A Walk in the Park

Cynics use the retarded to keep cars in Golden Gate Park

Sadly, I doubt he will do this, because the same millionaire swells that have backed his candidacy for office are behind the private nonprofit corporations that run the de Young Museum and the Conservatory of Flowers. Dede Wilsey, president of the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums has donated $500 to Newsom's re-election campaign, and donated $10,000 last year to measure D, a ballot measure Newsom's advisers considered politically important.

Wilsey has made clear that she wants JFK Drive for use as her museum's parking lot.

And, pardon my cynicism, but leaving the park without sufficient access for the disabled has the potential to give Gavin Newsom political cover for vetoing the proposed car-free Saturday legislation. This way, Newsom can use the disabled to justify his opposition when he does the dirty work for his pals like Wilsey.

The Conservatory and its backers haven't always been so concerned about accessibility for the disabled. The 1878 giant glass terrarium is a historical landmark, and backers used this status to request waivers under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The waivers allowed the 2003 renovation to proceed without providing the same level of access for the disabled that a new building would, said Bruce Wolfe, a San Francisco social worker whose clients include the disabled, who gets around with the help of a cane.

"When they did the re-build, they refused to make accommodations for access. They had the opportunity to adjust the steep stairs in the front. They could have put in a winding ramp. They didn't do that," Wolfe said.

It's clear that Golden Gate Park can be improved so as to help provide greater autonomy and happiness for both disabled people such as Spencer DeBella and for children such as my daughter Olivia. Like any child, she suffers disabilities of her own. She has a mental age of 4, and can't do things for herself such as find her way around town or negotiate traffic.

On Sundays however, when JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park is closed to automobiles, I let Olivia lead the way. She speeds along the quiet, safe expanse of asphalt heading by the Conservatory of Flowers and de Young Museum, along car-free Middle Drive West, until we get to the shore and stop for french fries at the Beach Chalet.

"Golden Gate Park is one of the few places you see children, other than schools. It really is one of the few family-focused and free areas of the city," says Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which supports the idea of car-free Saturdays on JFK Drive. "As someone who values the diversity of San Francisco, and as someone who wants the next generation of San Franciscans to be able to bike, to be able to skate, I think it's important to have a little space on weekends where they can feel safe."

I'm jaded enough to not be surprised to see that the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums and San Francisco Parks Trust Inc. would try to prevent this from happening by exploiting the retarded.

I hope San Francisco voters are similarly skeptical when the mayor uses this shameful campaign as cover for vetoing car-free Saturdays.

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