Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"Pedestrian Oasis" nearly a reality

There was comedy in the campaign for Proposition G, which seemed to include everyone but me and Katherine Roberts---all the Democratic Party clubs, Mayor Newsom, Harry Parker, MAPA, HANC, the Senior Action Network, the Police Officers Association, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. Very few of those who endorsed Prop. G, however, seemed to know exactly what it was about beyond the impression that it was something about keeping the traffic out of Golden Gate Park. 

I laughed when I got the glossy mailer featuring the always-photogenic Supervisor Mirkarimi: "Measure G is a simple, consensus solution to a complicated problem." This isn't a bad description of Prop. G, if you understand that it was the solution to this problem: How can some of the litigants fighting the garage and the widening of MLK---who knew they were going to lose in court last June---save some face and money while withdrawing from the case?

Part of the joke is that the Music Concourse Community Partnership (MCCP) paid for the glossy Mirkarimi mailer. (Oddly, the mailer includes a picture of the Hall of Flowers, which is over on JFK, not the Concourse. Why not a picture of the new de Young? The calculation must have been that the new de Young is still controversial and it's best to not associate it with Prop. G.)

The MCCP is the organization that raised the money to build the garage and is managing its construction; they've been in a continuous legal struggle with the anti-garage folks for years. Part of the face-saving settlement last June required MCCP to provide $30,000 for the yes on G campaign. Hence, the glossy mailer.

Garage opponents lost at the ballot box in 1998, when Prop. J and the underground garage were endorsed by city voters. They lost again in 2004 when Judge Warren ruled against them on everything, except on the "dedicated" entrance to the inside-the-park entrance to the garage. Judge Warren ordered the Concourse Authority to design an approach to the inside-the-park garage entrance that begins outside the park as per the text of Prop. J

The Concourse Authority, quite reasonably, came up with the idea of "widening" MLK Blvd. and using two of the four lanes for entering and exiting the garage. In short, the whole MLK widening idea was a consequence of the anti-garage litigation that led to the judge's decision. The Concourse Authority's original design didn't include the widening. Actually, no physical widening of MLK was going to take place if Prop. G failed; parking would have simply been eliminated from both sides of MLK to create the two extra lanes to the garage.

And there's humor in the fact that Prop. G amends Prop. J by dropping the "dedicated access to the garage" language that prompted Judge Warren to issue his order in the first place. In any event, the Concourse Authority is happy, because the whole MLK widening controversy has been nothing but a nuisance for them, resulting in a new round of hysterical, fact-free abuse from opponents of the garage. Judge Warren is presumably happy, because the legal language has been expunged that compelled him to issue the court order. And the anti-garage, anti-widening folks can claim a small victory, however bogus, now that MLK is not going to be made into the four-lane "deathtrap" that their hyperbolic campaign claimed it would if Prop. G failed.

Only Katherine Roberts is really unhappy, because she sees Prop. G as the last nail in the coffin of the anti-garage movement, since the proposition includes language reaffirming the legality of the garage, not that that was ever in serious doubt, especially after Judge Warren's Statement of Decision of August, 2004. 

I'm not privy to what went on in the negotiations, but I suspect the city's thinking went like this: "Okay, we'll put the MLK widening on the ballot, and the MCCP gives the campaign some money. While we're at it, let's put an end to any more bullshit in court about the legality of the garage and the inside-the-park entrance to the garage."

Eventually the city may have to widen MLK anyhow, given the astonishing crowds that are already turning out to see the new de Young, even before the Concourse is finished and the second garage entrance is open. The next test will be when the second, inside-the-park entrance opens, and auto traffic begins to use MLK Blvd. to enter and exit the garage. The garage entrance at Fulton and Tenth Ave. is already functioning well; you drive quickly into the garage, and, once out of your car, you can walk directly into the new de Young building without having to look at the boxy, strangely textured outside of the building.

When the new Academy of Sciences opens in 2008, there will be another spike in traffic that the two MLK lanes may not be able to handle. The city will then have to go back to the voters to allow them to implement the widening of MLK Blvd.

The Concourse itself looks great; it's impossible to tell that there's a garage underneath. It really is going to be a pedestrian oasis as promised by Proposition J, at least compared to what it was before. And the new pedestrian tunnels look fine, thank you very much. Even Chris Duderstadt admits that they "ain't so bad."

I walked through the Concourse and the new de Young yesterday afternoon. The de Young cafeteria was packed, as was the contiguous outdoor dining area, even though it was 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. There were several tour buses parked in the small parking lot by the Shakespeare Garden and two parked in front of the de Young. Otherwise, there was absolutely no through-traffic on the Concourse. Motorists are already learning that driving across the park via the Concourse is both officially discouraged and not the best way to go.

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Cala Market at Haight and Stanyan is closing

I was getting ready to do another post recommending the Cala Market at Haight and Stanyan as a place to take your plastic shopping bags for recycling---they have a bin for plastic bags just inside the front door---when I picked up the October issue of the Haight-Ashbury Beat, which has a front-page story ("Cala Gone? Gateway to Haight May Have a New Face," George McConnell) on the 24-hour market: It will close in January if the owners---Ralph's Grocery Co.---can't find a buyer. You can take your plastic bags there at least until January. The nearby HANC recycling center doesn't take the plastic bags. The only water machine in District 5 is also in the Cala parking lot.

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Muni: "Same Boat, Different City"

The SF Examiner put the lie to the premise of the Muni fare strike movement---that Muni is unconscionably extorting higher fares from the city's poor and working people:

Muni is not alone in its budget woes---almost every large transportation provider in the Bay Area and beyond is grappling with similar problems...All the agencies point toward factors they have no power to control---sharply rising gas prices, rocketing health care and benefit costs and traffic congestion that slows down service. SamTrans, BART, AC Transit and CalTrain are among the local agencies that have had to make tough decisions in recent years. In Santa Clara County, Valley Transportation Authority was hit hardest, with a 30 percent drop in ridership and 20 percent decrease in service over the last several years. ("Change Needed, But How?" Marisa Lagos, Nov. 14, 2005)

To read the fare-strikers' websites ( and, you would think that SF Muni is raising fares---and only a measly 25 cents at that---just to further oppress the city's poor, not because it was struggling with the same problems that face every transit system in the area. The fare-strikers are quick to play the ultra-left class struggle card, but they lamely failed to endorse Proposition D, which would have given the Board of Supervisors three appointments to the MTA board. Maybe it wasn't revolutionary enough for the leaders of the class struggle.