Golden Gate Park road-closure debate heats up 

More than 100 people packed a public hearing Monday to make their views known on a trial closure of some Golden Gate Park roads on Saturdays for recreational use.

"The park is The City’s backyard for the average person," said John Winston, who said he was a homeowner in District 7 with two kids. "The park has been taken over for cars for too long."

Others questioned the need to close a road that is an access point to cultural institutions, especially since it’s already closed on Sundays.

"If it’s just about recreation, why this stretch of asphalt?" Richmond district resident Michelle Stratton said at the nearly four-hour meeting on Monday, which drew parents with children, disabled persons, neighborhood residents, cyclists, skaters, museum lovers and car haters.

In February, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick introduced legislation that would close a 1.5-mile stretch of John F. Kennedy Drive and some connecting roads for a six-month period. The same roadways have been closed to cars on Sunday for decades.

On Monday, the matter came before the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Economic Development Committee for a vote, but McGoldrick agreed to postpone the vote for a week, while Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office tried to mediate a compromise.

The mediation effort would try to "negotiate a smaller closure," Newsom said on March 30 while talking with supporters at a re-election campaign meeting.

A sit-down with all concerned parties — supporters including bicycle advocates and environmentalists, and critics including representatives from the park’s cultural institutions and disability advocates — is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, said Newsom’s chief of staff, Philip Ginsburg, who was picked by Newsom to mediate.

"At this point, all options are on the table," Ginsburg told The Examiner.

The battle over closing some of the park’s northeast roads on both weekend days has lasted for years, with two different voter measures on the matter — which some say split the votes of support — losing at the ballot box in 2000. Last year, McGoldrick reintroduced the idea of the closure in new legislation that was approved 7 to 4 by the Board of Supervisors, but vetoed by Newsom.

At his March campaign meeting, which was videotaped and posted on his re-election Web site, Newsom said if a compromise can’t be found, the trialclosure could win the eight votes of support on the 11 member board necessary to make the legislation veto-proof.

"I’m not sure we have four votes on the Board of Supervisors," Newsom said.

While supporters say the park road closure gives outdoor enthusiasts and families with children a car-free space for healthy recreation, critics have contended that a full weekend closure would result in adverse traffic impacts, diminished attendance at the museums and limited park access to those with disabilities. Some closure opponents have asked that a trial closure be put off until after the Academy of Sciences re-opens in late 2008.

In February, an independent study commissioned by the Mayor’s Office said 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.

beslinger@examiner.com

Each day until voters go to the polls Nov. 6, The Examiner lays odds on local figures beating Mayor Gavin Newsom. Check out our exclusive blog: San Francisco's Next Mayor?

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Bonnie Eslinger

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