Paul Dorn: Response to San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Ken Garcia
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Response to Ken Garcia, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ken Garcia is easily one of the most duplicitous columnists to ever disfigure the pages of a major metropolitan newspaper. He has written for the San Francisco Chronicle since 1997, demonstrating his skill as a toadying mouthpiece for the City's most powerful interests. He has managed to enrage just about every progressive constituency in the Bay Area, including most notably tenant activists, homeless rights activists, anti-racists and sustainable city proponents. Here is my response to one particularly egregious column.

January 26, 1998

Ken Garcia
San Francisco Chronicle
901 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Dear Ken,

Congratulations on Saturday's column ("Potholes in de Young Park Plans," 1/24/98). With this column you have achieved a masterpiece of journalistic obscurantism, an outstanding accomplishment for even such a practiced dissembler as yourself. Fallacies ooze from every sentence, making a rebuttal an exhaustive chore. Unfortunately, I have time only to address a few general inaccuracies.

A) Selfish Interests

Apparently the desire of many visitors to Golden Gate Park for a reduction of traffic represents a "selfish interest." Funny how you see no "selfish interest" in the decision by a group of plutocrats serving on a museum board to significantly disrupt the park by constructing a massive parking garage. And this is a museum visited by fewer than 10 percent of San Francisco residents. Even adding the out-of-town de Young patrons, museum visitors represent less than four percent of the 15 million people who spend time in Golden Gate Park every year.

The desire for fewer cars was evident in the draft master plan for Golden Gate Park, representing the result of several years of extensive study and considerable public input. Contrast this democratic effort with the closed-door negotiations to develop a parking garage proposal, mediated by Mayor Willie Brown - a politician well-known to be hostile to public process. It seems the Supervisors will supersede their own 30-day waiting period requirement for new legislation to rush a bond measure for a new de Young to the June ballot. All this haste is intended, as suggested by Supervisor Yaki, to not allow the opposition time to organize. (Chronicle, 1/21/98) In other words, to pull a fast one on the public. And this is not evidence of "selfish interest?" If there's so much public support and the garage is such a swell idea, why the big rush?

B) Park vs. Museum

You report that "members of a small in-line skating group passed out anti-museum flyers at the hearing" of the trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. I attended the meeting and saw no evidence of an "anti-museum" flyer. Perhaps you mean the leaflet distributed by the three children of David Miles, head of the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association (CORA) and founder of the Skate Patrol in Golden Gate Park. (You should have reported the hostility shown to these children by the "pro-kids" proponents of keeping the de Young in the park.)

This flyer was produced last fall by the Free the Park! Coalition, a consortium of groups including San Francisco Tomorrow, the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, the SF Bicycle Coalition, CORA, the Roller Divas, the Coalition for Golden Gate Park and others. Total membership of the organizations comprising FTP! exceeds 5,000 people. Hardly a "small in-line skating group."

The content of the flyer included two photos showing JFK Drive on Saturday and Sunday, contrasting the street crowded with cars on the former day and crowded with people on the later. The text indicates that Sunday and holiday closure of a 1.5 mile portion on JFK Drive is the most popular attraction in Golden Gate Park and expresses the demand for Saturday closure. The de Young museum is not mentioned at all. How is this an "anti-museum" flyer? Apparently, in your view, to be "pro-park" is to be "anti-museum."

Opposition to the success of the de Young museum has never been part of any effort that I'm aware of to create a more people-friendly park. However, it's clear that the trustees of the museum are willing to sacrifice the park for the benefit of the de Young. With their memberships in exclusive country clubs and private resorts, these elite trustees care little about Golden Gate Park, unlike the many San Francisco residents who can't afford any other recreational venue. The park is only so much real estate to these aristocrats, suitable for any use they deem necessary for the success of their museum.

It's not impossible to consider some version of a de Young museum remaining in the park, provided certain concerts regarding traffic, transit, facilities and others are addressed. However, by insisting on a parking garage accomplished through closed-door negotiations against the spirit of democratic process, carried by the superior financial firepower of their elite supporters, the de Young trustees are indicating their "anti-park" agenda.

C) The Bay Guardian

On Sunday your paper published my letter to the editor in opposition to the garage. This is only one example of the many articles and letters in support of bicycle issues that have appeared in the Chronicle, including a full-page Sunday Interview with San Francisco Bicycle Coalition executive director David Snyder (8/10/97); an excellent column by Jon Carroll on Critical Mass (8/18/97); and a lengthy editorial in support of bike lanes on the Bay Bridge (5/25/97).

Bicycle related issues have received similar favorable coverage by many media outlets in the Bay Area. Yet you have decided to single out the Bay Guardian as our "biggest publicity organ." No doubt Guardian editors, not indebted to the heirs of M.H. de Young for their livelihood, are a bit more objective regarding Golden Gate Park and the museum. Perhaps you are really upset at the well-deserved slap the Guardian directed at you during your crusade against homeless people in the park.

Finally, I'll share the following item, which appeared in your publication in the days when its columnists were journalists and not merely shills for the powerful:

"And then to the rarest treasure, Golden Gate Park on a car-free Sunday morning, the air wet and clean, the meadows green with the promise of spring. Not a single automobile: The silence is deafening, you can actually hear the branches dripping moisture, squirrels scrambling through the underbrush -- and the birds! Hundreds of redbreasted robins bobbing across the lawns, now that there are no cars to frighten them. On Stanyan, the families are renting bikes and heading into the winding trails.

"Slowly it dawns on them that they can use the main drive and the roads. For once the world does not belong to the automobile. The bicycle is king again and the rider may go where fancy dictates without looking nervously over his shoulder. You are even allowed, for a few unrealistic minutes, to reflect on how pleasant life would be if the car were banned from San Francisco."

Herb Caen, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28/73

Best regards,

Paul Dorn
Member, Board of Directors
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Chair, SFBC Golden Gate Park Taskforce
SFBC Liaison to Free the Park! Coalition

Cc: Dan Zoll, SF Bay Guardian, SF Bike list, FTP! list

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