The Money Went Fore What?

As parks funds were moved -- behind the scenes -- to a golf tournament, Gavin Newsom was out front seeking the spotlight. It's what he does best.

When the local Democratic Party establishment selected Newsom as its 2003 mayoral candidate, he carried with him this psychological mix of media acuity and political and policy obliviousness. Newsom became known for quickly and adroitly evaluating the effectiveness of, say, campaign TV spots, yet being weirdly clumsy at negotiating the myriad deals with potential backers and opponents required to launch an important political candidacy.

As mayor, Newsom has carried this dichotomy to an extreme.

In our Police Department, rank-and-file officers are in near revolt over what they see as a Mayor's Office that considers Newsom's political needs as management concern No. 1. However, public-safety news stories involving the mayor seem to mostly describe how the city's chief executive personally rushed to one crime scene or another to talk to television reporters.

Our transit system -- run by an interim chief with minimal relevant experience -- is in a financial death spiral, as service cuts lead to reduced ridership, and the resulting reduced income from fares leads to budget shortfalls, which lead to more service cuts and still fewer riders.

Yet our mayor retains a media reputation, crafted during his election campaign, as a transit-policy wonk.

Gavin Newsom has failed in every way to alleviate the city's housing shortage, declining for two years to appoint a planning director, and blocking efforts to plan for denser apartment buildings along transit corridors. He got elected two years ago on polling-and-focus-group-fashioned rhetoric describing plans to alleviate homelessness. The ensuing programs have produced the meagerest of mixed results.

Last week Gavin Newsom earned flattering headlines, however, by naming his strategy "Housing First."

Then there are the city's parks, the subject of an excellent Chronicle series three years ago -- that's to say, before Newsom entered office -- that described how our exquisite network of parklands and recreation facilities has fallen into weedy, filthy, dog-turd-covered decay. Three years of budget slashing have, by all accounts, made the situation worse.

Diverting millions of dollars aimed at parks improvements, in order to prepare for a PGA tournament, can only make matters filthier, weedier, and more broken-down still, critics say.

The Park Department has sought to counter objections to this PGA-first policy by establishing a scheme to pay back the $13 million from the "safe neighborhood parks, clean water, clean air, and coastal protection bond," including the money earmarked for "high priority, urgent, unmet needs, in the most heavily populated and most economically disadvantaged areas," into a so-called Park Department "open space fund" over 25 years, with the help of tournament and greens fees. The repayment scheme becomes a farce, however, when one notes it's based on a variable interest rate starting this year at an astonishingly low 2 percent, according to the department's director of finance and administration. That's 4.75 percent less than the current prime rate.

The city's golf courses currently lose money, meaning the fanciful open-space-fund payback scheme draws from money shifted from exactly the sort of potential park improvements that were raided to pay for the golf tournament.

So neighborhood park facilities will be neglected for decades to pay for a PGA loan subsidy worth many millions of dollars.

Not to worry.

Gavin Newsom, along with the celebrity media he works hard to serve, is hot on the case.

"Mayor Gavin Newsom and his ex-wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, were spotted following [Tiger] Woods for much of his round, the mayor in dress pants and a blue, buttoned-down shirt, the Court TV correspondent in low-slung jeans, a short-sleeve jersey and high heels," wrote Chroniclestaffers Ron Kroichick and Gwen Knapp in an Oct. 10 dispatch on the tournament. "They walked in a group, rather than strictly as a couple, and didn't appear to be any more intimate than [golfer John] Daly and Woods."

Stay tuned for more news at 11.

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