What’s the matter with the De Young?

Pub date March 13, 2007
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

All around the world, popular museums are situated in public parks with wonderful results for both the museums and the parks.

But here in San Francisco, the venerable de Young Museum is waging an intense and irrational battle to prevent more San Francisco families and visitors from enjoying Golden Gate Park — even at the expense of its own reputation and financial well-being. Our organizations are baffled.

The museum’s leadership is doggedly fighting a community proposal called Healthy Saturdays, which would extend the popular Sunday recreational space in the park to Saturdays on a six-month trial basis.

Why would the de Young fight this when its own figures show that museum attendance increases on car-free Sundays in the park?

Why, when a recent city study (available at www.goldengatepark.org) shows that car-free space does not significantly affect parking availability or traffic in the neighborhoods and doubles park usage, boosts local business, and helps drive traffic to (and pay off the debt for) the de Young’s unfilled 800-car garage?

Why, last spring, did the de Young spend thousands to send misleading letters to its members, falsely claiming that Healthy Saturdays would "severely compromise" access to the museum? Dozens of disgruntled de Young members pointed out the letter did not mention that the garage is accessible from outside the park and that visitors have front-door, drop-off access every day.

All of the high jinks and mistruths are especially baffling given the de Young’s past endorsement of the concept. In 2000 the museum supported and funded Proposition G, which called for car-free Saturdays just after the garage was opened. According to their ballot argument, de Young leaders believed the Saturday proposal "ensures access to the de Young Museum for all San Franciscans including families with children, seniors and the disabled; [and] ensures the maximum enjoyment and minimum inconvenience to park users."

At times the de Young has claimed that it is fighting out of concern for disabled access, but the tactics of the museum folks suggest otherwise. Why did they not actively support Supervisor Jake McGoldrick’s legislation, which passed unanimously last year, to add more accessible parking, drop-off zones, and a free accessible tram in the park on Sundays?

And why are museum leaders suggesting that the car-free space be moved out to the west end of the park, far from transit, the parking garage, and local businesses?

Finally, if the de Young were working in good faith to improve its own attendance and revenue (and we all want a successful de Young Museum), why would this partially public-funded museum deny city officials’ requests to make its attendance figures public, relenting only after a Guardian reporter filed a Sunshine Ordinance request? The figures, when they were begrudgingly shared last year, showed a boost in de Young attendance on car-free days — which of course brings us back to our original question:

Why is the de Young fighting so intensely against its own interests and those of Golden Gate Park visitors? *

Amandeep Jawa, Rick Galbreath, and Leah Shahum

Amandeep Jawa, Rick Galbreath, and Leah Shahum represent, respectively, the League of Conservation Voters, the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the SF Bicycle Coalition.