Rec and Parks Infighting Kills Holiday Bash for Developmentally Disabled

Last year San Franciscans were outraged when Laguna Honda Hospital administrators took money from a gift fund meant to provide simple pleasures to patients and instead spent it on staff.

But the public has missed a similar outrage at Golden Gate Park's McLaren Lodge, where bureaucrats have also been accused of mishandling money intended to bring happiness to disadvantaged people.

Department of Recreation and Park supervisors have canceled without explanation a series of privately funded holiday parties that since 1962 have been major social events for the developmentally disabled.

"We had kids from grammar school with disabilities all the way up to people in their 90s," says recently retired parks employee Carolyn Anaya, who with her longtime domestic partner, recently dismissed parks employee David Dinslage, put on the parties under the auspices of the department's recently eliminated Assisted Services Division. "We had our rock 'n' roll dance in May. We had our Halloween masquerade ball. We had a Thanksgiving sit-down luncheon with about 200 people. And we had the Christmas event."

The Christmas bash drew 700 developmentally disabled people from throughout the Bay Area. Safeway donated turkeys that the staff from the Westin St. Francis Hotel cooked and members of San Francisco Fire Fighters Local 798 served. In 2009, Dinslage's supervisor told him that the 47th annual Christmas party would be the last.

Revelers "looked forward to the Santa Claus, the luncheon, and all the hoopla," says Lesley Steele, programs supervisor at the Janet Pomeroy Center, a nonprofit recreational facility near Lake Merced for people with developmental disabilities. Each year she took 130 or so clients to the parties, "which were very special to the people," she recalls. Now, "people come to me and say, 'When are we going to the Hall of Flowers?' You have to explain to them: 'It's not happening anymore because of changes in the Department of Recreation and Parks.'"

Rec and Park officials rebuffed five requests to interview general manager Phil Ginsburg and operations manager Dennis Kern about those changes. Director of policy and public affairs Sarah Ballard did say that an apparently dormant Parks Trust account contained $26,678.57 donated to fund the parties. That's about what Dinslage says was left when (as he puts it) he was forced into retirement last year, suggesting the account has effectively been frozen. (In addition to the parties, he would occasionally tap the funds to take developmentally disabled people on trips to Alcatraz, Children's Fairyland in Oakland, and the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield.) On July 29, Dinslage filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired unfairly and that the department had misallocated that money.

Parks spokeswoman Connie Chan refused to explain why the parties were canceled, saying she couldn't comment on specific issues related to the lawsuit.

Critics of Ginsburg and Kern have an explanation that — while bizarre — seems to square with available facts. Dinslage and Anaya's holiday parties, as well as a half-century Parks Department tradition of providing recreation for the developmentally disabled, became collateral damage of a bureaucratic power struggle over — of all things — a classic car show.


These guys came in. All they did was put their thumb on it and squash it out," says Jimmy O'Keefe, a recently retired Rec and Park gardener who is the namesake of Jimmy's Old Car Picnic, a vintage car show held at Golden Gate Park's Speedway Meadow since 1988. The show has raised tens of thousands of dollars over the years for Dinslage's programs and parties.

Five years ago, park management moved to get the Old Car Picnic canceled. The rationale: It occurred only a week after Warren Hellman's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival. Also, Kern has told parks commissioners, the event damaged Speedway Meadows' grass — a claim O'Keefe disputes. He saw the clash as arrogant brass (Kern is a retired Navy commander), seeking to impose authority over an impudent grunt (he is a Vietnam vet).

Saving the car event became a San Francisco cause célèbre. O'Keefe and Dinslage got backing from local business owners, car buffs, locals who cherished the show's old-San Francisco flavor, and advocates for the developmentally disabled. Eventually, they say, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and his chief of staff, Ginsburg, issued a verdict that killing the event wasn't worth the hassle.

That was merely a battle in what became low-intensity bureaucratic warfare. A key tactic seemed to be removing the Car Picnic's political shield. And that apparently meant eliminating the beneficiaries of its donations.

In 2009, Dinslage's supervisor told him the Christmas party wasn't "inclusive" enough because attendees were mostly developmentally disabled.

Chan's explanation for the parties' cancelation: "I can only point to the programming and events that we're currently offering, and that they are open to everyone."

Also in 2009, Dinslage's Assisted Services division was eliminated, and he was briefly made inclusivity director, which entailed helping route developmentally disabled people into already existing parks programs. Last July, at age 60, he was let go after 35 years with the department.

In 2010, Kern, with Ginsburg now general manager, again moved to cancel the picnic. Again, he argued that the classic cars could hurt the grass. Again, the show became a citywide cause, and again Kern and Ginsburg backed down — but this time with conditions. The organizers would pay a yearly fee of $9,000 — the same amount the picnic had annually given to Dinslage's programs. Donations that had gone toward brightening the lives of developmentally disabled people were, in effect, swept into the general parks budget.

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Spinning
Spinning

Nothing more can be done....it is Very Much Too Late....Wish more had cared enough 2 years ago. Hearts have been broken and tears were shed...The Wonderful Program is Gone and will never be AGAIN>>>>SAD

Jeannie C
Jeannie C

I wrote to Supervisor Mar. This is outrageous and indicative of what the 'Occupy (insert your city here)' people are trying to communicate--the power brokers making decisions such as this to benefit a few and continuing to disenfranchise the 99% including those less fortunate for their own greed. The park is for the people--ALL the people--and to snuff out these important programs, their coordinators, volunteers, and supporters/donators is a crime against humanity, if nothing else, for which they will be held accountable sooner or later. I'm not an SF city resident, so am not sure if my comments will count, but this is wrong--as I wrote to continue Jimmy's Picnic and, on a larger scale, the discontinuation of the entire program. Please someone let me know if there's anything else we can do.

Fay
Fay

Everyone concerned, please send this and your desire to see Jimmy's Picnic continue to Supervisor Eric Mar's office:http://www.sfbos.org/index.asp...Squeaky residents get the grease, so give him a piece of your mind!

Ramona Fuller
Ramona Fuller

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Ramona Fuller
Ramona Fuller

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Emma Pope
Emma Pope

i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.go here, pluscent.com

Emma Pope
Emma Pope

i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.go here, pluscent.com

RichmondSFBlog
RichmondSFBlog

How very Matier & Ross of you! Nice work :)

Emma Pope
Emma Pope

Yeah same here I enjoyed so much this.

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PalmerQuit
PalmerQuit

Unless we pass this around and demand something be done, this all just pointless. Ed Lee won't do anything, he was Gavin's puppet, and he answers to the wealthy as well. Sad, very sad.

notadvised
notadvised

Kern is under the thumb of Phil Ginsburg who only cares about taking care of his wealthy buddies... Shame on Ed Lee for not firing Phil Ginsburg who has orchestrated several corrupt plans including trying to limit free speech at the May 11th, 2011 Commonwealth Club panel on Golden Gate Park. Rec & Park Commission Pres. Mark Buell is a mega developer and should resign in shame for taking away services from the disadvantaged in this city to put in the hands of his buddies... bye, bye Phil and Mark, we are on to you!

J Pidgeon
J Pidgeon

Thank you so much for including this article. I have worked for a day program for people with developmental disabilities at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House(PHNH) for five years now. Our people loved these events. What you have to understand is most of our clients are wards of the state. There families put them into State Hospitals when they were children. Luckily they were eventually let out of these horrible institutions but now they live in group homes and have no family. Probably the only positive thing to come from living in state institutions is they made lots of friends who have come back into their lives through programs like mine at PHNH, Janet Pomeroy and Jackson's Playground. These dances were a meeting place to see friends who they have known for decades, who they grew up with, it was like seeing there family for the holidays. For one of our clients who is now deceased, this was the only time he got to see his brother who lived in a different group home and attended a different day program. These parties were the only major social events where they got to be carefree and be around friends/family and have a great time for the holidays. Thank you so much Carolyn, Dave and Jimmy for putting on these events for so long. The people at PHNH still ask, "When are we going to Hall of Flowers? or "Are we going to see the firemen? Are they going to give us turkey?" especially when the holidays come around. Hopefully someone at Parks and Rec will have a heart and decide to "include" our friends in these events once again.

Jasbra
Jasbra

This is awful. Kern should be ashamed of himself, from one vet to another.

SharpestCrayon
SharpestCrayon

This is very very sad, and sort of typical. Save the events, keep the traditional happenings going on, and put the land to use for the people, like its intended. What's the point of park and recreation space, if only for use by select groups, whose use is in turn dictated by big-money business. Don't let cornyness win over common sense.

Sfbuddy
Sfbuddy

That is pathetic, Kern sounds like a real jerk.

Christine
Christine

This is outrageous. There is no reason to cancel any of these special parties/programs.

Goodscarrier
Goodscarrier

"Kern has told parks commissioners, the event damaged Speedway Meadows' grass" ...

And Outside Lands Music Festival does not?

Its not only Speedway Meadow ....

The Polo Fields which were just renovated ....

That grass is as good as dead, so much for all the $$$ spent on renovation!!

InPhil'sWorld
InPhil'sWorld

The Superintendent of City Wide Services then, Ana Alavarez made it clear to Mr. Dinslage and Ms. Anaya, that the recreation department would no longer be in the business of providing direct services to the disabled community. Her reasoning, she told them, was that the department needed to be more "inclusive" and not have separate programs for the disabled. What she failed to understand, is that inclusion is a philosopy and not a program. By cancelling an entire division of programs dedicated to providing recreation to those with developmental disabilities, she effectively left Mr. Dinslage and Ms. Anaya's clients with no alternative within the department to pursue recreation. Their only recourse was to participate in programs outside of the department that ultimately were too expensive for them. It saddens me that to date, the department has only one division remaining dedicated to those with disabilities and that is "Project Insight". But PI only works with the children and teens who are visually impaired and deaf. Those with developmental disabilities have no where to go. Sure Phil Ginsburg will tout his current summer camp program for children with autism: Camp Azure at Glen Park but this program is NOT inclusive. It's a separate program for these children and their aides. Don't get me wrong: it probably is a good program for those participants and their families, but this program, according to Ms. Alavarez's edict, shouldn't exist, because it's not inclusive. So why is this program and Project Insight's program allowed to continue, but not Mr. Dinslage's and Ms. Anaya's?

notadvised
notadvised

Yet another reason to fire Phil Ginsburg, Sarah Ballard and Mark Buell who are leading our parks into the mouths of big business all the while forgetting who pays their bills. Ginsburg is corrupt as evidenced by scandal after scandal that he has his buddy and mayoral candidate, Dennis Herrera, cover for him. Ginsburg and Herrera go back many years as attorneys & are out to sell off public assets to cronies. Do NOt Vote for Herrera who has covered for Ginsburg in these scandals! Fumigate McLaren Lodge asap!

Rainforester
Rainforester

Connie Chan was hired this year at the pricely salary of $100,000! She was hired from the DA's office! Disgusting the way RPD clams to have no nomey!

Sandystarr1
Sandystarr1

The Dept. of Rec and Parks has truly done a great injustice to the disabled community by eliminating this wonderful program that brought such joy into the lives of many people. I attended many of the parties both as an aide and also a volunteer and always had such a great time mingling and dancing with the most wonderful people on earth. The disabled do not ask for much and for Rec and Parks to take away a large part of their happiness is unforgiveable. They (Rec and Parks) say the program was not inclusive, my question to that is, what programs do they have in place now that are inclusive? If they have are they anywhere near the magnitude of what Dave Dinslage and Carolyn Anaya did to bring joy into the lives of such special people?

 
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