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Sunday in Golden
Ah — Sunday in the Park — but something is missing. Where are the older seniors, the disabled and the families with children?

Banning cars from JFK Drive is exclusionary

Howard Chabnerl
Howard Chabner

On a warm, sunny day it’s easy to roll the two blocks from my home to Golden Gate Park in my power wheelchair, and it’s delightful to be in the middle of JFK Drive with no cars around. So I understand why those fortunate enough to be able to get there, to walk long distances, and to bike, enjoy it so much. But banning cars from eastern JFK has made it effectively impossible for countless people, and much more difficult for many others, to get there and visit attractions such as the Conservatory of Flowers, Dahlia Garden, Rose Garden, Stow Lake and Boathouse, SkyStar Observation Wheel, California Academy of Sciences, and de Young Museum. The photos promoted by RecPark, MTA, and the Chronicle of people enjoying car-free JFK are powerful. But there are no photos of those who have been excluded - there can’t be any, because they aren’t there.

Driving is the only feasible way for many people to get to Golden Gate Park. Pre-pandemic, a high percentage of visitors were from outside San Francisco; some were from places with no public transportation, and others where it would be a long and complicated journey on public transportation. Some were tourists staying in the Bay Area but far from San Francisco. For San Franciscans from further neighborhoods such as Bayview, Hunters Point, Excelsior, and Crocker-Amazon, driving is the only realistic option. The CalAcademy surveyed its visitors before the pandemic and found that a significant percentage were from outside San Francisco, a significant percentage drove there, and many had disabilities. Attendance at the CalAcademy and the de Young has dropped dramatically since cars were banned from JFK, even as normalcy in general returns.

GGP Logo
The sentiment is good, but the logo Rec & Park uses at the Disability Council needs a little update.

Those who rely on cars include: seniors; people who can’t walk far or get tired easily; families with small children who bring food, picnic gear and sports equipment; and photographers who need to bring their equipment. The world-renowned Dahlia Garden is maintained entirely by volunteers, many of whom are seniors; the car ban has made it burdensome for them to bring their plants and supplies.

Many disabled people, especially those with mobility disabilities, rely on cars to get to the park. I’m lucky to live nearby, and my power wheelchair can go miles on a charge. But I can’t roll there in cold, foggy or rainy weather, or at night. Other disabled people don’t live nearby, or walk precariously, or can’t walk far, or require assistance. The car ban has effectively shut many of them out.

MIG, a respected architecture, planning, and access firm, was hired by the de Young to investigate the impact of closing eastern JFK to cars, and the resulting removal of accessible parking spaces, on disability access to the museum. MIG concludes: “By removing free accessible parking in the immediate vicinity of the museum and by not providing equivalent free parking within a reasonable travel distance to the museum, the City is reducing program access and is not meeting its obligations under title II of the ADA. Alternative methods of accessing the museum, including passenger drop-off areas, the park shuttle service, and walkways within the park, all have identified barriers to accessibility and do not negate the need for accessible parking spaces.” 

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The ADA is a civil rights law, and civil rights laws have been enacted to protect an entire class of people who have experienced discrimination and exclusion, and who are being denied equal access and opportunity. The closure of JFK Drive to cars is a violation of the ADA and California disability rights laws.”

Mayor Breed, every Supervisor, MTA director Jeff Tumlin, RecPark director Phil Ginsburg, these agencies’ employees and boards, Mayor’s Office on Disability director Nicole Bohn, and many other City officials and employees have had this report for over a month. None has commented on it publicly.

MIG’s assignment, and therefore its report, was limited to the impact on access to the museum. But essentially the same facts, analysis, and conclusions also apply to the City's ADA obligations regarding other places and programs on and near eastern JFK, including the Conservatory of Flowers, Dahlia Garden, Rose Garden, Stow Lake and Boathouse, and nighttime events.

At least four individuals with disabilities, including me, filed disability civil rights complaints with the US Department of Justice. Several, including the late good government and disability rights activist Bob Planthold, filed similar complaints with the California Department of Justice. These complaints are currently pending.

MTA and RecPark tout an MTA opinion survey purporting that the majority of San Franciscans favor keeping the car ban. But the decision about JFK Drive isn’t a popularity contest – among other things, it’s a civil rights issue. The ADA is a civil rights law, and civil rights laws have been enacted to protect an entire class of people who have experienced discrimination and exclusion, and who are being denied equal access and opportunity. The closure of JFK Drive to cars is a violation of the ADA and California disability rights laws.

Even if one puts more weight on public opinion than civil rights, consider:

  • Per MTA, only 38% of survey responses from respondents with disabilities favored car-free JFK, as did only 38% of respondents age 65 and above.
  • An analysis by Michael Cawthon, an experienced data analyst and regulatory examiner, of the survey database shows major flaws in the survey methodology and tabulation of the results, including duplicates, tabulation errors, filling in missing data, elimination of some responses that are probably valid, and the submission and acceptance of over 500 online surveys after the deadline. The late responses overwhelmingly supported car-free JFK. Paper surveys didn’t ask about disabilities, so the number of people with disabilities who oppose banning cars is probably undercounted. Latinos, Blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders were underrepresented in the survey responses relative to their proportions of San Francisco residents, as were certain geographic areas.
  • On February 18, 2022, the Mayor’s Disability Council devoted an entire meeting to JFK Drive and extended it by nearly two hours so more members of the public could be heard. There were ASL (as there always are), and Chinese and Vietnamese interpreters. Literally dozens of commenters described the hardship the car ban has caused them and asked that cars be allowed on JFK again, and there were many similar comments in the chat. The mitigation measures promoted by MTA and RecPark didn’t change anyone’s mind. Only two commenters supported the ban. The comments at that meeting are consistent with the many verbal comments and emails MDC has received over the past couple of years, the overwhelming majority of which opposed banning cars. These are links to a recording and transcript of the meeting.
Mayor's Disability Council
Mayors Disability Council - February 28, 2022

The Chronicle conducted an online survey. Respondents favored reopening JFK to cars by around a 2 to 1 margin. The survey is flawed, but not necessarily more flawed than the MTA survey. The Chronicle is strongly biased in favor of the car ban (it even published an editorial supporting the ban), yet the survey results came out in the opposite direction from the Chronicle’s bias.

Disability concerns
Rec & Park knows the problems with park closure, as they outline here — yet they persist.

RecPark, MTA, and their allies emphasize the Music Concourse Garage as a solution. But the garage:

  • Doesn’t provide access to the Conservatory of Flowers, Dahlia Garden, Rose Garden, Stow Lake/Boathouse, and other places for people who can't walk far.
  • Doesn’t address many people’s need to remain in their cars while viewing nighttime events such as the light shows. This problem would remain no matter how late the garage is open. (And what conceivable justification could there be for banning cars at night?  This question has been asked many times but never answered by any elected official or City employee.)
  • Doesn’t solve the problem of access to nighttime events even for those who feel comfortable leaving their cars, because it closes at 7 PM.
  • Doesn’t address the needs of people who can't be dropped off by themselves because they need assistance or are at risk of falling.
  • Is expensive.
  • It is sometimes full, particularly when there are major events and exhibits.

Many people don’t feel safe or comfortable in an underground garage after dark. This is a problem with the current closure time, and would remain a problem if the hours were extended.

Garage capacity is around 800 cars. Garage capacity plus the closed part of JFK was around 1,300 cars. Banning cars from eastern JFK eliminated around 500 parking spaces that were usable by the general public, including disabled people. Disabled people don’t park only in blue zones; they park in regular parallel parking spaces that don’t have obstructions.

Light Show at the Conservatory
The Conservatory's lightshow is not accessible to some

For the second year in a row, the car ban excluded many people from the Winter Lights shows and other nighttime events. For those with mobility disabilities who don’t live nearby, for those who walk with difficulty and precariously, for those who cannot walk far, for those who don’t do well in cold and windy weather, and for able-bodied people who live in areas poorly served by public transportation, it’s impossible to view the light shows without a car. For example, because of my muscular dystrophy I don't do well in cold weather, and it just isn't feasible or healthy for me to roll there at night. Winter evenings and nights are cold and often windy, and this past December – fortunately – rainy. Many require the shelter and safety of being in a car. And many, including some women alone, don't feel safe walking in the park after dark.

Park Shuttle problems
The shuttle is not a solution for many disabled people.

The shuttle isn't a solution. Does RecPark really expect people with disabilities, seniors, families with small children and women alone, to wait in the cold, darkness, wind, and rain for a shuttle?  To risk being passed up because the shuttle is full?  To risk missing the last shuttle?

Even during the day it’s not feasible or fair or healthy to ask seniors, disabled people, families with small children, and people carrying equipment and other bulky items to wait for a shuttle when it’s cold, rainy or windy. Even in good weather, it’s burdensome for people who come from far away and already have had a long, complicated journey, to wait for a shuttle. Even during the day and in good weather, a shuttle is just too physically demanding and tiring for many people.

Mayor Breed’s April 27, 2020, press release announcing the ban stated: “The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department will close JFK Drive to vehicular traffic from Kezar Drive to Transverse Drive until the Stay Home Order is lifted."  (Emphasis added.)  Contrary to what she promised, although the Stay Home Order was lifted in January 2021, the ban remains.

Besides being exclusionary, banning cars from JFK has increased traffic, congestion, and pollution in the surrounding neighborhood streets, which MTA hasn’t even acknowledged or seriously studied.

There’ve been parking buffered bike lanes on both sides of JFK for a decade. There are wide, paved sidewalks on both sides.

Enough is enough. It’s long past time for Mayor Breed and the Board of Supervisors to end the ban and reopen JFK Drive and its attractions to everyone.


Howard Chabner is a disability rights activist and retired lawyer who has lived along the Panhandle since 1988.

MARCH 2022

Back In the Saddle Again?

Public Horseback Riding Returns to Golden Gate Park

Equestrian enthusiasts can now experience Golden Gate Park on horseback, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department announced. A Park tradition returns in an agreement with Chaparral Ranch. Online reservations at chaparral

Chaparral Ranch will hold its grand opening Saturday in the park’s Bercut Equitation Field, offering trail rides, children’s pony rides, horse camp and riding lessons. Aside from a brief pilot program in 2017, the opening of Chaparral Ranch marks the first horseback riding concession in the park since 2001. The equestrian facility is located on Chain of Lakes Drive East, near John F. Kennedy Drive. The company has provided trail rides to San Francisco families at Camp Mather for the past two years.

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As part of its agreement with SF Rec and Park, Chaparral Ranch will offer free visits for San Francisco public schools and underserved communities and make its facility available to local organizations such as therapeutic riding programs for disabled and disadvantaged youth.

As part of its agreement with SF Rec and Park, Chaparral Ranch will offer free visits for San Francisco public schools and underserved communities and make its facility available to local organizations such as therapeutic riding programs for disabled and disadvantaged youth. It will clean up manure every 30 minutes, which will be used for fertilizer in the park. The program will be reviewed and possibly extended after six months.

“Horses play a big part in Golden Gate Park’s history and we’re thrilled to have them back as our park turns 150,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg said. “Chaparral Ranch’s staff and horses are beloved by our Camp Mather families, and we are looking forward to a new generation of city kids falling in love with riding, nature and our equestrian trails.”

Chaparral Ranch is currently booking trail rides, pony rides and lessons. It will operate from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with plans to expand availability in the future.

“It’s an honor to be part of bringing horses back to this park,” said Chaparral CEO Shawn Mott. “The horses seem to bring back a spirit that has been missing.”

Trail rides and lessons range from $40 to a 30 minute ride to $80 for an hour; Pony rides are $15 for 15 minutes, or $1 per minute; Thanksgiving and winter camps are also available.

November 2019

Soccer Attack Meets Renewed Opposition

The Coalition to Protect Golden Gate Park has submitted language for a ballot Initiative to the City, and is now collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The goal of the initiative is to maintain all athletic fields in Golden Gate Park that are west of Crossover Drive as natural grass, and to not permit nighttime sports field lighting in those areas. The Coalition has asked anyone interested in participating to contact them - either to sign a petition or to help gather signatures.

During Earthweek, a second group, the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance (GGPPA), kicked-off an online celebration of the beauty of the western end of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. It’s asking that everyone submit original works for posting on a website, where submittals can be viewed and evnjoyed by people all over the world. GGPPA welcomes original photos, essays, poetry, artwork - even songs and tweets! GGPPA suggests that the public go out to the west end of Golden Gate Park NOW and start taking pictures, before the habitat and beauty in that area are destroyed by construction.

To reach each of these groups, go to the following websites:

Ballot Initiative -

Celebration of the Beauty of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach --

May 2014

Rec and Park Commission

Vote on Beach Chalet construction contract

April 17th, 2014

This is only part of the contract -- the rest of the contract is being let by City Fields Foundation, and the public has NO way to impact that. This is one of the many problems of public-private partnerships.

The April 17th hearing is an opportunity to object once again to this project and to get the Commission to listen to reason. Go online to see the agenda 5 days before the hearing date.

April 2014

Protect your local open space

Comment on the 2013 Draft Recreation and Open Space Element (ROSE)

The revised ROSE will set policy for the acquisition, use, development, and protection of open space and parks in San Francisco for the next 25 years. The ROSE land-use policies are crucial to the development of open space in the West of Twin Peaks area. As an example, at the January 9th, 2013 Planning Commission hearing on the ROSE, Commissioner Antonini weighed in on the issue of paving over and building on our parkland and open space. Antonini said, "Another issue we have to deal with is balancing open space with housing. We have a finite area with 47 or 48 square miles, and we have to use our land judiciously, and we do need land for housing and particularly for new housing. If there are areas that are tangential to areas where we have existing parks, in the area surrounding Laguna Honda or possibly around Twin Peaks, I mean I am not saying you would eliminate the open space there, but you certainly could use some of that area for new housing."

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We have a finite area with 47 or 48 square miles, and we have to use our land judiciously … in the area surrounding Laguna Honda or possibly around Twin Peaks … you certainly could use some of that area for new housing.”

The prior 1986 ROSE makes a strong case for the City acquiring new land for its many development projects instead of building up our parkland. However, the 2013 Draft ROSE leaves many loopholes for buildings on our scarce and precious park resources. Pertinent comments on these and other issues have been submitted by a group of community members, the ROSE Working Group. If you care what happens to open space in your neighborhood, review the ROSE, read the public comment letters, and come to a hearing on this vital policy document. This is the future of your parks and open space!

Katherine Howard, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance

ROSE draft and approval schedule: Public comment letters can be found at:

March 2014

Panel on Privatization Promises to be Rousing

Did you go to the Arboretum with family members from out-of-town during the holidays and learn, to your dismay, that although you could get in free (assuming you remembered your ID), your family members were all going to have to pay — and pay handsomely — to enter a once-public garden that you are already paying for with your tax dollars? (Ten out of the 11 Strybing Arboretum gardeners are paid out of City funds.) Did you know that the private Arboretum Society can now keep the public out of the gardens, when it closes them for its own events? Just a few years ago such City services and benefits were considered part of the public good that we all receive for our tax dollars and were also considered a contribution to the quality of life in a thriving city. Now they are viewed by the politicians as a source of revenue. Free access by the public is of little value to our elected officials.

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Part of San Francisco burned down in 1906 after the Big Earthquake, in part because the [private] Spring Valley Water Company hadn't kept up its lines and thus was unable to provide enough water for firefighting. A few years later, in one of the greatest privatization scandals in American history, PG&E stole what was supposed to be the City's publicly owned electricity, costing the local coffers untold hundreds of millions over the past 80 years.”

In January, the California Commonwealth Club will feature a five-star panel on the future of privatization and the threat to our urban environment. One of the speakers will be the Westside Observer's own George Wooding. A few years ago, Wooding was part of a panel exploring the increasing privatization of Golden Gate Park. The Department of Recreation and Park tried to have that panel cancelled and refused to share e-mails about their actions. The whole fiasco ended in hearings before the Sunshine Task Force and a slap on the wrist by the Ethics Commission — even after one Rec and Park employee admitted that she deleted all of her emails every day. It will be interesting to see what Rec and Park tries to do when they learn about this program!

But this panel is about more than Rec and Park shenanigans. When asked about what he would be discussing in January, Wooding said, "Part of San Francisco burned down in 1906 after the Big Earthquake, in part because the [private] Spring Valley Water Company hadn't kept up its lines and thus was unable to provide enough water for firefighting. A few years later, in one of the greatest privatization scandals in American history, PG&E stole what was supposed to be the City's publicly owned electricity, costing the local coffers untold hundreds of millions over the past 80 years."

Former Planning Commissioner Dennis Antenore said, "Privatization is an invitation to corruption. Instead of public service, private parties are looking out for their own interest. Even if it appears like it is working well, in the end services will cost more, because private parties usually have a fiduciary responsibility to make money. In addition, private parties are not subject to open government regulations . . . non-government agencies can do things secretly without public discussion." Antenore said that at least one non-profit with considerable influence on the use of public land has bragged publicly about not being subject to open meeting laws.

Added to the mix on the panel are Tim Redmond (Manager of the SF Progressive Media Center and former editor of the SF Bay Guardian) and Aaron Peskin (Executive Director of Great Basin Land & Water and former President of the SF Board of Supervisors). This promises to be a sell-out, dynamite evening!

Contact the Club directly for tickets — and bring your questions for Q and A!

595 Market Street, 2nd Floor / Tel (415) 597-6700

Katherine Howard, ASLA, Landscape Architect, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance,

December 2013

Birds of the Beach Chalet Need Your Help

Red shouldered hawks hunt for prey in the open fields like Beach Chalet Photo: Eddie Bartley

Some of the Westside residents who would be most affected by the city’s Beach Chalet soccer field project haven’t shown up at any public hearings on the issue.

They’re too busy nesting, foraging, and migrating.

Over 70 species of birds have been identified in the western areas of Golden Gate Park, where city officials are planning to replace nine acres of natural grass soccer fields with artificial turf and powerful night lighting.

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Their food supply will dwindle. Robins live off worms in the soil, dark-eyed juncos eat grass seeds, and swallows hunt low-flying insects that are drawn to tiny flowering plants such as clover. None of these food sources exist in an artificial turf field.


The proposed bright lights and artificial turf —made from plastic and recycled car tires—could threaten birds’ breeding and survival in a variety of ways: woodpecker

Their food supply will dwindle. Robins live off worms in the soil, dark-eyed juncos eat grass seeds, and swallows hunt low-flying insects that are drawn to tiny flowering plants such as clover. None of these food sources exist in an artificial turf field.

Woodpeckers and other birds that nest in tree cavities will find fewer breeding spots, since the Beach Chalet project calls for the removal of fifty five trees and bushes.

Warblers, hawks and other migrating birds may be drawn inland and disoriented by the bright sixty-foot-tall lights as they travel down the coast. “On foggy September or October nights, migrating birds will fly into this maze of light towers, get disoriented, and smash into poles,’ said Dan Murphy, a volunteer with Golden Gate Audubon Society.

The bright nighttime lighting may help predators like raccoons and skunks that eat bird eggs, making it harder for birds to reproduce successfully.

yellow rumped WarblerThe Beach Chalet project represents another step in the gradual loss of wildlife habitat in San Francisco. Just who are the birds who rely on the Beach Chalet area for food, shelter and breeding? Some that you’re likely to see there include:

Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. These majestic hunters nest in trees in Golden Gate Park and live off of gophers, mice, rats and other small mammals or birds that frequent the Beach Chalet fields.

Pygmy Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers. They nest in cavities of trees or stumps. Right now we’re entering their breeding season, which typically runs from mid-February through July.

Black Phoebes. They live in Golden Gate Park year round and pick off small insects as they fly over open fields.

Dark-eyed Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows. They forage for grass seeds in the Beach Chalet fields and nest in nearby shrubs and trees.

Warblers. Yellow-rumped warblers and other kinds of warblers pass through the western edge of San Francisco as they migrate along the coast toward Mexico or Central America. “They come in off the ocean, see a big green patch, and decide to land,” Murphy said. “Most stay for a few days and then continue on. You could get any kind of warbler that’s recorded on the West Coast.”dark-eyed juncos

Barn swallows. They nest in Golden Gate Park during the summer and spend the winters in South America. They should be returning to San Francisco sometime in the next few weeks. Like phoebes, they hunt for insects over open grassy meadows – of which very few remain in San Francisco.

Anna’s hummingbirds. Our most common local hummingbird, these four-inch birds eat flower nectar and small insects in flight. During breeding season, which is underway, the red-headed males do a courtship dive where they fly as high as 130 feet and then plummet at speeds of up to 51 miles per hour.

Robins. Some live here year-round, while others just come for the winter. You may spot them hunting for worms in the Beach Chalet grass, along with Brewer’s Blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds and California towhees which are also foraging for insects or seeds.

Olive-sided flycatcher. This bird may be harder to spot. It used to nest all over Golden Gate Park, but its numbers have dropped and it is becoming scarce locally.

Black-bellied plovers and other shorebirds. You won’t see these at Beach Chalet every day, but when Ocean Beach is flooded by storms, they have been known to take refuge on the wet grassy soccer fields.

The city’s Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Beach Chalet project did not adequately address the threat to birds such as these. The DEIR listed only seven bird species at the soccer field site. But San Francisco ornithologist Dominik Mosur has personally seen 70 to 80 species in the Beach Chalet area, and the online eBird database has records of more than 120 species of passerines (perching birds) in Golden Gate Park.

Even many frequent users of Golden Gate Park are unaware of the importance of “plain grass fields” to birds and other wildlife. In reality, grass fields like the existing ones at Beach Chalet serve multiple purposes – recreation for people, habitat and food for birds, as well as other environmental functions like absorption of rain water.

“When soccer fields are not in use and standing empty, they only look like they’re standing empty,” said Mosur, a field trip leader for Golden Gate Audubon Society. “In reality, they’re being used by a whole number of species.”

Want to learn more about the birds of Golden Gate Park?

Golden Gate Audubon Society offers free bird walks at the Botanical Gardens on the first Sundays in March and April. For information, see

Want to ensure that your children and grandchildren can see thriving populations of birds in Golden Gate Park too?

Make your voice heard on the Beach Chalet project. Call or write to your supervisor and Mayor Lee. Insist upon an alternative solution, such as better-maintained grass fields, that will meet the needs of both people and wildlife.

Ilana DeBare is Communications Director for Golden Gate Audubon Society.

March 2012


Public Testimony:

Beach Chalet Plan Deeply FlawedClaire Dworsky

The San Francisco Planning Commission held a hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields in early December. Over 80 people testified, with over 60 people opposed to the project and critical of the Report. The people who took the trouble to troop down to City Hall and wait for four hours to testify are most eloquent when quoted in their own words:

FOLLOW THE PLAN “… the Master Plan of Golden Gate Park is the result of thousands of hours, probably tens of thousands of hours, of thousands of people over many years - city employees, city commissioners and the public… .Over the years, facilities have been added to the western park — the soccer fields in question — but the character of the landscape has remained as more wooded, less refined parkland. This distinction should be maintained …” [Jim Chappell, past Executive Director of SPUR]

YOUNG SPORTS FAN “… I play soccer, lacrosse, basketball and I run cross country. And I’m here to raise my voice against putting synthetic turf soccer field on the Beach Chalet fields. I love sports, but I can’t be so selfish to harm the environment… As the winner of a National Science Foundation Kids Science Challenge, I studied the chemical content of grass and turf runoff water with Dr. Dina Deighton, from UC Santa Cruz, and we found that the water from the turf to be 100 percent fatal to all aquatic life… The State of California and USGS say the Beach Chalet is likely to flood in the event of severe ocean storms. It’s a matter of when, not if there will be a flood. If turf and crumb rubber get into ocean beach water, aquatic life would die. I love sports but I also love Golden Gate Park and its ecosystem … Please, do not allow this.” [Clair Dworsky, 6th Grader]Miriam Pinchuk

STALAG MEETS GGP “My father worked most of his adult life with Golden Gate Park in the Rec and Park Department from World War II straight through to his retirement. … Our next door neighbor was Jack Spring, the general manager of Rec and Park… . Both Jack Spring and my father felt very strongly about retaining the rural character of the Park. What’s being proposed here is something very different… .Frankly, what’s being proposed for Golden Gate Park is Stalag meets Golden Gate Park…” [Terence Faulkner, resident]

FEWER BIRDS = MORE RATS “…[the] great horned owl, red shouldered hawks, red tailed hawks and Cooper’s hawks… These birds run on light cycles. Their mating behavior, their feeding, their … whole cycle of life, how they migrate is based on light. We’re … being asked to turn this park into an all-day summer project where we have five extra hours of light some days in winter… So this is going to be potentially very, very bad for these birds. But also it’s going to be very, very good for these birds’ prey. And these birds’ major prey is rats. These [birds] are the major suppressors of vermin in Golden Gate Park. If you get rid of these birds, the rats will increase.” [John O’Dell, nest monitor, GGP]

NOT SCIENTIFICALLY VALID “I was shocked at the lack of scientifically valid data presented in the Section, Hazards and Hazardous Materials … Given the dearth of appropriate scientifically valid data presented in the report, I would like to ask that an unbiased independent expert with knowledge of scientific method and research conduct a thorough review of the scientific and medical literature before any conclusions are drawn about the hazards of artificial turf, either to the environment or to health, and its ability to reduce injuries. Additionally, I ask that the findings of RPD’s 2008 task force be removed from the Draft EIR owing to the clear conflicts of interest present in the sections on material compositions … I further ask that only scientifically valid reliable studies that have been peer reviewed, or published in peer-reviewed journals be included in Section 4, for without valid studies the report cannot draw valid conclusions.” [Miriam Pinchuk, medical editor.]

PARK AS GREEN RESPITE AND HEALER “I’m a member of the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club, and we oppose the corruption of the Beach Chalet and fields by the laying down of Astroturf and the installation of stadium lights. Parks, first of all, are for people and other living things … We’re a city that’s hungry for green space and not faux green… . When I was ill with cancer the Park was a restorative space… . I want it to be a delight and not a blight for all…” [Sue Englander, resident]

THROUGH OTHER SENSES “ … And now that I’m blind, I enjoy the Park differently than other people do. I don’t look at the grass and say, “Wow, it looks awfully green today.” There are a lot of times when I’ll be walking with my friends and I’ll say, “Wow, do you smell that? Do you smell the fresh-cut lawn?” And my sighted friends will say, “Wow, you’re right. That is one of the best smells in the world.” You’ll never get that with Astroturf… You cannot yield habitat to expedience.” [John Sargent, resident]

IMPACT ON THE ENTIRE PARK “ … How will this affect Golden Gate Park as a whole? Imagine this. Suppose a museum curator wanted to alter the position of the hands in the painting of the Mona Lisa, possibly adding a bright and dazzling ring, would such change have a profound effect on the entire painting? Please ask yourself, how will the addition of artificial turf and new light standards affect Golden Gate Park as a whole, our masterpiece.” [Chris Patillo, ASLA, cofounder, HALS NCC]

NOT CONEY ISLAND! “I was shocked when I learned of these plans to put in artificial turf and the stadium lights… .This is not Coney Island …this is our Golden Gate Park, which was designed to be natural and wild …” [Patricia Arack, resident]

BRIEF BUT ELOQUENT “I don’t think that bright lights and artificial turf a park make. And the whole idea of a park is to bring nature into the city, and this does not do it.” [Denise D’anne, local resident]porposed soccer field

Proposed soccer field

These are just a very few of the many thoughtful comments made. The full transcript and video link can be found on the website for

Kathy Howard, GGP Preservatiuon Alliance.


February 2012


Sun Shines on Rec & Park Efforts to Curtail Free Speech

In March 2011, community groups organized a Commonwealth Club panel to discuss the impact of two proposed development projects on Golden Gate Park. The panel included moderator Jim Chappell (former Executive Director of SPUR), and panelists Anthea Hartig, Ph.D., (President of Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), Mike Lynes (Conservation Director and General Counsel for Environmental Matters, Golden Gate Audubon Society), George Wooding, (Past President, West of Twin Peaks Central Council), and myself. The Club approved the program, notice went out to the general public, and people started to register for the event.

We were therefore surprised in late April when the panel was modified, by the Club, to include a member of the Recreation and Park Commission. The Recreation and Park Commissioners and Department staff have unlimited time to address the public at Commission meetings and in other government venues, and the addition of this person meant that the amount of time that we had in our own forum would be curtailed. However, in the spirit of cooperation, we accepted this addition. The final May 11th panel program was attended by a cross-section of the public and was very successful.

In June, in an effort to learn more about what had caused the change in panel members, George Wooding filed a Sunshine Request to Rec and Park asking for all Department communications about the program. The Recreation and Park Department denied that there were any documents.

However, Wooding learned from other sources that these e-mails did exist. In these e-mails, Rec and Park employees, a Recreation and Park Commissioner, and a member of a Recreation and Park public-private partnership, attempted to not only discredit the panel members and to influence the content of the panel discussion but also, in one instance, to have the program cancelled. We applaud the Commonwealth Club for upholding the principles of free speech and proceeding with the panel discussion.

The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force heard this complaint on Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 and ruled in favor of Wooding. The Order of Determination found that Rec and Park violated four sections of the Sunshine Ordinance. The Department has been ordered to release the requested records and to appear before the SOTF Compliance Committee on September 13th.

The panel discussion is featured in the August/September 2011 Commonwealth Club magazine. A video of the Commonwealth Club program can be accessed through SF Ocean Edge's website:

Katherine Howard, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, SF Ocean Edge

September 2011


Un-Muddy the Waters:

Recycled Water Treatment Plantmap of trees around the treatment Plant

The Westside Observer article ("Recycled Water No Walk in the Park" 3/11) on the proposed water treatment facility for Golden Gate Park reflects some confusion about the increasing opposition to placing this facility in Golden Gate Park. We would like to respond with additional information, which the authors of that article might not have known.

The Sierra Club, Restore Hetch Hetchy, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, and many other environmental and water-conservation organizations agree that this project should not be built in Golden Gate Park. None of these groups is opposing San Francisco building a recycled water treatment plant — their primary concern is that the facility NOT be located on Golden Gate Park's parkland.

This is an industrial building. Not all manufacturing facilities have smoke stacks, but they are nevertheless industrial. The Golden Gate Park Master Plan (Recreation and Park Department, 1998) clearly states that any building in the Park must be used for recreational purposes. We have heard said that, since the recycled water will be used for irrigation, this facility should be considered a recreational building; this is a strange conclusion to draw. If we go down that path of reasoning, we could have an oil refinery in the Park to provide gas for the gardeners' vehicles. The Master Plan is clearly against industrial uses in Golden Gate Park.

A 30 foot wall is not "low profile." The factory buildings are an acre in size, with more land needed for the surrounding, cleared landscape. The control buildings have to be "constructed of CMU with steel framing and no windows." Not exactly an attractive building design. But very attractive to graffiti!

The photo in the article gives the "screened view" of the water treatment facility and shows only trees. But the statement that the factory will be screened from park goers is inaccurate. The "Tree and Large Shrub Assessment Report" (December 2010) lists over 136 trees to be cut down and another 73 trees threatened by construction. The map below shows that 131 trees will be cut down in this area alone. More trees will be removed for the groundwater project and the soccer field project. Most of the trees shown in the SFPUC 'screening' photo (March Observer, Page 3) will be cut down.

It is unlikely that replacement trees will be planted. This area will become a Homeland Security site. The PUC's "Conceptual Engineering Report" (CER, October 2010), details the extensive security requirements. For example, " Visual Surveillance: Landscape design will incorporate the need for the ability of visual openness for security surveillance and reduce potential hiding or hidden locations." We can all imagine that if there is even a rumor of a terrorism attempt, then the area surrounding this facility will be 'hardened.' Signs are required at 50 foot intervals, in multiple languages "consistent with local population" (that should be a challenge for San Francisco!), including a list of appropriate federal state and local laws prohibiting trespassing. What fun to go for a picnic in the park and be greeted with this!

Placing the factory outside of Golden Gate Park will not result in a divided facility. A storage tank and a new pumping station would be added in Golden Gate Park, but that is all.

Yes, the construction yard in Golden Gate Park is a mess now -- but do we allow the area to be industrialized just because it has not been maintained? RPD may claim financial hardship, but it is planning to spend $12 million for a high-end soccer complex just a few feet away. It cost just over $1 million to replant the Polo Field. The $12 million soccer funding could be better spent to repair the Beach Chalet soccer fields with natural grass, replace the construction yard with a meadow, and use the rest of the $12 million for recreation opportunities for children all over the City.

Relocating the recycled water facility site may cost a little more, but it is a fraction of the overall cost for the PUC Water System projects. And what is the value that we put on Golden Gate Park? Our city will only continue to grow and become more dense. That is the very reason for the recycled water treatment plant! As San Francisco grows, Golden Gate Park's parkland will become more and more precious. As Will Rogers said about land, "They ain't making any more of the stuff."

Golden Gate Park must be protected for all San Franciscans today and for future generations. Please contact the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors and the SFPUC -- ask them to protect Golden Gate Park from this industrial project by supporting an alternative site outside of Golden Gate Park.

Katherine Howard, ASLA, member, Steering Committee,
Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance.

April 2011

Water Treatment Facility

209 More Reasons to Protect Golden Gate Park

The SFPUC met with the public on February 15th and discussed adding five alternative water treatment plant sites to the Environmental Impact Report. All of these sites are outside of Golden Gate Park.

Why is this important? First, let's review the reasons for this industrial facility. San Francisco is mandated by the State to develop alternative sources of drinking water for the future. As a result, the SFPUC is going to build a large water treatment plant somewhere in the western part of San Francisco. This plant will take the secondary output of the Oceanside sewage treatment plant and process it further into what is known as tertiary treated water.

Currently, water from the aquifer under Golden Gate Park is used to irrigate the Park. Once the new water treatment plant is completed, the resulting tertiary treated water will be used to irrigate Golden Gate Park. The water from the aquifer underneath Golden Gate Park will then be pumped out for drinking water for the western part of San Francisco.

Finding another site is important for keeping this 40,000 square foot industrial building out of our parkland. But the massive building is only part of the problem. The construction site takes up four acres. According to a recently released report, the project will result in the removal of 136 trees and the threat of removal or damage to an additional 73 trees. These trees are all located in the western end of Golden Gate Park and are part of the windbreak that protects the rest of the Park from the brisk winds that blow constantly off of the Pacific Ocean.

Way back in the 1870's, Golden Gate Park's surveyor and designer, William Hammond Hall, had to find a way to stabilize the sand dunes, before he could start to establish the green park that San Franciscans know and love today. A combination of native plants and imported seeds helped to get the area stabilized. From those first plantings, and with the application of the abundant manure from the streets of San Francisco, the first topsoil and new plantings were developed; this is the windbreak that now protects all of Golden Gate Park.

The western section has been reforested since that time, partly as a result of the 1980 Golden Gate Park Forestry Management Plan, when many of the current trees were planted. But this new building project will remove many of the trees planted at that time. The Park's windbreak trees must be retained, both for the Park's protection and for the enjoyment of future generations of San Franciscans.

Please talk to your Supervisor and the SFPUC, and encourage them in the search for new locations for this industrial facility outside of Golden Gate Park.

Katherine Howard, ASLA, Landscape Architect, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance,

March 2011

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parking tickets for RVs on Winston

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