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Archive for the ‘Parks’ Category

Recreation and Park shakeup may have been final straw

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 11, 2008

A decision by the head of The City’s Recreation and Park Department to fire a popular manager may have been the reason he was pushed out of a job, officials said Thursday.

Following months of rumors that his job was in jeopardy and closed-door talks with Mayor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday night, General Manager Yomi Agunbiade announced Wednesday that he was stepping down from his post.

Just days earlier, Rhoda Parhams, director of the department’s capital division, told staff she would be leaving, according to spokesman Elton Pon. Agunbiade had taken steps to remove her, a department staffer confirmed.

Jim Lazarus, vice chair of the Recreation and Park Commission, believes the situation with Parhams may have contributed to Agunbiade’s announcement.

“I think that got the mayor’s attention in a negative way,” he said.

Mayor’s Office staff did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Agunbiade has been an unpopular leader, taking heavy criticism from park advocates for his lack of rapport with the public, as well as his handling of a number of bond-funded projects that were designed improperly, behind schedule or over budget.

He has also been at the helm through a number of high-profile crisises, including fatalities at the San Francisco Zoo last December and Stern Grove in April.

Additionally, in July, Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis was offered a job reassignment after she filed a personnel complaint against Agunbiade, charging him with harassment.

In recent letters to Newsom, supervisors and the department, residents said Dennis and Parhams were park staff who welcomed input from the community, while Agunbiade had a reputation for top-down management and rocky interactions with the public.

Agunbiade will remain in his post while a search team recruits his replacement, according to Newsom’s office.

Agunbiade declined an interview request with The Examiner on Thursday.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 11, 2008 at 11:44 PM

Recreation and Park director steps down

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 11, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — After months of criticism and rumors that his job was in jeopardy, the embattled head of The City’s Recreation and Park Department, Yomi Agunbiade, is leaving the troubled department.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office met privately with Agunbiade Tuesday night, according to Jim Lazarus, vice chair of the Recreation and Park Commission.

Agunbiade then reportedly told Recreation and Park staff Wednesday morning that he was stepping down from the job, according to Isabel Wade, executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council, a city parks-advocacy group.

Commissioners were not informed of the decision or the reason behind it, Lazarus said.

Newsom has asked Agunbiade to remain in his position while a panel of key city staffers identifies a replacement, according to the statement released from the Mayor’s Office Wednesday.

However, talk at City Hall suggests that Phil Ginsberg, Newsom’s former chief of staff, could be tapped to replace Agunbiade, at least until a long-term director can be found, multiple sources confirmed.

Newsom appointed Agunbiade — a former sewer engineer who also worked in the capital divisions of The City’s Department of Public Works and Recreation and Parks Department — to head the park department in 2004.

He has been an unpopular leader, taking heavy criticism from parks advocates for his lack of rapport with the public, as well as his handling of a number of bond-funded projects that were designed improperly, behind schedule or over budget.

And while Newsom put a complimentary spin on the news of Agunbiade’s departure, saying that he had “seen many significant improvements to our park system,” it had long been rumored in City Hall that the Mayor was displeased with his performance.

In the wake of a closed-door performance review last month, a number of those advocates wrote to the Board of Supervisors this week asking for his removal.

“Mr. Agunbiade has not fulfilled the necessary role of accounting for the performance of this department, and cannot assure its future,” wrote resident Linda Harte, one of the letter writers.

The Recreation and Park Commission did make any recommendations regarding his employment, according to Lazarus.

Agunbiade has also been at the helm of the department through a number of high-profile crisises.

The department drew fire after a Siberian tiger escaped her enclosure at San Francisco Zoo and mauled a 17-year-old patron to death on Christmas Day, 2007.

Then, on April 18, a dog-walker was killed in Stern Grove by a limb that fell from a redwood tree arborists had tagged as a potential hazard.

In July, Recreation and Park spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis filed a complaint against Agunbiade, charging that he harassed her regarding her appearance and religious beliefs in a series of notes over a multi-year period.

“I think he finally saw the handwriting on the wall, or perhaps the mayor pushed him out,” Wade said.

As general manager, Agunbiade was responsible for overseeing the operation of the department, which includes roughly 900 personnel, according to the controller’s office. He was earning $198,822 per year in the post – the top of the salary range for the general manager’s job, according to the controller’s office. He was an at-will employee, not under contract, according to the City’s human-resources department.

Officials did not confirm whether Agunbiade would be offered another position within city operations.

“Yomi’s a career civil servant — it wouldn’t surprise me if the Mayor asked him to go back to the Department of Public Works,” Lazarus said.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 11, 2008 at 9:21 PM

Park department seeking money for recreation centers

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 27, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Three recreation center projects funded by voter-approved bonds have suffered significant delays and, in some cases, costly design errors, according to Recreation and Park Department officials.

The department is seeking more than $2 million in damages from West Bay Builders, the company that performed major renovations at the Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreation Center in Oceanview.

Although the center opened this summer, its heating system still does not work and there are ongoing problems with the new landscaping, said Rhoda Parhams, planning director for the department.

Rec and Park is working with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office to require West Bay to repair the problems and pay a financial settlement, Recreation and Park Department spokesman Elton Pon said.

West Bay Builders could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Residents in the neighborhood waited more than two years for the center to re-open, and saw more than one construction delay, neighbor Mary Harris said. Roofers had to re-roof the building after doing the work improperly the first time — a six-month setback, Harris said.

Neighbors near Upper Noe Recreation Center, which was scheduled to open Sept. 6, have also suffered roughly nine months of delays because of construction mishaps, including trouble ordering sod for the new fields, park supporter Alexandra Torre said.

The largest problem was the electrical system, which was installed but wired incorrectly, Parhams told the Recreation and Park Commission last week.

“There were clearly safety issues,” she said.

At Harvey Milk Recreation Center — still under renovation with no opening date scheduled — disabled-access points were designed incorrectly and needed to be re-designed, Parhams said. Neighbors were told the center would open this September, but are now hearing the opening could be in 2009, nearby resident Steve Medoff said.

“Had we looked at the designs ahead of time we could have caught it,” Parhams said. “We depended on the Department of Public Works to do that for us, and they didn’t.”

The Department of Public Works manages a number of construction projects for Rec and Park, and communicates with the department daily during such projects, spokeswoman Christine Falvey said.

“We have a good working relationship with them and we’ve delivered a lot of great projects for them, such as the California Academy of Sciences and Moscone Recreation Center,” Falvey said.

Some Rec and Park Commissioners were surprised by the news that these projects had significant design problems.

“We’re not designing the Transamerica Pyramid here,” Vice Chair Jim Lazarus said.

“It happens,” General Manager Yomi Agunbiade said. “We do have recourse when the work is done by a private contractor, but not when it’s done by another city department.”

Parhams said her department would add another level of design review to prevent future problems before they enter the construction phase.

Parks in progress
Construction costs and status of three San Francisco recreation centers.

Facility, Construction cost, Status
Minnie & Lovie Ward Oceanview Recreation Center, $16.8 million, Open
Harvey Milk Recreation Center, $9.3 million, Opening Sept. 6
Upper Noe Recreation Centerand Playground, $11.1 million, Under construction

Source: Recreation and Park Department

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 27, 2008 at 4:39 AM

Posted in Parks, San Francisco

Improvement funds not being put into play

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 18, 2008

Unfulfilled promises from the 2000 Neighborhood Park Bond has left many parks advocates frustrated and questioning The City’s ability to manage money for park improvements.

Those questions come as San Francisco gets ready to spend $185 million in new voter-approved park bonds. Of that, $80.1 million is destined for projects promised nearly one decade ago, including renovations to the aging Chinese and Palega recreation centers and to playgrounds and recreation centers in the Mission and Glen Park.

Voters approved $110 million in park bonds in 2000, intended to help fund 69 projects that would be rolled out during the next decade. Of those, slightly more than half — 36 projects — were finished, while 33 remain in limbo.

“There was a little too much exuberance in 2000,” department General Manager Yomi Agunbiade said. “The capital list contained just about every park in The City, and they started doing as many projects as possible.”

However, 34 different projects not in the original plan received 2000 bond funds and are complete or in the works, according to reports from the Recreation and Park Department.

A $56 million shortfall in 2004 led the department to scale back three projects and put 19 others on hold, according to a 2006 audit from the Budget Analyst’s Office.

Most of those 19 are now in the works or finished, but others included in the 2000 capital plan were abandoned.

Others, such as renovations at Glen Canyon Park, were folded into the new bond. Those repairs could cost $30 million, parks advocate Miriam Moss said, but they’re only slated for $5.8 million.

Like Glen Canyon, Mission Dolores Park was promised a new playground with 2000 bond funds.

The Friends of Mission Dolores Park received a $1 million grant to bootstrap playground renovations, member Donald Bird said.

“Then Rec and Park got low on money, so they borrowed [the grant] and used it for other projects,” Bird said.

Mission Dolores Park is scheduled to receive $13.2 million from the 2008 bond for upgrades.

Other held projects are now under way, such as the Sava Pool at Larsen Park in the Sunset. Originally, the concept was to build a two-pool aquatic center for $9 million — impossible atSan Francisco prices, advocate Dick Allen said.

When the project seemed doomed, Allen and others approached supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom for funding. Crews now are putting the finishing touches on the $17.1 million pool, due to open in November.

The Recreation and Park Department will not veer from projects and initiatives approved by voters in February, Agunbiade said.

“This bond is about absolutely doing things differently,” he said.

Advocates find ‘disconnect’ with city on volunteering

The City’s recreational-space advocates have questions about what happened to park projects promised in a 2000 capital plan — but they’re also wondering why verbal agreements in the past to let volunteers help improve the parks have been ignored.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Recreation and Park General Manager Yomi Agunbiade received an earful from those advocates recently when representatives from the Neighborhood Parks Council gathered to rate The City on its progress improving parks.

Atop the list was the failure of the department to create work plans that describe how many hours of maintenance service each park receives, and how much each needs, council Director Isabel Wade said.

Volunteers also reported that their efforts to create and maintain parks have been met with resistance, Wade said.

Potrero Hill neighbors have spent the past decade dreaming of helping to build a 4-acre park along Channel Street, resident Tony Kelly said. But the parcel is slated as part of a land-swap deal with NORCAL Waste for a parcel in Little Hollywood, according to Recreation and Park Department documents.

Kelly blamed the problem on a “real disconnect” between the neighborhoods, the Recreation and Park Department and city officials.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 18, 2008 at 10:56 PM

Posted in Parks, San Francisco

Killer tree was flagged as danger

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 30, 2008

The Stern Grove redwood whose crashing branch killed a 50-year-old San Francisco woman earlier this month had significant structural defects and was at risk of falling, according to an arborist’s report.

Pleasanton-based HortScience identified 603 of Stern Grove’s 2,600 trees — including 95 redwoods — as potential hazards, according to a report crafted for San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department in January 2004.

The tree whose branch fell and killed Kathleen Bolton on April 14 in the concert-meadow parking lot was described as “in decline, with extensive dieback of large branches and significant structural defects which cannot be abated,” according to the report.

“If The City knew this was a hazard, they should have done something to prevent what has happened,” said Kathy Skillicorn, one of Bolton’s close friends. “Her death was needless.”

While some Stern Grove trees with a “high” hazard rating were recommended for removal, the deadly one — and two next to it with the same rating — were recommended for an inspection of their upper limbs, according to the report.

HortScience recommended removing the majority of trees given a “very high” hazard rating within one year, and addressing “high” rated trees within three.

Jim Clark, a consultant for HortScience, said he did not know why the report recommended some trees for removal and not others.

City crews have been following the HortScience recommendations since they were made, according to Recreation and Parks Department Spokeswoman Rose Dennis.

“On an ongoing basis, all those trees are looked at,” Dennis said. “Our first line was dealing with the worst trees, which this tree was not. And the reality is [that] tree failure can happen at any time.”

Neighbors who walk regularly in Stern Grove say that falling branches — or even whole trees — are not uncommon. Felicia Zeiger said she was trapped in the concert-meadow parking lot for two hours March 17 after a eucalyptus branch crashed down, blocking the exit.

“For them to say it was a freak accident is baloney,” Zeiger said.

Bolton’s family is “devastated,” said Skillicorn, who would not discuss whether they are considering legal action against the city.

No claims have been filed with the City Attorney’s Office, according to spokesman Matt Dorsey.

Despite the warnings of some neighbors, Steven Haines, executive director of the annual Stern Grove Festival, said he’s optimistic that the accident won’t deter an estimated 100,000 from turning out to the concert meadow this summer.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 30, 2008 at 9:19 PM

Posted in Parks, San Francisco