The bill that would lease Daly Field in Brighton to Simmons College is a poor example of privatization. It’s one thing for an efficient private entity to operate a state-owned park on behalf of the public — a legitimate role for privatization. But in this case, Simmons would retain exclusive rights to the park for its athletic teams during many late afternoons and evenings.
The bill enjoys the support of public officials in Brighton. They note that Simmons would invest millions of dollars to restore the playing fields and make a $500,000 donation to beautify a section of the Charles River across from the park. Local sports teams, including Brighton High School and Allston/Brighton Little League, would have hours set aside for exclusive use. But opponents, including the state’s leading environmental groups, rightly counter that the park would be “spoken for” so often that unstructured use by the general public would be a rarity.
Daly Field is currently operated by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which has neglected it amid uncertain funding. But that’s no reason to write it off. Daly Field is still a valuable state asset with great potential. Under no circumstances should hours of use be dominated by a private college. And hours devoted to public use, for that matter, shouldn’t be monopolized by residents of a single neighborhood.
State environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Environmental League of Massachusetts, have urged lawmakers to reject the bill, but were ignored by the House and Senate. Governor Patrick shouldn’t make the same mistake. But even if he does, there’s still hope: The bill only authorizes the state to lease the park to Simmons College. It doesn’t require the state to do so.
This potential giveaway of a public park gained a lot of steam with little public scrutiny. Maybe there is still a way for Simmons College to restore the playing fields and use them without shortchanging the public. Or perhaps Harvard University, which is expanding into the Allston/Brighton area, could provide funds to fix the park as a goodwill gesture to the neighborhood. It’s premature to conclude that the only hope for Daly Field is to place it in private hands.
Unstructured use by the general public would be a rarity.