The history of redlining in America has impacted communities of color for decades. San Francisco is no exception. The recent special order to close off John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park is an example of recreational redlining: the discriminatory practice of denying public recreation and access to people of color and people with disabilities. If the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and San Francisco Recreation and Park Department continue this closure beyond the stay-at-home order (which has already been lifted), they will be responsible for preventing communities that live in the southeast part of San Francisco, other communities further from JFK Drive, and people with disabilities from fully enjoying the park.
The conversations about the closure of JFK Drive were not transparent and inclusive as Golden Gate Park is a city asset. Our office was not informed by SFMTA or the Recreation and Park Department prior to the closure in April 2020, nor was our office informed about conversations about permanent closure, until the community reached out. The lack of transparency and backdoor conversations to close JFK Drive without adequate community input from all San Francisco communities is unacceptable.
While I do support environmental goals, this is not the approach. Keeping JFK permanently closed is akin to saying that we do not want people with disabilities and people from other parts of San Francisco to access the gems of Golden Gate Park. The permanent closure of JFK Drive would effectively exclude people from the Bayview, Visitacion Valley, Mission, Excelsior and other communities from enjoying the park. People with disabilities would also be left behind because they do not have equitable access to reliable transportation.
When JFK Drive was closed, many handicapped spaces were eliminated overnight. Despite soundbites from SFMTA staff that they are “working on it,” nearly a year has passed without any justice for people with disabilities. It is elitist, ableist and segregationist. Riding a bike from the Bayview is not a viable or easy option for the people I represent.
I can’t believe with the outmigration of Black people here in San Francisco, the impacts of slavery and segregation, that we would be considering a policy that further isolates communities of color. We must think about the negative impacts of these policies and what they do to our fight for social justice and equity. Planners must adopt broader, more creative and inclusive thinking. We cannot create policies that favor one class over another when it comes to public right-of-way.
First, I am calling for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and SFMTA to reopen JFK Drive immediately to ensure the people of San Francisco can visit Golden Gate Park regardless of their zip code or physical ability. Second, for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to act now to find a permanent solution that preserves safety and recreation while serving our most vulnerable communities. Third, I am asking for an end to the backroom deals and conversations about JFK Drive that exclude voices from all neighborhoods, ethnicities and the voices of people with different abilities across San Francisco, and that most certainly excludes the voices of people without certain means and with lower incomes.
Shamann Walton, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, is the supervisor for District 10, which includes Bayview, Dogpatch, Hunters Point, Potrero Hill, Sunnydale, Little Hollywood and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods.