A recent spate of violence has revived the long-stalled debate over closing Golden Gate Park at night. Unlike most major urban parks around the country, Golden Gate Park stays open 24 hours and that’s proven problematic for people concerned about the safety of the large homeless population that camps in the park nightly.
Just this past week, the park has seen three brutal acts of violence against homeless victims. On Tuesday, police responded to a call and found a man bleeding profusely from the arm who claimed not to remember how he sustained his injures. Last Thursday, a homeless man was assaulted by a group of four people who beat him and set fire to his tent. On Friday, another homeless man was stabbed and had his clothes set aflame over a drug deal gone sour.
In addition, over the past year, there has been extensive vandalism of the park’s flora. Since last May, 44 trees have been vandalized, dozens of rose plants attacked, three holes at the golf course torn up (on two separate occasions) and, just this past week, six recently planted saplings were cut down and a picnic table was sawed in half.
Near the end of his term, Gavin Newsom pushed the idea of closing both Golden Gate and McLaren Parks between the hours of 1am and 5am, but the measure stalled after he decamped for Sacramento.
Mayor Lee hasn’t had Newsom’s passion for the issue, however the recent spasm of violence seems to have changed his mind. A spokesperson for Lee said that the mayor supports closing the park and is currently in talks with the Board of Supervisors about the best way to implement it.
While there appears to broad support on the board about doing something to stem the tide of violence, some supervisors have serious reservations about a full-scare closure. Closing the park at night will make traveling between the Sunset and the Richmond significantly more difficult in the wee hours of the morning and that’s got the Richmond’s Eric Mar worried. Mar would prefer solving the problem of late-night violence using existing laws instead of enacting new ones.
Even if the park is closed overnight, actually enforcing a closure may prove impossible. The park is enormous and effectively patrolling its litany of winding, tree-lined paths would be a huge drain on SFPD’s limited late-night capabilities.
“We don’t have the staffing to do so,” D5 Supe and candidate for SF Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi told KCBS. “But if the city finds good reason to put a curfew, if they think that would be helpful even if it’s not well enforced, then I’m open to hearing what those reasons are.”
SFPD’s recent enforcement of the city’s controversial new sit-lie ordinance will likely have the effect of diving more homeless into the park as other areas of the city, most notably the Haight-Ashbury, become less hospitable.
The combination of a park closure and sit-lie, which bans sitting or lying on the sidewalk
in commercials areas between 7am and 11pm, could either drive San Francisco’s sizable homeless population into the more residential areas of the city or out of San Francisco altogether–even though that’s where a majority of the Bay Area’s homeless services are located.