Half-Closure Compromise Offered in Struggle for Safe Park Space By Leah Shahum

The struggle continues in one of the city's most beloved places, a space that should be pristine and precious enough to avoid politics and pettiness, but unfortunately that isn't the case. The place is Golden Gate Park, and the struggle is for space.

For 35 years San Franciscans of every shape, color, and size have enjoyed the Park's mile-and-a-half long car-free space on JFK Drive on Sundays. It's one of the only places in the city to skate, jog, bike, and play with the kids or dogs on a wide street without the threat of vehicle traffic. In fact, Sunday is consistently the most popular day of the week in Golden Gate Park, thanks to the car-free space.

Based on the immense popularity of Car-Free Sundays, the SFBC, along with a coalition of neighborhood, environmental, pedestrian safety, and recreational groups, has worked since 1990 to extend the car-free space in the Park to Saturdays. Legislative efforts never received a sponsor, due to opposition from the Park's major institutions. Finally, in 1999, activists began working to draft a measure for the voters, and collected 18,000 signatures and placed Proposition F on the 2000 ballot. Though thwarted by Prop. G, a competing measure designed to confuse voters and steal support from Prop. F, fully 46 percent of voters supported Prop. F, and a strong majority supported some version of Saturday closure, with some supporting it immediately (Prop. F) and others supporting Prop. G, which would have delayed Saturday closure until the garage was built.

In light of the 2000 election, the SFBC and other park coalition partners have been meeting regularly with those originally opposed to the Saturday closure and responsible for last year's conflicting ballot measure - most prominently the deYoung Museum and Academy of Sciences - to address their concerns and proceed with some variation of Saturday car-free space that everyone can support. As of press time, we are close to a successful compromise! But we aren't there yet. As we continue negotiations, your pressure on your district Supervisor will strengthen our hand.

The tentative compromise, as of press time, addresses the museums' concerns. It would cut the proposed closure by 60 percent, to 1-3/8 miles from 3-3/8 miles. It would start at the same point in the east (Kezar Drive) but end at 8th Ave. on JFK Drive. Also being discussed is improved car access to the Conservatory and park-wide long-term bicycle and pedestrian improvements. This compromise, introduced to the Board of Supervisors by Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, still allows full vehicular access from a half dozen park entrances to the front doors of the museums and allows everyone to drive freely across the Park on 8th Ave., 10th Ave., or further west, as always.

Your help is needed because, as of press time, the institutions' representatives had not agreed to this compromise. They are apparently anxious about the feasibility of their 800-car garage in the Park and so far have refused to support any closure, even a half closure, unless it is tied directly to the success of their garage. Our position is that the garage is the worst way to meet the access needs of the Park's institutions, but since it has been approved by voters, we would prefer not to fight the garage and instead focus on the positive side by working cooperatively with the institutions and the Recreation & Parks Department to improve safety and access for pedestrians and bicyclists while, of course, also allowing car access to the museums.

That said, at this point, the institutions appear to be refusing to budge from any changes in the Park, even though most of them will not even be in the Park in the coming years. The deYoung is already closed for rebuilding and the Academy will close in two years for retrofitting. The Conservatory is also closed for rebuilding for another two years. Still, the deYoung has publicly threatened to try to terminate the 35-year-old Sunday closure if the question of Saturday closure is brought back to the ballot. We are still optimistic that we can come to an agreement.

The Board of Supervisors is trying to solve the dilemma at the policymaking level, as it should be done. Supervisors Gonzalez, Jake McGoldrick, and Tom Ammiano have all held meetings among the major organized stakeholders to work out our differences. The half-closure compromise is expected to be heard at a public hearing before the Board in late January, but it's possible that the issue will run into February.

Doing the right thing in this case will take more than the Supervisors' work, though, it will also take community involvement. So, if you want to see car-free space in the Park extended to Saturdays - and to send the message not to interfere with Sundays - please contact your district Supervisor (see www.sfbike.org).