August 6, 1997

New plan would let de Young stay put

Yaki would reshuffle road closures, add Saturdays to car ban

By Rachel Gordon - EXAMINER STAFF

The M.H. de Young Memorial Museum could remain in Golden Gate Park if the Sunday road closures there are reshuffled, argues Supervisor Michael Yaki. Yaki is calling for The City to reopen the eastern end of the park to cars on Sundays to allow them better access to the de Young and neighboring Academy of Sciences, but ban them from roadways to the west, for the enjoyment of pedestrians, bicyclists and skaters.

He unveiled his 11th-hour and already controversial - plan on Tuesday. A key reason for the museum's threatened departure from Golden Gate Park is that blocked-off roads near the de Young on Sundays have cut attendance. Couple that with a big push to extend the closures to Saturdays, and de Young backers say the museum will wither financially.

The carrot Yaki is holding out to the politically potent anti-car forces is that consideration of his proposal should also include the prospect of banning cars in portions of the park on Saturdays.

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He said city officials should also look at closing other streets on the western end of the park, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, running east-west, and several access roads on both the north and south sides.

The proposal, Yaki said, buys time for de Young officials to move forward with a bond measure to repair or rebuild the quake-damaged museum, and it buys time for The City to work with environmentalists on alternate transit in the park to make visitors less dependent on cars. He also said his plan would allow for enough street parking in the park to eliminate the need to build a garage for museum-goers - a hot-button issue with environmentalists that sank a 1996 ballot measure to rebuild the museum at its present location.

"This is the only chance we have, I believe, to keep the de Young in Golden Gate Park," Yaki said.

Prickly position

The move comes as a grassroots campaign to retain the museum's park site gains momentum and has put The City's elected leaders in a politically prickly position. Leading the charge to keep the status quo are children's advocates and those who cite the museum's historic ties to the park. .

"Children have lots of options in an urban area to play on concrete, and painfully few to play on grass, especially in an area that also has cultural opportunities like Golden Gate Park," said Joe Wilson of Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth. "I don't think people in this city want to lose that."

Under Yaki's proposal, John F. Kennedy Drive, the main east-west road in Golden Gate Park, would be reopened to cars from Kezar Drive near Stanyan Street to the Boat House Drive entrance at Stow Lake on Sundays.

The section has been closed to automobiles on Sundays for more than three decades. In exchange, JFK Drive would be off limits to cars on Sundays - and possibly Saturdays - from Stow Lake to the ocean. .

Harry Parker, director of The City's Fine Arts Museums, which includes the de Young, looks favorably at the proposal."It has a real beauty in its simplicity," Parker said. "I think the proposal is very much worth looking at. If it could be achieved, it really could solve the access problems for us on the weekends."

Since the failure of the bond measure last year, the de Young's board of trustees has voted to move the museum out of the park and is eyeing a downtown location. The two sites on the table are the Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets and an open-space parcel near the Embarcadero Center between Clay and Washington streets.

Brown weighs in

Mayor Brown, who has been pushing for the museum to move to the Transbay Terminal site, believes Yaki's proposal merits study, according to his spokesman P.J. Johnston.

Parker has said that moving from the park could nearly double the number of visitors, to more than 1 million a year. If Yaki's plan to allow motorists direct access to the de Young on weekends is approved, Parker said the museum likely could survive in Golden Gate Park, which he prefers because of its physical beauty. But, he added, the proposal is going to be a hard sell. He said The City may place another bond measure on the ballot next year.

When told of Yaki's scheme, David Miles, president of the Golden Gate Skate Patrol, said he loves the idea of expanding the ban on cars to Saturdays. But give up the one-mile stretch of JFK Drive that's now auto-free on Sundays? .

"No way in hell. We would fight tooth and nail to stop that from happening said Miles, who's one of hundr;ds of skaters who twirl, jump and strut on an asphalt stretch of JFK centered near Sixth Avenue on Sundays.

Paul Dorn, chair of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's task force on Golden Gate Park - one of the main backers of Saturday park closures - called the proposal; interesting, but stopped far.short of endorsing it. He said he's skeptical that it will generate enough support to become reality.

Something for everyone

Joel Robinson, acting general manager of The City's Recreation and Park Department, said he believes the plan could meet everyone's needs. "You're opening up twice as much space as you already have for the skateboarders and bicyclists, while opening up accessibility to the cultural institutions," he said.

Robinson said he will present Yaki's proposal to the Recreation and Park Commission next month. If the plan doesn't win backing from the commission and his colleagues at City Hall, Yaki said he will move forward with an earlier proposal to put the Board of Supervisors on record in support of a downtown home for the deYoung.

The downtown proposal was scheduled for consideration later this month, but now with the new plans looming, the hearing has been postponed until October to gauge public's opinionand political support.