Newsom’s road-closure veto

Pub date May 16, 2006
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom showed a colossal lack of political courage May 15 when he bowed to pressure from a few rich socialites and vetoed a program that would expand one of the city’s most popular and successful recreation programs.

Newsom, apparently changing course at the last minute, rejected a Board of Supervisors plan to close a section of roadway in Golden Gate Park on Saturdays. The six-month trial program would expand on the existing Sunday closure, which brings thousands of walkers, bikers, and roller skaters and yes, fans of the De Young Museum to the park to enjoy a rare car-free urban experience.

As of last week, Newsom insiders were telling us the mayor had decided to sign the legislation. But Dede Wilsey, a wealthy patron of the museum, was pushing hard to block the proposal. On May 9, the San Francisco Chronicle weighed in on the side of the museum, running a misleading editorial accusing the supervisors of defying a vote of the people and giving Newsom more cover for a move that will undermine his national image as an environmentalist.

In his veto letter, Newsom argues that the issue needs further study though that’s exactly what this plan would be: a six-month study period. And, like the Chronicle, he insists that the voters have spoken on this issue as if a pair of confusing ballot measures that were all tied up with the museum and the garage six years ago should be the final word on this issue. He also calls it "divisive" meaning, presumably, that unless Dede Wilsey and the museum crowd like something, the mayor can’t be a leader and take a stand.

The whole thing shouldn’t be difficult. The De Young’s board has argued that closed roads mean smaller crowds, but the museum’s own figures show that’s untrue (see "Dede Wilsey’s Whoppers," 4/19/06). Museum attendance on Sunday, when the roads are closed, is higher than on Saturday, when cars clog the area. (With so many people flocking to that part of the park, it’s no surprise some of them decide to stop by the museum.) Besides, when the museum won permission to build an underground parking garage in the park, garage supporters, including financier Warren Hellman, promised that the added car access would make it possible to close the roads on Saturdays and today, to his credit, he’s arguing in favor of the plan.

In New York City, which is even more congested than San Francisco and has far worse parking problems, a Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has managed to close roads in Central Park not only on Saturdays but also on weekdays.

It’s too late to change Newsom’s mind, but the supervisors can still override the veto. One of the four who voted against the plan will have to switch to get the eighth vote for an override, and the most likely candidate is Bevan Dufty, whose district includes plenty of road-closure enthusiasts and who is up for reelection this fall. Call him (415-554-6968) and don’t let him wriggle out of this one. SFBG