Golden Gate Park

Rec. and Park Approves Transportation Equity Measures

By Thomas K. Pendergast

Transportation equity for access to Golden Gate Park was the theme connecting two otherwise separate issues at a SF Recreation and Parks Commission meeting on June 17.

The first is an ordinance authorizing the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to set parking rates at the Kezar Stadium Parking lot and the parking lot underneath the de Young Museum. The second involved accepting $50,000 from the San Francisco Parks Alliance to start a program for shuttling more than 500 kids to Golden Gate Park from recreation centers around the City starting this month. 

Cars have been banned from JFK Drive east of Transverse Drive since April, 2020 in response to the need to allow space for people to exercise while keeping social distancing during the pandemic. As it stands now, 120 days after San Francisco’s COVID-19 emergency order is lifted, that part of JFK Drive will be opened up to cars again on weekdays, unless city officials make the ban permanent. 

Parking rates at the lot on Stanyan Street next to Kezar Stadium (above) and the parking lot below the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park were discussed at a recent Rec. and Park Commission meeting. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

On the side of opening the roadway to motor vehicles are San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai and some residents of the Bayview and Excelsior districts who say the elimination of parking along this route is a de-facto exclusion policy. 

“I think people are really confusing our opposition. They think that we want JFK opened to automobiles the way it was prior to the closure, and that’s really not the case,” the de Young Museum’s Director of Public Relations, Miriam Newcomer said. “We really just want a comprehensive conclusion that looks at all of the various interested groups and doesn’t just prioritize one group over the other. 

“What we really want is for the design of Golden Gate Park to be really thought through and accessible to everyone, so that no one gets ignored,” she said. “The park was designed 150 years ago, and the population of San Francisco has changed quite dramatically since then.”

The opposite camp pushing for the ban to become permanent includes the SF Bicycle Coalition, WalkSF; District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston. 

It is the elimination of 549 parking spaces along that part of JFK Drive, however, that has some people calling to put the brakes on that plan. 

Of particular concern to the disabled community is that the redesign plan includes the elimination of 26 blue ADA parking spaces, although recently ten new ADA parking spaces were installed on adjoining streets and another three more are planned. 

“It just seems like people are OK with and comfortable with who is accessing JFK Drive right now and who is not,” Walton said. “And right now, we really have an environment reflective of the 1950s South…. It makes me sick to my stomach, the segregation that is still existing in San Francisco, specific to JFK Drive today. And the fact that folks are OK with that and let’s just research and study while JFK Drive looks like 1950s South; that’s a problem.” 

There are two large parking lots on the department’s land: one serving Kezar Stadium on Stanyan Street and another beneath the de Young Museum next to JFK Drive. The first has been described as “underutilized” while the other is considered too expensive by many people, especially of lower income. 

But currently not much can be done about either without going through a lot of effort. 

For starters, the de Young Museum does not own the parking lot underneath it. That belongs to the Music Concourse Community Partnership (MCCP), and they have a $24 million bond debt still outstanding to pay for it. Further complicating things, the land underneath the garage is owned by the City which leases the land to the MCCP.

When the bond debt is paid, the garage will be transferred to the City, according to Executive Director Jan Berckefeldt of the MCCP. Rates are approved in a process that involves the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority, the SF Recreation and Parks Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and then finally the mayor. 

The department’s Director of Permits and Property Management Dana Ketcham said that in 2009 the SF Park Code was amended to add a section allowing the SFMTA to work with the department in setting new parking rates on department property. For unknown reasons, she told the Commission, that change was never implemented in either of these lots, resulting in fixed and inflexible rates. 

“We’ve not been able to respond to demand and traffic planning needs, as is the case for other parking facilities,” Ketcham said. “This proposed ordinance will repeal those fixed rates and will clarify that section 6.14 should be used to set rates at those two parking areas.”

Ketcham explained that all revenue the MCCP gets has to be used to support its debt and, historically, the bond debt has exceeded 50% of revenue. The remaining revenue covers the expenses of running the garage.

“The lease, as written, has language in it that, between the department and MCCP, provides that even if approved by the Board of Supervisors, rates cannot go below an amount sufficient to make debt payments and maintain certain reserves. Those provisions aren’t changed,” Ketcham said.

The second issue discussed was about access to the park for children. Rec. and Park Deputy Director of Partnerships Lisa Bransten asked the Commission to accept $50,000 from the SF Parks Alliance for the Golden Gate Park 150th Summer Community Shuttle Program, slated to start this month. 

“The plan is to serve youth from Recreation and Park’s Summer Together summer camps, located primarily in ‘equity zone’ facilities,” Bransten said. “The project will serve approximately 540 campers, ages 5 to 15, and their counselors. The day will include a tour of the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, a visit to the Koret Children’s Quarter … and of course, the day will include a ride on the SkyStar wheel.

“I want to note that the program has an emphasis on some of the farthest-out and lowest-income neighborhoods. Almost 70 campers will come from the department’s three facilities in the Bayview. More than 50 will come from the Betty Ann Ong Recreation Center in Chinatown, 60 will come from the Minnie and Love Ward Recreation Center … and more than 20 will come from our two facilities in the Excelsior,” Bransten said.

“I’m starting to think about all the discussion that there has been over the closing of JFK (Drive) and people from underserved communities and outlying communities not being able to possibly have parking in the park to go to all of the great features the park has to offer,” Commissioner Joseph Hallisy said. “Has there ever been any discussion about having a program like this for adults? A program for seniors, that would bring seniors from outlying and underserved communities into the park?”

“This is a topic that has come up quite a bit, as you know, in the discussions about the Great Highway and JFK,” Rec. and Park’s General Manager Phil Ginsburg responded. “And I think what we have learned … is there’s more work to do.”

The ordinance amending the department’s code and then sending it to the SF Board of Supervisors for a vote and also the motion accepting the funds for the summer shuttle program were both passed unanimously.

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