Guest Editorial: Golden Gate Park Garage

by Katherine Roberts on November 23, 2004

A friend of mine once told me that pissing off Ken Garcia is a badge of honor among the left. If that’s so, then today is definitely my lucky day. Both Ken Garcia AND the Examiner editorial staff wrote opinion pieces blasting my group’s opposition to the 800-car garage currently under construction in Golden Gate Park.

Amazingly, neither piece even mentions the true source of the
conflict: the proposed widening of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive into a four-lane freeway through the Park, and the removal of on-street parking spaces, to facilitate and speed up access to the garage.

This is just the latest wrinkle in the ongoing insanity in the Park,
but it is one that has really struck a nerve. The plan (if you can
call it that) was triggered by a court ruling in favor of the lawsuit
filed against the city by my group, Trees Not Cars, challenging the legality of the way the city is building the garage. The judge ruled that the design the city approved was illegal, and they responded by coming back with one that is worse.

A common argument garage supporters use is, “the people voted for it.” While it is true that the city was authorized to build a garage in the Park in 1998 by a voter initiative, Proposition J, the campaign was characterized by slick, misleading promotional materials promising improved transit, a reduction in car traffic, and a “pedestrian oasis” created by hiding all the cars underground. The garage was described as a “philanthropic gift” to the city, paid for entirely by charitable donations, which would generate revenue for the city in perpetuity, with no strings attached. All the entrances and exits would be outside the park, leading to a Utopian vision of “a Golden Gate Park where the automobile is increasingly less visible.”

Well, it shouldn’t come as too big a shock that . . . that’s not
exactly what happened. The “charitable gifts” morphed into revenue bonds financing construction that We the People will be paying back, plus interest, for the next 35 years. The pedestrian oasis turned out to be a mirage. MUNI improvements consisted of changing the name of the 44 O’Shaughnessy bus into the 44 Golden Gate Park. And magnificent stone archways and cherry trees were demolished to make way for an illegal entrance in the middle of the Park.

In fact, almost every single move the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority — the administrative body created by Prop. J to oversee the garage project – has made during the past 6 years has been a slap in the face to the voting public. It has been excruciatingly obvious since the get-go that the people they represent are the ruling classes who want to build a pleasure dome for themselves in the Park, public be damned. And ruling classes with pleasure domes aren’t known for taking MUNI. That’s why they need a garage to go along with their new museum.

These people — banking heirs, descendants of Gold Rush-era
aristocracy, Fine Arts Museums head honchos, and wealthy museum donors and trustees — are the ones who are determining the shape of this project, its scope, and the amount of damage it does to the public realm. They are the ones who decided to rebuild the de Young Museum in the Park, and the ones who determined that everyone should get there by car. And that’s why the Chronicle and the Examiner, faithful defenders of the status quo, come running to the rescue anytime they feel the project is threatened.

The Examiner editorial, “Move Forward With Garage,” opines that “those residents still unhappy with the garage should refrain from any further delays.” Garcia describes Trees Not Cars as “garage opponents” who are “opposed to cars in the park”, and accuses us of being a “special-interest” group which is the source of “social problems and never-ending political fights.”

Never mind that this is the language that the Bush administration uses to discourage dissidents. It also could not be further from the truth. The group of people passing out flyers with me on Saturday at the site of the proposed road-widening included representatives from the Sierra Club, the Inner Sunset Merchants, the SF Green Party, Walk SF, the Pedestrian Advisory Task Force, Senior Action Network, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, along with neighborhood residents, and park users. We are not a bunch of radical wackos (not that I have anything against radical wackos). We are people with concerns about
pedestrian and bicyclist safety, loss of green space, impacts on local businesses, and impacts on MUNI — legitimate concerns which Ken Garcia is trying to marginalize.

The design for the new entrance took five short weeks to approve, start to finish. NOTHING moves that fast in this city. City officials circumvented public comment and environmental review, ignored Sunshine laws, violated the Golden Gate Park Master Plan and the city’s Transit First policy, and made a mocker of Prop J which promised to alleviate, not exacerbate, motor vehicle traffic. But after years of transgressions, garage backers finally did something so egregious that people are saying, “Enough is enough.” The publics’ reaction to our
flyers was off the charts. Even the most ardent garage supporters are starting to come over to our side. This time, garage proponents crossed a line.

My first response to the ad hominem attacks in the two dailies was “What are they afraid of?” Obviously, the answer to that question is, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” If enough people get wind of what’s going on, and understand what’s behind the conflict over the heart and sole of Golden Gate Park, they might demand that the outlaws destroying the Park be brought to justice, and turn the power structure of this city on its head. That’s something the Ex-Chron will surely think it’s worth going into overdrive to try and stop.

If you want to help bring the garage project into compliance with the terms of Prop J, there are three things you can do:
1) Tell the Supervisors to shtu the project down until the Concourse Authority comes up with a legal design:
2) Come to the Board of Supervisors’ Finance and Audits Committee hearing on Wednesday, November 24 in room 253 at City Hall, and the Rec and Park Commission hearing on Monday, November 29 in room 216;
3) Join Trees not Cars:

Filed under: Archive