Proposition G - Access to Underground Parking at Golden Gate ParkNovember 1, 2005
This ordinance is a simple, direct measure that seeks to clear up many years of very complex public exchanges relative to access to the underground parking structures that have been constructed at the Golden Gate Park Concourse. Its purpose is to clarify ambiguous language in a 1998 ballot measure regarding the southern entrance to the underground parking structures and allow operation of the nearly completed garage in the manner in which it was planned, designed, evaluated in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), approved, and ultimately constructed. Proposition G relates to the entrance to the garage from the south, via Lincoln Way at Ninth Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and Academy Drive. Specifically, the proposition would:
- Amend the San Francisco City Park Code by clarifying that there will be only one lane of traffic in each direction on the Ninth Avenue/Martin Luther King Jr. Drive approach to the garage
- Amend the City Administrative Code article previously set by a voter proposition (Proposition J, Golden Gate Park Revitalization Act, November 1998) to specifically state that dedicated traffic lanes to the south garage entrance are not required
This measure was placed on the ballot
by a vote of all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors. Most ordinances do not need
to go to the ballot to become law, but can be passed through the normal legislative process. However in this case, Proposition F would amend a previous voter-approved ordinance, so it does require voter approval to take effect.
The City and County of San Francisco owns the buildings housing two major nationally known cultural institutions that anchor and enliven the eastern end of Golden Gate Park: the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. Each of these premier cultural institutions occupied vastly substandard structures, which became apparent when they were damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of October 1989. November 1995’s Proposition C, supported by SPUR, authorized a bond to strengthen the Steinhart buildings. It was followed by Proposition B in November 1996, a bond to supplement private funds to build a new de Young museum with an underground parking garage. Though supported by SPUR, Proposition B was defeated at the polls.
An important component in the defeat of Proposition B was the fact that some voters opposed the construction of a parking garage in the basement of the museum. Since two-thirds of the visitors to the Museum (as well as Academy of Sciences) are regional and not local, in 1997 the Museum trustees authorized a professional site selection study to investigate more central sites that were more accessible, and would not necessitate construction of a garage in the Park. In reaction to the idea of the Museum leaving the Park, a group of citizens threatened to place a proposition on the ballot requiring the de Young to stay in the Park. Thus, an untenable situation was set up, where the museum was forced to stay in the Park, but with the certainty that the public would not finance the parking it required. As a compromise, the Museum agreed to place another bond on the ballot to build a new Museum in the Park and the citizens agreed to allow an accompanying measure to be placed on the ballot for a privately funded parking garage.
In June of 1998, the ballot included Proposition A, a bond to rebuild the de Young in the Park, and a related but separate measure, Proposition J, placed on the ballot by a group of Supervisors in an attempt to solve the seemingly intractable dilemma. Proposition J called for a privately funded parking garage to be constructed by philanthropists in Golden Gate Park. It was to consist of two 400-car pods, one under the roadway in front of the de Young Museum and one under the roadway in front of the Academy of Sciences, connected to each other by a tunnel. Proposition A failed to garner the required two-thirds majority to pass. Proposition J was passed by the voters. Subsequently, the de Young Museum developed a proposal to fund a new museum entirely with private money. That museum has been built and officially opens to the public on October 15, 2005. In March 2000, SPUR recommended and the voters passed Proposition B, a bond measure to partially fund construction of a new Academy of Sciences. The new building is in construction, to open in October 2008. The garage has been built, with the north pod in front of the de Young scheduled to open in time for the October 2005 opening of the museum, and the south pod shortly thereafter.
A number of individuals have continued to oppose the construction of the garage, for many varied and different motivations, even as it neared completion. Numerous contentious public hearings have been held. Lawsuits were filed on a grab-bag of unrelated complaints. In August 2004 the judge issued his ruling, throwing out the majority of complaints. However, a court ruling concerning the aforementioned conflicting language related to the southern entrance to the garage in Proposition J interpreted the measure as requiring any access to and from the garage from the south be via a dedicated access road beginning at a location outside the Park. The approved design has the dedicated tunnel entrance/exit from the north under what was formerly Tenth Avenue. The south entrance to the garage as approved uses the surface streets of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (from the intersection of Lincoln Way and Ninth Avenue) and Academy Drive (off of MLK). This plan did not meet the requirements of the ruling.
In an effort to meet the judge’s requirements, new street configuration plans were then developed. The new plan would remove parking from MLK Drive from the intersection with Lincoln Boulevard to Academy Drive, and restripe the street so MLK would become four traffic lanes, instead of the two traffic lanes with two parking lanes in the original plan. Some modest widening would be required in spots, although the total area of asphalt would be decreased. Predictably no one liked this option—the institutions, the Park, Muni, bicyclists, environmentalists— although it was probably the best alternative that could satisfy the judge’s decision.
Thus the current Proposition G.
Proposition G states that there may be a maximum of one lane of traffic in each direction on MLK Drive between Lincoln Way and Academy Drive (upon opening, to be renamed Concourse Drive) and categorically states that Proposition J allows the garage to have an entrance-exit located inside the Park without dedicated traffic lanes. Thus there will be none of the contemplated widening or restriping, as the inferior redesign necessitated by the court’s decision will no longer be necessary. The road configuration will stay as it has been for many years, except that as an already planned part of the garage construction, intersections will be narrowed to slow traffic, and other traffic calming techniques employed.
Had it been better written, Proposition J would have been clear on the entrance issue, and considerable trouble including the necessity for Proposition G could have been saved.
Those who support Proposition G state:
- It was never the intent of Prop J to make MLK Drive four lanes
- Making MLK Drive four lanes violates the Golden Gate Park Master Plan and the spirit of Proposition J
- While satisfaction of the judge’s decision is technically possible, it is almost universally considered less desirable than the original plan that Proposition G will make possible
- It is time to end the over ten years of rancor surrounding the rebuild of the Concourse and its institutions, and to celebrate the reopening of the de Young and the garage, which takes parking off the surface of the Park and places it underground
Those who oppose Proposition G state:
- Not every party who has been in opposition to the garage was involved in crafting this solution
- In fact, Proposition J does require a dedicated access from the south
- Alternatively, there should not be any access to the garage from the south
SPUR recommends a “Yes” vote on Proposition G. This measure is a simple, straightforward solution to the dilemma put forth by the judge’s decision: it will clarify what the voters intended in Proposition J, and corrects the City Administrative Code. It is widely agreed that the plan developed to comply with the judge’s decision is inferior, but it was necessitated by the lack of clarity in Proposition J. Defeat of Proposition G would cause street changes to be undertaken that will degrade the environment of Golden Gate Park and serve no practical purpose.