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JFK Drive Fight Not Dead Yet—Proposal to Restore Car Access Likely to Head to Voters
Monday, July 04, 2022

JFK Drive Fight Not Dead Yet—Proposal to Restore Car Access Likely to Head to Voters

One of the fiercest and most expensive debates to occur in San Francisco during the pandemic—whether to keep John F. Kennedy Drive closed to cars—will likely be decided by voters this fall after a ballot measure proposal was submitted last week to the city’s Department of Elections.

The “Access for All Ordinance,” which was submitted on June 6 and is supported by the de Young Museum, seeks to restore car access to pre-pandemic levels on JFK Drive, as well as the Great Highway, Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive and Bernice Rogers Way. JFK Drive would still have temporary closures on weekends, holidays and special events.

“The full and permanent closure of JFK Drive places a disproportionate burden on people with disabilities, seniors, families and those who live far from the Park,” the proposed ordinance states. “It is time to return to earlier agreements to allow for all to equitably access and use the Park.”

In April, the Board of Supervisors held a 12-hour meeting before voting to keep cars off JFK Drive permanently. Mayor London Breed led on the ordinance, which passed by a 7-4 vote with supervisors Connie Chan, Aaron Peskin, Shamann Walton and Ahsha Safaí opposed. 

Chan, whose district includes JFK Drive, had a competing proposal to reopen the roadway, but that idea was shot down. In a text to the Standard, Chan’s office said the supervisor had no role in the current ballot measure proposal, which was first reported by the Examiner.

In order to make it on the ballot in November, organizers behind the ordinance will need to submit 8,979 valid signatures from registered San Francisco voters by July 11, according to the Department of Elections. The total number of signatures required is set by the City Charter and represents just 5% of the total votes cast in the previous mayoral election from 2019. 

By comparison, the recent recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin required more than 50,000 signatures to be gathered because the recall of an elected official is based on a threshold of 10% of registered voters in the city.

On June 6, Richard Corriea and Howard Chabner filed paperwork for the proposed ballot measure. Neither was available for comment. While the July 11 deadline for signatures is tight, the relatively low number of signatures required should make qualifying for the November ballot possible.

Also included in the ballot measure is a call to keep the Great Highway Extension, the southern portion of the road between Sloat and Skyline Boulevards, open to cars indefinitely. This particular stretch of road has faced erosion issues and is scheduled to close permanently in 2023 as part of the Ocean Beach Climate Adaptation Project, aimed at protecting Westside Pump Station and Oceanside Treatment Plant. That project is currently in the design and environmental review phase.

There is a provision in the proposed ballot measure that would allow the Great Highway to close for repairs, such as to rebuild the southern part of the road, said Jen Kwart, communications director for the City Attorney’s office. Now that it’s been submitted to the Department of Elections, the text of the ballot measure almost certainly wouldn’t change, Kwart said, leaving the proposed ballot measure in opposition to current city plans.

Matthew Selby, a division manager with the Department of Elections, said the office of City Attorney David Chiu is reviewing the documents and drafting a title and summary for the potential ballot measure. The city attorney has 15 calendar days to issue a title and summary, which means it would be due no later than June 21. 

“I would expect it probably later this week, but if not early next week,” Selby said.

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If the proposed ordinance succeeds in getting on the ballot, the battle between “Access for All” and its sponsors and proponents of car-free streets will be intense—and expensive. While a city-run survey found around 75% of San Franciscans supported the closure of JFK Drive to cars, in The Standard’s voter poll, which surveyed registered voters online, just 35% of voters said they support closing select streets in the city.

Both sides combined to spend more than a quarter-million dollars before April’s vote. Kids Safe SF, a group of parents and safe streets advocates, spent $136,000 in April and May of last year to support ads and events championing JFK Drive’s closure. In a response, the Corporation of Fine Arts Museums (COFAM), the nonprofit that handles day-to-day operations at the de Young, went on a lobbying spending spree starting last fall. Since October, COFSAM has spent more than $160,000 to lobby city officials and blast out political ads.

COFAM paid $15,000 just last month to Platinum Advisors on “grassroots lobbying” related to Golden Gate Park transportation issues. Platinum Advisors is one of the most powerful lobbying firms in the city. Their clients include AT&T, the Golden State Warriors, Square and Waymo.

Helena Nordstrom, the communications director for COFAM, said the organization has no current plans to contribute to the campaign financially. However, the de Young Museum’s website is calling for residents to share their concerns about the road closures and the organization created an independent expenditure committee on June 10 called “Access for All, Sponsored by Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums and Open the Great Highway Alliance.” 

Groups in favor of keeping the streets closed to cars, including Kid Safe SF, Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, are expected to fight the ballot measure. 

“We’re incredibly proud of the work the community of San Francisco did to make the JFK promenade a safe space for all residents, especially children,” said Matt Brezina, an organizer with Kid Safe SF. “And we’re confident it’s going to remain that way long into the future.”

Josh Koehn can be reached at [email protected].
Sarah Wright can be reached at [email protected].
  • I don’t know how I feel about the road closure; there are points on both sides and I haven’t decided.

    I am, however, sick of being told by the Chronicle that there is only one correct position on this issue: pro-closure.

  • The oligarchy is upset that the Supes prioritized the safety of children, seniors, the disabled, and families over bringing noisy polluting traffic on to JFK Drive. I keep hoping that this conversation is over, but the poorly-managed deYoung still wants to believe that a road closure rather than their weak programming and and marketing, is the reason patrons are staying away. Or perhaps it’s the expensive admission plus more to see a temporary show, making a family visit a big expense. Or it could be that they force patrons to “exit through the gift shop,” where they push Magritte coffee mugs and Frida neck ties. Shoddy!
    The deYoung has dome nothing to attract passers-by on busy weekends by setting up a table on JFK to let people know that the deYoung is even there. How about family discounts?
    Is this Dede Wilsey flexing her philanthropic superiority and reminding us of her loathsome lack of integrity again? Don’t worry, Dede. We remember. See you next tuesday.

  • Please provide the following public information: Where can one go to sign the petition to put the ballot measure on the November ballot?

  • I am so happy this will go up for a vote , San Franciscans by majority want their streets open and it is a loud minority from the Bike coalition that want them to remain closed the Democratic way was always to put this issue up for a vote and never to be a power grab by the Mayor, Tumlin & Ginsburg . Let SF residents negatively impacted by this closures decide .

  • I am surprised that any democracy loving person would consider it okay to close any thoroughfare which leads to a major business, a common gathering place or a civic building of function, such as a museum. All access roads were built for a reason, “access for everyone”, not just access for two wheel single track vehicles and able pedestrians. In a true democracy there would be no discussion as to whether JFK Drive, The Great Highway or any street where people live or do business should be open or closed. They should be open and accessible without question. These roadways were built and paid for by “all” the tax paying residents of San Francisco and not just some.

  • Can we please stop pretending that the SFMTA, walksf, and the SF bike coalition are not all working together on their anti-car agenda. We’ve all seen the trove of emails (thank you sunshine ordinance) uncovering total collusion between these groups to push through illegal street closures. Then using social media and emails to activate their base to parade through and overwhelm the public comments and take surveys etc. There are not enough normal hardworking citizens to counter balance these ideologies. Most do not have the time or bandwidth to focus on preserving rights that should never have been up for rescinded. It’s made a farce of the process and devastated the bond of trust between gov and the people. And it’s not as if we have a viable, safe, efficient, punctual and ubiquitous public transportation system to fall back on. If the head of Park&Rec and the head of the SFMTA, Mr. Tumlin (who funds walksf and sf bike coalition) wants to get people out of their cars, FIX MUNI!! Make it world class. Because right now it’s circling the drain. Want to bring equity to public transportation, make Muni an positive attractive option that lifts up everyone instead of punishing those who have to rely on it. In the mean time,.. open our streets. And open JFK a major road that connects san francisco citizens to our cultural treasures. Access for All! Not just the privileged able few.

  • I am disabled and had to cancel my membership because I am unable to walk the distance from outside the park. The parking on JFK Drive gave me great access to the museum. Even the limited 20 Disabled parking spaces behind the concourse is too far for me. The B of S’s did nothing for the Disabled where the closing if JFK Drive is concerned. Why not close it during the weekdays? That is a great compromise for all. But some just want it their way. You will get old and just hope you aren’t disabled, because of people like this we are forgotten. This city has parks within 10 mins. of every resident but you want JFK Drive? Stop being so self serving.

  • Lol. You all are complaining about nothing. There’s literally a giant parking garage underneath the museums/ concourse.

  • The current closures are jamming traffic and thus increasing emissions, and the construction on 19th Avenue has exacerbated this. If the referendum to open the streets doesn’t pass, it may be worth suing to deny The City a commensurate amount of road tax monies allocated to The City. Indeed, that ought to be done now. Closing streets to road tax-paying motorists ought to result in docking The City its share of road taxes–except where closures benefit buses & trolleys, such as the closure of Market Street to expedite buses and trolleys.

    One thing’s certain: the Bicycle Coalition Kid Safe SF, and Walk SF are trying to socially engineer a-la Mao Tse-tung; that is to say that they’re crypto-Maoists who believe that they have the right to determine where we can drive and how we get around.

  • I’ll definitely be voting for this ordinance. The streets were closed illegally and unethically in the first place (“It’s just temporary because of covid”). MTA has no authority to be closing down neighborhood streets, especially those that Muni doesn’t even travel on. I’m sick and tired of the BOS and Jeffrey Tumlin forcing directives on the city without any regard to how those of us who live and pay taxes here feel about it or how it affects our lives. Tumlin has the Mayor in his pocket and she does whatever he wants her to do. The lies and the lack of transparency in San Francisco have reached really corrupt proportions.

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