September 2004

Neighbors Call for Ouster of Golden Gate Park Refueling Station

By Carol Dimmick

A plan by the SF Recreation and Park Department to put a compressed natural gas (CNG) station in Golden Gate Park has run into opposition from members of the Sierra Club and park employees.

The plan calls for a new pump and compressor to be added to an existing fuel station in the maintenance yard located in the southeast corner of the park, near Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Way. It would be the first CNG fueling station on the west side of the City for the 450 city vehicles that run on the low-polluting fuel.

The project is running into opposition from members of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, who question whether Golden Gate Park, or any park, is an appropriate place for a gas station, even one that dispenses environmentally-friendly fuel.

Sierra Club members sent a letter to the SF Recreation and Park Commission, which is taking up the matter and questioning the wisdom of putting the station next to intensely-used park land. They point out that the maintenance yard is near a frequently-used children's playground, the popular AIDS Memorial Grove, the lawn bowling greens used by seniors, public tennis court and Sharon Meadow.

"Golden Gate Park is not a gas station," said Pinky Kushner, a Sierra Club member who is leading the opposition.

Opponents say the station will bring more traffic to an already congested area of the park and the compressor's noise has the potential to destroy the park's tranquility.

Joan Vellutini, a gardener with the Recreation and Park Department, has joined the chorus of critics.

In a letter to the department Vellutini calls the idea "poor planning." Among other things, she says that putting a natural gas pump in an area saturated with bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians is a safety concern.

Yomi Agunbiade, the department's acting director, said it was a "fine decision" to put the station in the park, saying it will be easier to fuel the 30 vehicles that run on compressed natural gas in the department's fleet.

"It's an efficiency issue for us," he said.

Agunbiade points out that a mandated 30 percent reduction in the city's vehicle fleet will result in less trips to the gas pump and reduce the impact of traffic in the area.

But park watchers are questioning Agunbiade's decision to spend $100,000 of the department's revenue on an unpopular project at a time when budget cuts are forcing massive staff layoffs and the elimination of popular recreation programs.

They also point out the possibility of a backlash when voters go to the polls in the fall to approve a $62 million revenue bond to bail out 19 capitol projects put on hold this summer after the department ran out of funds four years into a 10-year, $400 million Capital Improvement Plan.

The search for a site on the west side of the city began after the SF Board of Supervisors approved the Healthy Air and Smog Prevention Ordinance in 1999.

According to Rick Ruvolo, who runs the city's Clean Air Program, if the Recreation and Park Commission drops the project the City will likely lose an opportunity to have a CNG station on the west side.

Ruvolo said the grants the SF Department of the Environment has secured to build the station from the state have to be spent before the end of the year and that no backup sites are available.