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Mayor floats bill to close JFK Drive permanently, but its fate at the board is uncertain

Mayor London Breed and a group of supervisors introduced a bill that would permanently ban cars from large swaths of Golden Gate Park, but the proposal is likely to meet resistance from policymakers and residents who say it would unfairly restrict access to the park.

The bill, introduced on Tuesday by Breed and Supervisors Dean Preston, Rafael Mandelman and Matt Haney, would keep the eastern mile-and-a-half of JFK Drive that runs through Golden Gate Park closed to cars for good, marking a permanent change following a temporary shutdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The bill largely mirrors recommendations issued by the city’s transit and parks departments last month, which called for a permanent closure of JFK Drive alongside the expansion of a free park shuttle, among other changes. Breed signaled her support of those recommendations in a tweet last week, but the introduction of the bill triggers a process of legislative jockeying set to play out in the coming weeks. The bill must pass muster at the Board of Supervisors’ transportation and land use committee, and then at the full board. 

The new bill comes on the heels of an eight-hour meeting last week that drew both support for and fierce opposition to the car-free plan. 

The car-free plan is backed by organizations including Walk SF, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the public policy nonprofit SPUR, along with many members of the public who spoke out at last week’s meeting. But a number of others oppose the plan, notably many disability advocates: a city survey found that 60% of residents with disabilities oppose the proposal to cut off JFK Drive from cars. Administrators at the de Young Museum, one of the park’s major attractions, have vocally opposed car-free JFK. 

Even with three supervisors co-sponsoring the bill, it’s not clear if the proposal will pass at the full board.

Board President Shamann Walton and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who represent the city’s southeastern neighborhoods, have both said that cutting off cars from the park would hurt their constituents, who may be more likely to drive to the park’s attractions. 

Meanwhile, Supervisor Connie Chan, who oversees the Richmond district, proposed her own public process for deciding the future of the road. She has not yet publicly said if she supports the city agencies’ recommendations, instead referring back to her resolution that called for a “Beach to Bay” car-free corridor with potential car access points at 8th and 10th Avenues, which was unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors last fall. 

Chan’s legislative aide Ian Fregosi said on Tuesday that she is continuing to work toward finding a compromise amid the clear division between residents who want the road to remain car-free and those calling for a full reopening. Fregosi also said Chan’s office is eagerly awaiting an equity study expected to come out of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority this spring, which could help inform her decision. 

Supervisor Myrna Melgar said that she is waiting to see the full text of the bill before taking a position.

“I support car free JFK,” Melgar wrote in a message to the Standard. “I also believe in treating my colleague whose district JFK is in with kindness and respect, and want to allow her the space to negotiate.”

An aide for Supervisor Hillary Ronen wrote in a text that she plans to support the bill.

Andy Mullan, a legislative aide to Supervisor Catherine Stefani’s office, said Stefani is also waiting on the bill’s language to drop before taking a position and plans to meet with people concerned about park access to discuss possible tweaks to the bill that address accessibility. 

The offices of Supervisors Safaí, Mar, Peskin and Ronen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Correction: This story has been edited to reflect that Supervisor Connie Chan’s resolution urged agencies to “consider” managed car access at 8th Avenue; it does not definitively state that there will be car access.