Park closing time gains supporters

Golden Gate Park might close between 1 and 5 a.m. as part of a plan to flush out rising crime and vandalism.

City officials are drafting legislation aimed at shutting down The City’s largest park overnight in order to stiffen penalties for troublemakers who either camp or hang out there during late-night hours.

The plan is in response to a rash of violence and vandalism in recent months, including the fatal stabbing of a transient, the mauling of a park visitor by a camper’s dog, and the destruction of 32 rose bushes and three holes at a golf course.

Currently, visitors can be in the park at any hour, but it is against the law to sleep there, police said. However, that law has done little to reduce camping, according to police.

If the park was officially closed, cops could bring campers or loiterers to jail on trespassing charges, Assistant Chief Jeff Godown has said.

As it stands, those caught camping in the park are cited. Some longtime campers have been cited dozens of times and continue to live in the park, city officials said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has been working with the city attorney, the district attorney, police and the Recreation and Park Department on the closure legislation, said Tony Winnicker, the mayor’s spokesman.

The plan will be publicly vetted and will have to pass through the Board of Supervisors and Recreation and Park Commission, Winnicker said. The proposed closure hours could change as the plan evolves.

The legislation could include late-night closures for other problem parks in The City, such as John McLaren Park, or procedures for implementing stricter closing times, Winnicker said. Some city parks already have strict closing hours in place.

Lena Emmery, president of the Cole Valley Improvement Association, said members of the group’s board of directors have unanimously approved the idea.

The association agrees that “nothing good happens in the park at night,” Emmery said.

Richard Magary, chair of the steering committee for the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, said members are concerned about the crime that stems from illegal camping and are interested in a “firmer policy to close Golden Gate Park, the Panhandle and Buena Vista Park.”

“We’re very interested in seeing the proposed legislation,” Magary said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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