Compromise in works for park road closure proposal 

City officials are trying to hammer out a compromise by April 9 to end a battle that’s been going on for years over a trial closure of some Golden Gate Park roads on Saturdays for car-free recreational use.

In February, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick introduced legislation that would enact a six-month trial that would close a 1.5-mile stretch of John F. Kennedy Drive and some connecting roads. On April 9, the legislation will come before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee.

McGoldrick introduced similar legislation last year, which was approved 7-4 by the Board of Supervisors but was vetoed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

In his veto letter, Newsom expressed concern about the lack of "an objective analysis" of the impacts of the road closure, since there were concerns it would result in adverse traffic impacts, diminish attendance at the museums and limit park access to those with disabilities.

In February, an independent study commissioned by the Mayor’s Office revealed that traffic and parking impacts were minimal and more visitors came to the park and the local cultural institutions on the day of the existing Sunday closures.

Closure opponents say that an accurate study of the impacts can’t be made until after the Academy of Sciences reopens in late 2008.

In the last several weeks, however, the mayor said he has been meeting with both sides.

"We’re hopeful we can find some balance," he said.

Closure supporters and opponents are also afraid to go back to the voters, a source close to the current talks said.

"It seems relatively apparent that neither side wants to go back into a mean nasty showdown. There’s enough fear of one or the other winning," the source said.

In 2000, the battle over closing the park roads went to the ballot box with two competing measures: one supported by 18,000 signatures asking for an immediate trial closure and another asking that the roads remain open on at least one weekend day until a new 800-car underground garage could be built. With votes for the closure split between the measures, both lost.

San Francisco financier Warren Hellman, who backed the measure to delay the trial closure, said now that the garage is open, the Saturday closure should be given a trial run.

"What Newsom needs to do is what Willie Brown did a bunch of times — put both sides in a room and say we’re not leaving this room until we settle it," Hellman said. "This thing is never going to go away, it has to be compromised."

Threat of lawsuit impacting parkway

With the threat of a lawsuit by disability advocates looming, city officials are also working fast and furious to implement access improvements promised last year in the area near John F. Kennedy Drive that is already closed to cars on Sundays.

The disability improvements that were promised included new accessible parking spaces, signage and drop-off zones, as well as a new, free accessible shuttle ensuring disabled access on JFK Drive.

Timothy Hornbecker of The Arc of San Francisco, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, said Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office has promised to provide him with a letter today that outlines when the disability measures would be implemented.

On Feb. 28, Hornbecker sent the mayor and the Board of Supervisors a letter threatening a class-action lawsuit that would ask for the Sunday closure to be stopped until accessibility measures were put in place.

The disability barriers were brought to light last year, after Supervisor Jake McGoldrick introduced legislation in support of also closing the roads on Saturdays. McGoldrick included the access improvements within the legislation, which was approved 7-4 by the Board of Supervisors and vetoed by Newsom.

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Bonnie Eslinger

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