Twin Peaks Boulevard was closed entirely to vehicles after the start of shelter-in-place orders to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Twin Peaks closure leads to complaints from neighbors

Twin Peaks Boulevard will no longer be entirely closed to motor vehicles after city officials succumbed to a weeks-long pressure campaign from neighbors unhappy about the move to make the roadway car-free.

As of Tuesday night, the Portola Gate was being open to vehicles from 6 p.m. to midnight for access to the overlook area.

Frustrated residents reported increased congestion and car break-ins, misuse of the partially closed streets for gatherings and littering after The City closed the lookout point to traffic in March.

“Closing Twin Peaks Boulevard has delivered no benefit to curbing COVID-19 including improved social distancing and has severely driven up neighborhood crime, congestion, illegal parking, litter and late night disturbing alcohol-fueled partying,” Gary Russ wrote in an email to the Board of Supervisors last month.

Russ also organized a petition submitted on behalf of dozens of area residents demanding The City reopen the street in order to “shift these adverse impacts back to where they came from, namely the Twin Peaks Observation Deck.”

Concerns about partying, drinking and general safety on Twin Peaks are years old, but closing the gates seems to have moved them from the parking lot at the top down into residential neighborhoods, according to Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes areas directly adjacent to the iconic vista.

“I don’t think they’re necessarily worse than they were eight months ago, but they’re now impacting people outside their door, which is quite different,” he said.

Offices of both Mandelman and Supervisor Norman Yee, who has a long history with Twin Peaks, received floods of emails and calls from neighbors asking for everything from a full reopening of the gate to a permanent closure.

Mandelman convened a meeting last Monday with relevant stakeholder agencies and Yee to come up with what he calls a “modest set of changes” to see if they could reduce the “legitimate concerns” of neighbors without “losing the benefits of the recreation area.”

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, which oversaw the original closure, said the nighttime-only opening of Twin Peaks Boulevard represents a compromise between the needs for neighborhood safety and socially distanced recreation.

Some residents were upset by the decision, arguing the decision favored cars over people.

“The majority of the area will remain car-free most of the time while still providing access for private vehicles in the evenings and working to address security concerns in the neighborhood,” an SFMTA spokesperson said in a statement. “We hope this compromise will work for all the stakeholders who want to enjoy this iconic part of our city.”

But many of those in favor of keeping Twin Peaks entirely car-free don’t see how this solution solves any security concerns.

“City officials must be much clearer about which issues they’re trying to address and exactly how reopening Twin Peaks to car traffic for these hours accomplishes that,” said Kristen Leckie, an organizer for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “As it stands, it feels like The City is just moving a problem from one place to another and limiting safe access for people walking and biking in the process.”

Jacob Kimmel is a resident of the Twin Peaks neighborhood, and he visits the park almost daily, sometimes after the new 6 p.m. cutoff, to bike or play fetch with his dog.

“This is a horribly defeatist attitude. The way to fix a quality of life problem is to address the problem, rather than making the park inhospitable enough to deter visitors,” Kimmel said of the plan.

Kimmel also raised concerns that many of the activities users of the Twin Peaks area have come to appreciate during shelter-in-place will be far less enjoyable at best, and unsafe, at worst.

“It’s amazing to experience Bay Area vistas without the incessant hum of combustion engines, and the absence of cars allows for new forms of recreation that are otherwise unsafe,” he added.

City officials argue there’s a direct tie between opening the overlook to cars and mitigating safety risks to those who live close to Twin Peaks. It will allow individuals who congregate and possibly engage in dangerous or disruptive behavior to do so away from nearby streets.

“The police can step up their presence there, and they are and I hope they continue to do that, but the top of Twin Peaks is a draw and I don’t know if we’re going to be able to keep people away,” Mandelman said. “So the question is where are we directing them, and right now we’re directing them to neighborhood residential streets.”

Action by involved agencies includes sending more park rangers or other law enforcement officers to the parking lot at night to curb problematic activity and deploying Public Works teams for more regular cleanings, according to Mandelman.

In August, neighbors mobilized to file a California Environmental Quality Act appeal against the Twin Peaks closure and the entire Slow Streets roll-out. They characterized it as an “illegal land grab by agency leadership to commandeer streets “that exist for cars by state law.”

Mandelman expressed hope that this middle ground would enable everyone to continue to enjoy the panoramic views safely without sacrificing neighborhood security.

If it doesn’t, though, he says a community process would be necessary before he’d be comfortable taking any more “aggressive moves.”

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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