly average of 77,650 rounds of golf played at Harding (not even taking into account the increase to be played on a newly renovated course) it would have to yield at least $2.4 million to $3 million per year in 2002 Dollars! After maintenance costs, and assuming that we would continue to employ professional golf-greens keepers, which we haven’t done, the City golf fund should have netted at least the $6.5 million over six years as predicted by Economic Research Associates in 2002, if not much more than that amount! Without even taking into consideration profits from the Tours and other ancillary charges, something is not adding up here, or someone in this administration is guilty of “Enron style accounting”. I highly suspect the latter as, in violation of the original agreement, green fees for residents have now been jacked up to $46 – $59 and for non-residents are forced to pay $135 – $155. Even simple math will show that there is just no way the course could be running at a loss!
I won’t bore you with more details to prove my point, but will comment on a few realities that San Franciscans should be aware of lest their City be sold out from underneath them.
1. Harding Park is not running at a loss as is being depicted by this administration in the local media. The Golf fund revenues are not being properly accounted for, and are being diverted into other uses that have nothing to do with course or park maintenance.
2. Cost overruns for the renovation of Harding ran the bill up to $16 million, not the $23.6 million being quoted. The overruns were due to Dept. of Rec and Park inefficiency and inclement weather conditions during the re-build. I would love to know where the other $7.6 million was supposedly spent, as it certainly wasn’t on Harding. The figure of $23.6 was never revealed during my tenure on the Board of Supervisors, it was not revealed until 2005.
3. As $13.1 million of the funding was in the form of State Grants, there is no need to make payments in the form of a loan for that amount, and the extra $2.9 million required for the overruns was to come out of the Rec and Park budget in 2002-3. There is no 25 year loan due date approaching soon unless the books have been cooked. Why?
4. Harding is being portrayed as an operating loss to the people of this City by this Mayor and the District 7 Supervisor (his rubber stamp on the Board). By so doing, they attempt to justify their efforts to “privatize” its operation. Privatization is not always bad as there are cases where a private concern can utilize efficiency that a municipality cannot in order to provide for the common good. In this case, “privatization” means turning the operation of Harding over to the Mayors special interest political donors so that they can realize the profits that the City is now making—profits that are not being honestly and truthfully disclosed.
Finally, Harding Park took a lot of work to put together, work by a lot of smart people who had the City’s interest at heart and knew how a world class City should operate. It was a wonderful gift to all the residents of San Francisco, be they golfers or non-golfers (like me). It was the first step in the plan to revitalize the entire Lake Merced area to the benefit of all City residents. As it stands now, Harding is just another one of our misused assets.
My intention is to shed a little light on what Harding Park and its re-build was for, and what it should be all about. If it were handled properly, Harding would yield untold resources and distinguish San Francisco as the City that still knows how.