Rec. and Park’s New Lows
By Paul Kozakiewicz
The fight over roads closed by the SF Recreation and Park Department has reached new lows.
In January, the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force determined that Rec. and Park’s, and its General Manager Phil Ginsburg’s, actions were in violation of numerous laws concerning governmental transparency and the release of public documents. The Task Force also determined Ginsburg was personally guilty of a “willful” violation of the law.
All of the Task Force determinations will now be sent to the SF Ethics Commission for further investigation and a decision on the charges.
Ginsburg was able to close the Upper Great Highway (UGH) and part of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy (JFK) drives due to powers granted to him in the City Charter during an emergency.
According to Charles Perkins, a member of Open The Great Highway Alliance and a complainant in the Sunshine action, the organization has called upon Mayor London Breed to fire Ginsburg for the violations.
Having a one-man wrecking crew running Rec. and Park has produced crazy results, including: closing the gate to the UGH at noon on Fridays when people still need the roadway; allowing food trucks with generators to park and conduct business; allowing bicycle radicals to block the flow of traffic on the UGH on Thursday evenings; the use of suspicious surveys and polls; fact-finding methods that support a preconceived result; and, the exploitation and outright discrimination of San Franciscans who cannot access large sections of the park.
After the mayor declares an end to the nearly two-year-old pandemic emergency declaration, city streets are supposed to reopen as they were within 90 days.
My quest to get information from Rec. and Park has also proved unproductive, especially concerning the information the department touts as fact and is used to justify a permanent takeover of city streets.
Through a Sunshine Act Request, I asked for numerous documents, including the methods and devices used to justify claims Rec. and Park and the SF Municipal Transportation Agency were making concerning the closure of park roads. The department skipped some requests outright and only responded with the minimum information – the names of the companies it contracted with to get the information.
Rec. and Park claims about 7 million “trips” were made by people who walked or rode on the car-free portion of JFK Drive in the first 20 months of the pandemic. That’s about 350,000 trips a month, or almost 12,000 a day. A “36% increase,” according to Rec. and Park. Since there can be multiple “trips” by the same person, it is hard to determine how many individuals used the park during that time.
Most of the claims the department makes cannot be checked for accuracy. To determine the data it touts, the department contracted with numerous high-tech companies, including CityDash A.I., which uses an artificial intelligence algorithm and cell phone data to determine who is using the park and at what times; DataScienceSF, which “brings the power of advanced analytics and applied statistics to assist the work of the departments in changing services,” to determine the number and nature of traffic accidents on JFK Drive; and EcoVision, which makes the Eco-Visio Counter the department used to count people on the closed Upper Great Highway. It does not use video or cameras but rather an infrared beam that detects ambient air and temperature changes. A vehicle passing by the counter can be tallied for up to 100 people so corrections to the number of actual people using the UGH had to be manually adjusted.
It appears Rec. and Park has used numerous methods to count people using park roads – everything except actually counting them.
Perkins is a part of the Open The Great Highway Alliance, which filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in December claiming Ginsburg overextended his authority in closing the park roads.
“Public records … demonstrate conclusively that Mr. Ginsburg and his department have invested massive public resources to advance, promote and lobby for their desired result of shutting down the Great Highway, and not in a fair and neutral way, but through a biased, one-sided effort that intentionally has used misleading and even false information,” Perkins said.
It’s one thing to use science, math and algorithms as tools for determining the best course of action, but another to use it to justify a predetermined outcome for manipulating the fairness of the public square.
The general manager and Rec. and Park are supposed to be overseen by the SF Recreation and Parks Commission, but there is little evidence the commissioners even know what’s going on and the misery Ginsburg is creating for tens of thousands of Richmond and Sunset district residents just trying to go about their business.
The actions of Rec. and Park have led to numerous community leaders voicing their concerns.
“They have shown a callous disregard for the importance of this roadway for residents of the Richmond District,” said Nick Belloni, president of the Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR). “They also fail to appreciate the impact this closure has had on traffic in Golden Gate Park, especially Chain of Lakes Drive.”
PAR also wants all of the closed roadways reopened to their pre-pandemic status, and for all proposed changes to go through the proper channels to assure fair public feedback and public transparency and accountability.
The San Francisco chapter of the Sierra Club wants Rec. and Park to reopen the UGH due to the added pollution of thousands of cars driving extra miles with frequent stops to get to their destinations. They also want the City to perform an Environmental Impact Report to determine if the change is environmentally friendly.
There are many other community organizations that are opposed to Ginsburg’s power grab and the exploitation of westside residents, seniors, the disabled, families with small children and others.
Ultimately, it will be up to the members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Mayor Breed to decide the contentious issue. Let’s hope they do what’s best for all San Franciscans and not just a few.
Paul Kozakiewicz is an editor, and the founder and former publisher of the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers. His views are his own and are not to be taken as being endorsed by the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers or the RichmondSunsetNews.com website.