Time may be running out to legally enjoy San Francisco’s city parks in the middle of the night after a closure proposal cleared a key hurdle Monday.
With the backing of Police Chief Greg Suhr and Recreation and Park Department head Phil Ginsburg, legislation to close all public parks between midnight and 5 a.m. made it out of the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee in a 2-1 vote. The legislation also empowers the Recreation and Park Commission to adopt even stricter hours.
“This is a very vexing public policy debate,” Ginsburg acknowledged. But he said it would “protect our open spaces for the enjoyment of all.”
Rec and Park officials said nearly $1 million is spent annually to clean up illegal dumping and vandalism, including destroyed toilets, smashed vehicle windows, burned benches and graffiti — which predominately happen at night.
“The parks are getting trashed,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who introduced the legislation. “It is really demoralizing.” Under the proposal, violators could receive a citation of $100 or steeper penalties such as misdemeanors.
“It helps us, it gives us a tool to talk to somebody — reasonable suspicion, if you will, which is the threshold that we need to just go up and have a conversation to find out what somebody’s about,” Suhr said.
The proposal has advocates for the homeless upset, as they say people without housing find safe havens in city parks.
“This is going to have the impact of displacing very vulnerable people,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.
Some neighborhood leaders, however, say operating hours are overdue.
Richard Magary, head of the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, said the community has “seen enough of [vandalism] in Buena Vista Park.”
“Having park operating hours is just good business. It’s common sense,” Magary said.
Supervisor Jane Kim, who cast the lone opposition vote Monday, expressed concerns about the impacts on homeless people while suggesting that some parks could be excluded from the law.
“I see people sitting to watch the Bay Bridge lights and I think it is fine — even if it’s after midnight,” she said.
Possible amendments will be discussed in coming weeks.
Board President David Chiu, who often is a swing vote on controversial legislation, signaled his support and praised potential cost-savings.
“This proposal doesn’t strike me as unreasonable,” Chiu said.