Garcia: GGP road closure issue just won’t die 

For the first time since I started writing about it 10 years ago, I’m not going to take a stand on the Golden Gate Park road closure issue.

It’s not because my views have changed or that any of the issues are different. And it’s not because I’ve mellowed over the years —certainly just about anybody at City Hall will attest to that.

It’s mainly because this is one issue on which no matter what the facts are, people cling to their views as if they were life rafts in the middle of the ocean. If they believed the eastern end of Golden Gate Park should be closed every weekend a decade ago, they still believe it, just as those opposed to expanding road closure are as vehement in their sentiments now. The only difference is that those opposed to the closure just want the issue to go away and those who support it have refused to stop bringing it forward no matter what the voters say or how many times they say it.

So I’m not going to trot out the tired litany of reasons for why each side in this power struggle believes they are right and just. Or why the self-styled environmentalists who say they want to ban cars from the park have killed untold numbers of trees on behalf of all the newspaper stories their crusade has generated.

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\But since the Board of Supervisors appears to be fast-tracking a proposal to close park roads to traffic on Saturdays for a six-month "trial period,’’ I am going to point out a few things that have been lost in the haze of rhetoric that blankets this issue when it makes its annual appearance — a sort of San Francisco rite of spring.

For starters, much has been made of a study done by the San Francisco Transportation Authority that proponents see as telltale evidence for why the effects of road closure are minimal. The report found that more people said they visited the park on Sundays because of the road closure than those who viewed limited access as a turnoff. It also determined that the Concourse Garage (which road-closure opponents fought for years to block) was only 40 percent full on Saturdays compared with 62 percent on Sundays.

And the study also concluded that the demand for on-street parking in surrounding neighborhoods was higher on Sundays than Saturdays, one of the primary concerns of neighboring residents and business owners.

The findings were used by Supervisor Jake McGoldrick as a reason to resurrect the road closure measure — he said that the report showed there was no significant negative impact, an idea parroted by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the Sierra Club and other groups that have been fighting to ban cars on weekends.

But that is where fact and fiction diverge and why supervisors should ask some hard questions about the timing of future road closures, because the truth in this matter is that the "study’’ is not much of a study. Transportation authority officials spent all of four days in August — one of the slowest months of the year — gathering data. And four days of questioning visitors to Golden Gate Park hardly provides the kind of evidence needed to assess something that will impact all park users.

Moreover, the most important "fact’’ in the whole debate is not even being discussed right now — the re-opening next year of the California Academy of Sciences, one of the most popular cultural attractions in San Francisco. In the past, the academy’s attendance dwarfed that of the de Young Museum across the concourse, and it figures to draw record crowds when it re-opens. Certainly that has been the case with the de Young, where attendance has nearly doubled following its grand remodel.

So you could have a trial period sometime in the next six months and it wouldn’t really tell you anything, except that those who like the concourse areas closed to cars can double their pleasure.

In the real world, this would give people time to reflect about the timing and to adequately assess the impact of park closure on Saturdays. But, this being San Francisco, a rush to judgment is all but a given.

And given that, this much we can expect: If Supervisor Bevan Dufty doesn’t flip on his previous vote and Mayor Gavin Newsom has the votes to sustain a veto, then he will block the plan. And if that happens, the proposal will go on the ballot once again, and we can expect a nasty and costly campaign fight.

Then, if voters give yet another thumbs-down to closing the park to cars, the issue will go away — probably until next year.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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