Why I’m not renewing my Young Museum SF’s membership

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Looks like I did the unthinkable for a journalist: miss a deadline. As the Art Museums of San Francisco keep reminding me, my de Young Museum and Legion of Honor membership expired in October, and it’s high time to renew.

As the emails repeat, memberships help pay for museum exhibits, programs and permanent collections. “We couldn’t have done it without your continued dedication, enthusiasm and support,” the appeals read.

Well, they’ll have to do it. I will not be renewing my membership as long as the museum continues to push for a car-free JFK Drive to revert to a dangerous highway used primarily by shortcut-takers who travel between destinations outside of the park.

What the museums don’t say in the emails is that members’ money helped fund at least $ 55,000 in lobbying to end the hugely popular 24/7 closure of JFK Drive to cars. Documents filed with the city’s ethics committee show that art museums have spent at least as much to pay Platinum Advisors to lobby supervisors, as well as San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency commissioners. and the Recreation and Park Department, to roll back the beautiful promenade. in a highway.

And lobbying could work well. Only three of the 11 supervisors – Matt Haney, Rafael Mandelman and Dean Preston – have pledged to vote to keep the 2.5km stretch car-free, according to Walk SF, the association dedicated to securing streets for pedestrians. Making the pandemic shutdown permanent requires six supervisor votes, and Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk SF, said “anyone can guess” whether those votes will be voted on.

“We are still a long way from six or more supervisors pledging to vote yes this spring,” Medeiros said.

Supervisors are meant to represent the will of their constituents – and respondents in all but one of the city’s zip codes, 94132 in the southwest corner, supported the permanent shutdown in a survey recently released by the SFMTA and the Department of Municipalities. recreation and parks. Almost 10,000 people responded and 70.4% supported keeping JFK Drive closed to cars. Groups of all income levels and all races and ethnicities also supported him.

So why not keep one of the rare silver liners from the COVID-19 pandemic? It is true that the closure eliminated 300 free parking spaces near the de Young and the California Academy of Sciences, including 20 reserved for people with disabilities. Some people with disabilities and seniors say they can no longer easily access museums. These are the two groups that do not support the shutdown in the survey with just 39% of people with disabilities, 41% of people aged 65 to 74 and 29% of people over 75.

Of course, making it easier for these groups to access museums is important, and the city has made progress, including replacing disabled parking spaces with new ones nearby, adding drop-off areas in front of museums. and working to improve the shuttle service. on the promenade. Drivers can still use the remaining 6,320 spaces in and around the park, and the 44-O’Shaughnessy Muni bus takes passengers to the entrance gates of museums. Young’s loading dock on JFK Drive remains fully accessible to museum businesses.

But the de Young Museum acts as if a moat has been installed around all of Golden Gate Park, a ridiculous claim. The museum has created a website at parkaccess4all.org with huge letters saying “San Francisco needs access to Golden Gate Park” and stating that people with disabilities, the elderly, families with young children, people living far from the park and people with low incomes are now restricted. I have young children and don’t live within walking distance of the park, and have used it more than ever during the pandemic – getting there mostly by car, but also by bus and bicycle.

The website is asking people to send a form letter to city officials asking that the road return to its pre-pandemic status to be closed to cars only on Sundays and certain Saturdays.

De Young spokeswoman Helena Nordstrom said that “was a compromise reached between stakeholders on both sides in 2007” and should remain in place. But cities are changing – well, most cities are doing it anyway. If everything about San Francisco from 2007 stayed in place, the 49ers would still play here, the Warriors wouldn’t, and the Transamerica Pyramid would remain king of the skyline.

“Golden Gate Park should be accessible to everyone, including those who do not have the luxury and privilege of walking, biking or being dropped off at Golden Gate Park or paying the high fees in the parking lot. Music Concourse, ”Nordstrom said. .

Never mind that the de Young has three people, including his CFO, on the garage board who could help keep the costs down. It seems odd that there is a wait for free parking right next to a large museum in a city park anyway; do drivers expect this at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park, New York? If so, they will be very disappointed.

Another point to keep in mind is that art museums received $ 56.4 million last year, of which $ 16.7 million was from municipal funds. Nordstrom said the city’s money is not being used to pressure city officials. In 2019, before the museums’ pandemic closure, the de Youngs collected $ 68 million. Nordstrom said financial information is not yet available for 2021, but the museum has seen a 50% drop in attendance even with the lifting of capacity restrictions last summer. I would be very surprised if this were due to the closure of JFK Drive and not the continued unease of people being indoors during a pandemic and tourists staying at home.

In an effort to understand what other institutions in Golden Gate Park think about the closure of JFK Drive, I visited the park to ask around. Cesar Martinez, manager of Annie’s Hot Dogs and Pretzels booths, said he loves JFK Drive without a car, just like his customers.

“We’re getting more business for sure,” he said. “That’s wonderful!”

Close by, Dana King, the artist who created “Monumental Reckoning”, placed flowers in each of the 350 sculptures believed to symbolize the first Africans enslaved in the United States. She said she liked JFK Drive without a car because it creates a calmer, slower atmosphere and allows people to enjoy its public art on foot. So far, 75,000 people have accessed the exhibition’s QR code for more information, which would be difficult to do by car.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden, through JFK Drive’s Music Concourse, has seen a record number of visits and 1,000 new members since the start of the pandemic. He has not received any complaints about the street closure, spokesman Brendan Lange said.

The AIDS Memorial Grove also received more visitors, many of whom stumbled upon after driving JFK Drive without a car, CEO John Cunningham said. He said getting people out of their cars, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and creating a safe space for pedestrians and cyclists are big savings for the city.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “I think it’s fabulous.”

Me too. And I’ll give back the money saved on my Young membership in Golden Gate Park. I joined the San Francisco Botanical Garden a few days ago. Even though San Francisco residents enter for free, membership does support a gem of the park, along with other perks, including free outdoor yoga classes and free entry to the Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of flowers nearby.

I use the rest of the money I save to donate to AIDS Memorial Grove and – why not? – eat Annie’s pretzels on my car-free walks along JFK Drive. See you there – hopefully for many years to come.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @hknightsf

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