Following last week's announcement that the Recreation and Parks Department is looking to layoff 71 employees, Uptown Almanac has learned that the department has hired a public relations firm to coordinate community meetings, synthesize public input, and "reach a general consensus" with "vocal community members" surrounding the Dolores Park renovations and other park improvements to be completed as part of the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. The firm, Davis & Associates Communications, signed their contract "more than a month ago," according to a representative of the agency who identified herself only as "Tina."
"We are the communications and outreach consultants for the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Park Bond."
The move is unprecedented in the parks department: the city did not hire an outside firm following the 2000 Parks Bond and subsequently faced backlash following a mismanagement of funds and the inability to accomplish goals laid out by the bond, including a $13m renovation of Dolores Park. The move indicates that department expects continued backlash and additional failed promises.
According to Elton Pon of Rec. & Park, the department has historically "relied on no one to do PR work to the public and the press."
"This is particularly note-worthy because it is a huge bond and encompasses a variety of projects. It's just huge. In the initial bond in 2000, we didn't have any outreach support and I think going into this one... that was made a priority."
However, the proposed bond voters approved in 2008 did not allocate any money for an outside public relations firm, suggesting they have already misappropriated funds before breaking any ground. According to the San Francisco Chronicle and Rec and Park's 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond Report (Warning: PDF), voters did not approve any money to be spent on a PR consultancy:
The proposed $185 million parks and recreation bond:
- $117.4 million for repairs and renovations of neighborhood parks
- $33.5 million for renovation and development of waterfront parks
- $11.4 million for park bathrooms
- $8.5 million for artificial turf fields
- $5 million for community opportunity grants
- $4 million for park trees
- $5 million for park trails
- $200,000 for audits by a bond oversight committee
"Change The Story"
Pon confirmed that Nicolas King's confirmation of the park closure was "correct at that time."
"The problem stems from that this is really early on in the process so a lot of the details are still being worked out. There was some misinformation out there and I think your blog helped to kind of get everybody on the same page, get all our ducks in a row and make sure all the information was accurate."
It has been alleged that Mary Hobson, project manager for the Dolores Park renovation, had been discussing closing the park "entirely," for the past year. However, after Uptown Almanac broke the news that Dolores Park would be closed for 17 months and the public responded harshly, Phil Ginsberg, director of Rec. & Park, told Hobson to "change the story."
When asked to comment on the allegations, Elton Pon responded: "I really don't think that is likely, I spoke to Mary, and she didn't... she said she has not even spoken directly to Phil about this project."
Of course, Pon's comments to Uptown Almanac are dramatically different than the story delivered to the Examiner.
Editor's Note: Uptown Almanac has filed requests through the Sunshine Ordinance with Recreation & Parks to review the proposal, financials, and communication between the city and Davis & Associates. Those requests have not been fulfilled at this time.