Golden Gate Bridge

Murals Painted on JFK Drive Ahead of Ballot Vote

By Thomas K. Pendergast

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department started converting JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park into the “JFK Promenade” by stripping away some of the road paint for guiding cars, bicycles and ADA parking spots last month.

Daniel Montes, a department communications manager, confirmed that the grinding of the roadway markings is focused on two main areas: JFK Drive between Sixth and 10th avenues and at the intersection where JFK Drive meets Kezar Drive. 

Montes said the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is paying the estimated cost of $110,000 for the grinding and repainting work, while Rec. and Park will spend $85,520 for two ground art installations to be placed at the Promenade entrances where the grinding work is happening. 

The painting project consists of several murals painted onto JFK Drive. The work is being overseen by the nonprofit organization Illuminate, as part of their larger “Paint the Void” project which chooses local artists and is funded through grant money. It is being done at no cost to the department or the SFMTA, Montes said. 

An artist works on a mural on JFK Drive at Conservatory Drive West in Golden Gate Park. The Doggie Diner heads, once a marketing symbol for a chain of hot dog restaurants around San Francisco, came out of storage on Angel Island to add a whimsical three-dimensional element to the installation. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

“The goal is to complete the murals within the coming weeks, in anticipation of Promenade Play Days, a series of several activations and events happening along JFK, such as the Music Mosey on JFK, the Halloween Haunt on JFK, and the annual Rec. and Park tree lighting ceremony. Making the Promenade more welcoming for all was among the improvements we announced back in April,” he said.

But some see another goal in the timing of this project, as it comes a month before two competing ballot measures will go before the voters on Nov. 8: Propositions I and J. 

Proposition I, a voter-initiated measure called the Access for All Ordinance, would return JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. drives, Bernice Rogers Way and the Upper Great Highway to the traffic policies in place before the pandemic, fully opening it up to all motor vehicle traffic, except on Sundays, holidays and – for half the year – Saturdays. It would also transfer the jurisdiction governing the Upper Great Highway from the department to the San Francisco Department of Public Works. 

Proposition J was put on the ballot by San Francisco Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Matt Dorsey, Myrna Melgar and Hillary Ronen. It would amend the Park Code to keep JFK Drive car free, or “codifying” the current Board policies regarding that particular roadway.

Supporters of Proposition I are suspicious about the move to do this before the election, and critical of the City spending almost $200,000 of taxpayer money on something that may have to be removed anyway should Proposition I get more votes than J. 

Patricia Arack is disabled and depends on the help of a walker to get around. Although the department put in 20 ADA parking spaces behind the band shell at the Music Concourse, she still has a lot of trouble using those spots. She is skeptical of the timing behind the recent changes. 

“It’s just a cynical ploy to hoodwink the voters to think, ‘Oh, how could they destroy this beautiful mural with cars running over it?’ It’s just an election strategy,” Arack said. “They’re painting a mural to get sympathy from the voters to vote to keep it closed. It’s just a cynical ploy to convince voters to keep it closed.”

Sunset resident Charley Perkins sees it as affront to the election process. 

“I think it displays incredible arrogance at a minimum by Rec. and Park and SFMTA, and I think it’s incredibly disrespectful of the electoral process and to the voters of San Francisco,” Perkins said. “For them to proceed as if, ‘We don’t care; we’re not going to wait for the election and let the voters weigh in. We are going to just do what we want to do regardless,’ it’s reprehensible if you really care about the electoral process and take it seriously.”

He also made a prediction about what might be showing up in everyone’s mail in the coming month. 

“We’re going to start seeing pretty painted murals of JFK in election materials and Proposition J materials: ‘Look at the pretty promenade. Look at all these beautiful murals. Vote for Proposition J to preserve these,’” he said. “There’s little doubt in my mind that that’s what’s really going on here. They are doing this in order to help ensure that Proposition J wins. And they’re spending a lot of time and money on it.” 

But those who support Proposition J and oppose Proposition I, like Marta Lindsey of WalkSF, also support the recent changes, regardless of the timing.

“My understanding is all this stuff that they’re doing is temporary anyway,” Lindsey said. “None of these sculptures are going in permanently. I think it’s meant to be a big activation and visioning of the space. We certainly are hoping that Prop. J wins the day. So this is all just the start of making the promenade even more wonderful for people. 

“My hope is these next couple of months people get the vision even more than they already have with everything that’s happening,” she said. 

One of the co-authors of Proposition I, Howard Chabner, is confined to a wheelchair and he questions the City’s spending priorities because he thinks the money would be better spent on making the area more accessible to disabled people. 

He is also critical of the timing. 

“With the election pending, I think that this is inappropriate what Rec. and Park is doing by (grinding away the roadway marker paint) and putting in artwork,” Chabner said. “I think it’s a way of generating enthusiasm for their supporters, for the people who are opposed to Prop. I and in favor of Prop. J.”

But Robin Pam of KidSafeSF thinks the changes are long overdue.

“We’re happy to see that Rec. and Park is taking steps to make the JFK Promenade safer and more welcoming to visitors to the park,” Pam said. “It shows that the City really values art and values our public space and bringing those two things together is a really special opportunity for San Franciscans to feel proud of the resources that we have.” 

As for the timing, she thinks they are running late, nothing premature in it at all. 

“They should have done it six months ago when the legislation first passed,” she said. “Things obviously move slowly in the City. For all we know, they were planning this six months ago and it has just taken them this long to roll it out and get it started.”

But she sees a different component of Prop. I as a much bigger issue. It would also require keeping the Great Highway open to cars south of Sloat Boulevard, which has had ongoing erosion issues for years and now threatens a water treatment plant. 

“It would tie the City’s hands in implementing this climate change adaptation plan that they’ve been planning for over 10 years,” Pam said. “The city controller’s estimate is that it will cost the City over $80 million more than they currently planned on investing in this project to implement that plan because we would have to build a very large new seawall to stabilize the cliffs. It would really be, frankly, an ecological disaster.”

But the other co-author of Proposition I, Richard Corriea, notes that the $80 million figure is the top estimate and would be spread over a 20-year span, plus a seawall is just one option currently on the table. 

“That number is a guess and it’s also a qualified guess,” Corriea said. “I don’t think it’s a fair representation of the cost associated with having a roadway continue between Sloat and Lake Merced. 

“They’re in the planning phase. There are multiple options on the table, including at least two that call for that roadway to be open anyway,” he said. 

He also doesn’t like the timing of the changes on JFK. 

“In the middle of an election cycle to use City money to advance a policy … I think it’s a campaign expenditure,” he said. “The idea of when 15,000 signed a petition to reopen JFK (to motor vehicles) and Rec. and Park decides to implement policies that show a complete indifference to the will of the electorate, it just strikes me as hubris and irresponsible.”  

15 replies »

  1. This is why it is critical to Vote YES on I and NO on J. Otherwise these people will continue to do whatever they want and keep pushing their agenda onto the citizens of SF regardless of how it adversely affects the majority of the people. Let’s make a stand and let them know that this nonsense is over. Open JFK Drive and Open the Great Highway!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jimmurphy45, when you say “these people will do whatever they want and continue pushing their agenda onto the citizens of SF,” do you mean they’ll push an agenda of letting a non-profit install temporary public art and chairs so people can look at artwork and sit back and relax in the park? Because hell yes is that an agenda I want to support. Sign me up to take a stand—well, a sit—for the murals and chairs caucus! I like art and I like sitting down, I’ve been in the park this week and seen how popular the murals are already, and I can’t really fathom why either of those things would be “nonsense.” Whoever “these people,” “they,” and “them” are in your comment I don’t know, but they seem to be making the city a better, more beautiful place, and that seems to making you enraged.

      I’ll be voting Yes on J and No on I, and I honestly encourage anyone who is furious about local artists painting murals in the park to reflect on whether they might be coming across as rather…grinch-like.


      • Darrell, you just proved my point. You don’t care how many people this screws over as long as you get to enjoy your art. There is no reason art can’t be placed along the sidewalk and walkways throughout the park as well as keeping the roads open for people who want and need to drive to the park to enjoy it. Keeping JFK closed on the weekends from Kezar Dr to 6th Ave was fine. Even keeping that section closed every day would work as long as people in vehicles were allowed to enter via 6th Ave, but what has occurred without proper input from the community and citizens of the entire San Francisco is criminal. Taking over the roads at the West end of the Park was completely unnecessary and greedy. There’s no reason why there can’t be bike lanes along side vehicle traffic lanes. Also, OPEN THE GREAT HIGHWAY! The simple solution is to just expand the current path so that there is a 2-way bike lane along side a 2-way pedestrian path and EVERYONE will have access all the time!

        Liked by 1 person

      • “but what has occurred without proper input from the community and citizens of the entire San Francisco is criminal.”

        There was an 18 month long public input process with a gazillion community meetings, two hearings that each had 9+ hours of public comment, tens of thousands of letters from people giving their input, and a whole process where the city improved accessibility like adding a whole new lot with new ADA parking spaces and making the park shuttle run every day. That sure sounds like a hell of a lot of proper input from the community to me.


  2. Lots of issues with this project that will inflame the division that is already rampant in San Francisco as it becomes a hostile battleground of anger and rage growing out of frustration with the new greed that tech rode in on. Some relief is needed before the city will become unlivable for honest folks. A scam is a scam and scammers deserve each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • All I see in the picture here is a local artist painting a mural while a couple goes for a stroll, some joggers get exercise, a cyclist pauses to look around, and some other pedestrians go about their business enjoying the park. Looks like a rather nice park scene to me, and if it’s not to your personal taste, not to worry: the art is temporary. Can’t say I see any anger, rage, greed, dishonesty, or scams. Just people enjoying the park.


  3. The scary crosswalk at the Rose Garden, is a “work of art.” You can’t see the white lines denoting the “safe” passage to walk. Who thought that area needed to be beautiful not functional?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have spoken with many people who, like me, are completely put off by this “art” in the park. Park & Rec has destroyed what is supposed to be a sanctuary for nature and a place for us to enjoy the plants, trees, and wildlife within this sanctuary. It is supposed to be a place of relative peace, quiet, and calm. Instead, Ginsburg is turning our park into a tacky Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Flashy murals? Dog heads?? Seriously?? What’s next? Cotton Candy machines and Salt Water Taffy pullers? Arcades? How about a roller coaster to accompany that horrible ferris wheel? Instead of addressing the issue of accessibly for all, Ginsburg is giving us a gaudy Las Vegas, complete with beer gardens, and accessible only to the able. This is why it is so very important that we Vote YES on I and NO on J!! Save our park from becoming a Disneyland by the Beach!


    • I could not be more thrilled by the changes we are seeing to JFK Drive, and I can’t wait to vote Yes on J and No on I in November!
      The murals make this place, which daily is filled with so much joy and community, even happier! I am so grateful to all of the advocacy that has led to this unmatched community space where people can meet, gather, and enjoy San Francisco together.
      I am also excited about SFMTA’s continued improvements to the accessibility of the park for all members of our community, such an increased shuttle service (serving all parts of JFK, free of cost) and Prop N to make parking near the museums more affordable.
      JFK and surrounding areas of the park have become a true sanctuary, free from traffic noise, traffic danger, and air pollution – putting Golden Gate Park on par with the great urban parks of the world that are car-free, like Central Park in New York or Battersea Park in London. It makes me proud to call the Richmond home!


  5. I have spoken with many people who, like me, are completely put off by this so-called “art” in the park. Park & Rec is destroying what is supposed to be a sanctuary for nature and a place for us to enjoy the plants, trees, and wildlife within this sanctuary (which was John McLaren’s intent). It is supposed to be a place of relative peace, quiet, and calm. Instead, Ginsburg is turning our park into a exceedingly tacky Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It is vulgar to the extreme and contrary to everything that park should be. Flashy murals? Dog heads? Seriously?? What’s next? Cotton Candy machines and Salt Water Taffy pullers? Arcades? How about a roller coaster to accompany that horrible ferris wheel? McLaren must be rolling in his grave.

    Instead of addressing the issue of accessibly for all, Ginsburg is giving us a gaudy Las Vegas, complete with beer gardens, and accessible only to the able. The only way to save our park from becoming an exclusive Disneyland by the Beach is by voting YES on I and NO on J.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Climate change! The entire State could become carbon neutral, and it would have no effect on global climate change!
    I’m surprised they didn’t throw in stuff like racial equity, COVID, transgender rights, justice for underrepresented panda bears and whatever else they always trot out in support of themselves.


  7. I don’t see the point of painting murals on the street that can likely only be realistically appreciated (if then) by viewing with a drone. Spending $$$ of public funds just to provide a backdrop for a music video. Just public money wasted to fuel the egos of pseudo artistic folks.

    Putting “art” on the street just makes it a target for a graffiti attack sucking more public money down the drain to restore it. Just plain old unadorned roadway asphalt seems a pretty much ideal surface to discourage graffiti.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Have you seen them in person? I find there is a lot to appreciate from eye level. You don’t have to enjoy this particular form of public art, but stay open to the possibility that it brings joy, positivity, and reflection to others. Art is in the eye of the beholder, and if we asked our city agencies to only support public art installations that 100% of people adore, there would be no public art, and our city would be worse off for it.


  8. This is our park, not a place for Illuminate the Arts to promote their brand. It detracts from everyone’s chance to experience the trees with their hundred shades of green, the gardens, fountains, architecture of the place, the buildings, the views and vistas. Garish murals and Doggie Diner heads don’t belong in Golden Gate Park. They visually crowd out the rest of the features as you enter the Park. Like the SkyStar Wheel, they are out of place. The park is already filled with public art for any who care to look. We should protect and preserve the natural environment in our parks, what little is left.


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