Sunday, December 12, 2004

Last Thursday's HANC Meeting

As it turned out, the head on the front page story of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council's newsletter neatly summarized the position of the membership present at the forum last Thursday night on the widening of MLK to the garage entrance: "HANC Forum on Planned Four-Lane Highway Through Golden Gate Park"(Haight-Ashbury Voice, December, 2004).

What both the Concourse Authority and Recreation and Parks in fact approved is the widening of a 500-foot stretch of Martin Luther King Blvd. from Ninth and Lincoln to the entrance to the underground garage under construction under the Concourse. (Two of the four lanes will be the lanes on either side of the road that are now devoted to parking. It's not as if two extra lanes are going to be plowed through the front lawn of the County Fair building at Ninth and Lincoln.)

Chris Duderstadt opened up the meeting with a short slideshow that was rather incoherent and unhelpful: he showed pictures and maps of the park, but it wasn't always clear where the pictures were taken or what the maps were supposed to show. The most striking thing to me was an image that included the total number---more than 5300---of surface parking spots that there are now on the roads in Golden Gate Park.

The most interesting thing about the meeting, though, was the presence and participation of D5 Supervisor-elect, Ross Mirkarimi, who was discussing the proposal with other panelists (Joan Downey, Jim Iverson, Tys Sniffen) and the HANC membership. Ross made a lot of sympathetic noises on behalf of those who opposed the project (which, as it turned out when a vote was held later, was everyone except me): he said the projected widening of MLK "doesn't feel right," that there were problems with "due process"; he said that there are still two lawsuits---one by Katherine Roberts and another by Chris Duderstadt---going forward to challenge the plan, though it isn't clear what legal basis the litigation has. He suggested that perhaps people will ultimately have to go back to the ballot to amend 1998's Proposition J. He praised the protest demonstration at the site that took place the Sunday before. He suggested, too, that there were both Sunshine Ordinance and Brown Act violations during the process, though no specifics were offered. In an apparent bit of rhetorical excess, he said that the widening of MLK was "absolutely illegal," though he later said that he was meeting with the City Attorney on Monday to clarify the legal issues involved. The garage itself, he thought, was a financial "boondoggle" for which the city would ultimately be liable. He thought that maybe opponents could do something "politically and administratively" to stop the widening of MLK.

Mirkarimi's oddest remarks were those about the Board of Supervisors and his soon-to-be colleague, Jake McGoldrick, the District One Supervisor. The Murk said that McGoldrick's position on the widening "perplexes me," that "We need District One on this." Since several people at the meeting expressed the idea that no southern entrance was necessary, that all the garage traffic could/should enter and exit at Tenth and Fulton on the northern side of the park, one hopes his perplexity is only rhetorical. Why would anyone, let alone an experienced political operative like Mirkarimi, think that McGoldrick welcomes the idea of all garage traffic being funneled through a neighborhood in his district? Especially after two public bodies voted overwhelmingly for both a southern and a northern entrance? McGoldrick has good political cover to do what voters in his district would surely like to see done---spread the traffic pain around.

Mirkarimi also expressed some perplexity as to why the Board of Supervisors has shown "no will to intervene" on the widening issue, though he noted that Supervisors Ammiano and Daly have been sympathetic. The fact of the matter is that Proposition J created the Concourse Authority to get the EIRs written, to build the garage---and, by the way, guarantee public access to the garage---and to remodel the Concourse. The supervisors seem to have no direct authority on the issue (though there was some talk of an ordinance that allows the supervisors to review any "structural" changes in the park). He said that a possible review by the supervisors is at least a "toehold" for opponents of the widening.

In short, the Murk's performance was skillful in that he was clearly sympathetic to those opposing the widening of MLK. Indeed, he made it clear that he's completely on board for what appears to be a lost cause. On the other hand, for those diehards in the room, he delivered the bad news: the garage is a done deal, a review by the supervisors was nothing more than a "toehold" for the anti-widening cause, and that the legal situation would be unclear to him until he meets with the City Attorney the next week.

The reality: we have a major museum that's located in the middle of Golden Gate Park and an 800-space underground garage under construction nearby. Since both the city's voters and the courts have validated the garage in the park, how likely is it that the process will now reverse itself? Golden Gate Park as a whole will never be a "pedestrian oasis" as long as it is an integral part of the city's traffic grid, which it is now---5300 parking places presently on the surface roads of the park! On the other hand, Proposition J provides for the construction of a garage that will take 800 parking spaces off the streets of the park, 200 from the Concourse itself, which will help turn the Concourse into a pedestrian oasis as per Prop. J. Why isn't that a good thing?

How likely is it that the courts or the Board of Supervisors will overturn the widening of MLK and thereby, in effect, restrict access to the garage?

And the misleading 1950s anti-freeway terminology is applied rather disingenuously to a short stretch of surface road in the park. Some apparently seem to see the struggle over the widening of MLK as a continuation of the already lost anti-garage cause.

Opponents of the widening MLK/southern entrance proposal want it both ways on entrances to the garage: Katherine Roberts's suit last year lost on the matter of stopping construction of the garage, but it forced the Concourse Authority to design an outside-the-park entrance, which, now that it's done, she and her allies don't like either. Where exactly do they propose that an outside entrance should be located? Nowhere at all, apparently, since the entrance at Tenth and Fulton alone is good enough for them, notwithstanding the political problem such a solution would create for Supervisor McGoldrick.

Actually, the text of Prop. J only refers to "dedicated access route (or routes) to and from the underground parking facility beginning at a location or locations outside the Park..."; it doesn't say that the garage entrance has to be outside the park, only that the "route" to the entrance has to begin outside the park. Ninth and Lincoln and MLK seem to easily fit that definition.

Both Pinky Kushner and Mirkarimi made a good point, though, about the Concourse Authority's Board of Directors: all members are now appointed by the mayor, though the supervisors can reject an appointment with a two-thirds vote. Mirkarimi reminded listeners that he was very much involved in the political campaigns to get the supervisors appointments to both the Planning Commission and the Police Commission. It's hard to think of a reason not to have a similar standard for the Concourse Authority. As it is, Prop. J establishes the Parks and Recreation Commission as the immediate authority over the Concourse Authority, though the Authority must submit an annual budget to the supervisors, like every other city department.

At the 5Together Christmas Party, Supervisor Gonzalez gave incoming Supervisor Mirkarimi some friendly advice: You can't fight every battle or join every cause. You have to ration your time, since so many people will want a piece of it. Gonzalez may not have had the anti- "highway-through-the-park" folks in mind, but the question does arise: How much of his valuable time is this issue worth?

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