June 2009

Starr King Elects Board

By Sarah Marloff

Last month more than 50 Potrero Hill residents gathered at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House (Nabe) to elect a new board for Starr King Openspace.  Starr King is San Francisco’s only hilltop open space that’s not owned by the Department of Recreation and Parks’ Natural Areas Program.  Instead, it’s run by a nonprofit, which is managed by a board of directors.  Only three board members remained active from the last election, which was held in 2006 – Susanne Shields, her husband Ralph Hunter and Arthur Feinstein – all of whom were termed out of office, leaving nine vacant seats to be filled.

According to the nonprofit’s bylaws – which were not available during the meeting – candidates and voters for the board positions had to be Potrero Hill residents. Seventeen residents were nominated for the nine open slots.  To receive a ballot those entering the Nabe during the meeting had to present identification with a Potrero address.   

After the votes were caste and counted, the newly elected board members included David Glober – who’s been working with the Openspace for the last several months on website maintenance – Joshua Aidlin and Carolyn Bird.  The three received the most votes, qualifying them for a three-year term.  Andie Grace, Christa Conforti, and Dale Scott will serve two-year terms; while Richard McDerby, Jennifer Stebner and Chet Roman will serve for one year.

 Before the vote Shields stated that seven of the individuals who were elected in 2006 either moved away or resigned, prompting one meeting participant to ask “How come everyone’s termed out if it’s staggered?”  Many meeting candidates alluded to the lack of dialogue between the previous board and Potrero Hill residents about the state of the Openspace. Candidate Dale Scott went so far as to refer to Shields as the “Czar of the Openspace.”

Candidate statements weren’t available online until 24 hours prior to the election.  And while the statements were also posted at the Nabe, there wasn’t much time to learn about those running.  Pascal Wassam was concerned that voters didn’t have the time “required to make an intelligent decision,” and proposed that a second meeting be scheduled for the vote, with the meeting night dedicated to vetting the candidates.  That suggestion was voted down by a margin of 37 to 10.

According to Guidestar.com, Starr King Openspace hasn’t filed a tax return since 2000.  That return indicates that the Openspace had an income of $6,664, with $113,533 in assets and no expenses or liabilities.  Some residents are concerned that little of these funds remain.  Others are more focused on the nature of the preserve.  According to Gary Shirsch, “[Former board member Ralph [Hunter] is in the park every single day pulling weeds.”  Since Starr King is Shirsh’s “backyard” he wants to know “is the property being paid and how much money is left?”  Les Hanson, who shares a house with Shirsh, isn’t “so keen on just indigenous plants. I’m open to more diversity to beautify the area but also maintaining the habitat for the birds and the bees.”

Many of the board candidates and meeting attendees have children who attend Starr King Elementary School. Matt Mumper, who has twin sons starting at the school in the fall, voted for candidates who he felt “will work with the school, so that the kids get use out of [the park].”  Corey Rosen, who attended the meeting with his wife and two young daughters, agreed.  “I live on the Openspace and I want to be involved. I don’t want to be on the board, but I want to be informed.”

While the votes were being counted, meeting participants discussed proposed changes at 1321 De Haro Street. The new property owners want to remove a portion of Coral Road – a drive left over from wartime housing – and put in a smaller green driveway, affecting roughly 2,774 square feet.  Most of the attendees indicated a preference for removing Coral Road entirely.  One participant expressed concerns about the insects and birds that would still be at risk with the proposed driveway in place.

Scott, who chairs Starr King Elementary School’s Green Committee, briefed the audience about changes going on at the school, including the possibility of collecting rain water on the south end roof, which could result in some spill over onto the Openspace.  Audience members didn’t seem concerned about this potential outcome.

Shields appeared to be pleased with the results, dispensing advice as the meeting drew to a close.  She suggested that the newly elected board members sit down and “get to know each other before assigning officers.”  According to Shields, in reference to the large number of people who came out to vote, Starr King Openspace has “never had anything like this before. Not in 30 years.”    

To learn more about the new board members and what they do, visit http://starrkingopenspace.org/newboard.html.

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