Proposed Walled Garden in GG Park Raises Concerns

By Jonathan Farrell

Along Fulton Street, stretching from 31st to 33rd avenues, is a cluster of trees that creates a wooded area. Located behind Spreckels Lake, the area provides a dirt path for joggers, walkers and hikers to enjoy. But some residents and neighborhood groups are worried this bucolic setting might become a walled garden.

On Oct. 16, members of the Coalition For San Francisco Neighborhoods (CSFN) met to draw up an official resolution urging the mayor and SF Board of Supervisors to encourage the Shanghai Sister City Committee to explore other sites for its proposed gift to San Francisco - a two-acre park reminiscent of one in Shanghai.

The formal CSFN resolution comes on the heels of a similar concern from the Richmond District Democratic Club. At its monthly meeting in September, concerned club members worried that a walled garden of five acres would take away the open space and deny the public the outdoor access available.

"I was very surprised at the amount of publicity around this proposed friendship garden," said James Fang, a BART director and Shanghai Sister City Committee chair-representative.

"We have been working with Rec. and Park on this idea. All the worry and controversy the publicity has created is really premature," Fang said. "From our stand point, it is unintended and regrettable."

The SF Recreation and Park Department's public relations representative, Rose Dennis, confirmed the department has been working with the committee to flush out the idea. Yet, she pointed out that it is a very long and multi-leveled process that will involve public input.

Fang was quick to point out some of the misconceptions and errors in some of the media reports.

The proposed size of the garden is not five acres, as claimed by the Richmond Democrats, it is less than two.

Fang said opposition to the plan is based on an "incomplete picture of the proposed garden." He referred to the "blueprints," photos and comments about the garden that have been posted on the Internet at by engineer Chris Duderstadt.

Duderstadt serves as vice president of San Francisco Tomorrow (SFT), a non-profit advocacy-planning group dedicated to promoting environmental quality, neighborhood livability and good government in the City.

Fang expressed disappointment as he sees much of the worry expressed by SFT, the coalition and others as distorted and misleading.

"All we have so far is simply a rendering," he said. "We do not have any final plans. We have been working very slowly on this idea and think it is a good thing."

Fang also noted that the sister city relationship with Shanghai is not something put together just recently. It is a relationship that was formed in 1979.

"This project is the only one of the approximately 150 projects of mutual cooperation and exchange between San Francisco and Shanghai which has yet to be completed," Fang said.

"It is a dream of friendship and cooperation that has been 27 years deferred. In fact, it was one of the first projects under then-mayor Sen. Dianne Feinstein," he added.

According to Duderstadt, the walled garden idea was originally supposed to be associated with the Osher Center at the Mount Zion UCSF Medical Center.

"If the garden is built, that space is gone forever," Duderstadt said.

Those opposed to the idea of a walled garden in Golden Gate Park fear the park's rural elements will be compromised and that maintaining the site would be a burden on the park's infrastructure. Critics also wonder if the garden might be another moneymaking attempt to lure tourist dollars.

"If tourists flock to the area, then a parking lot must be next," Duderstadt said.

One of the concerns about the project is the building of some small structures in the walled garden plan. Because the master plan for Golden Gate Park states "new cultural buildings should be located outside existing parks additional structures would disrupt the balance that is present between open space and special uses requiring buildings," critics of the plan say it should be scrapped.

Fang defends the decision to try to locate the ornate Oriental garden in the park.

"There has always been a variety of San Francisco communities who have contributed to the life of the City and its history through Golden Gate Park. The Japanese Tea Garden and Aids Memorial Grove are two good examples, and there are many other examples of peoples making their contributions to the City," said Fang. "The Chinese community does not have anything that expresses our gratitude in such a way. Our original goal was to work through the process and help create a garden that would be a lasting and visible symbol."

"The garden would symbolize two things," he continued. "The status of San Francisco as America's oldest and most successful sister city relationship with China. And, as a living testament to the appreciation of San Francisco Americans of Chinese ancestry to our wonderful City for the tremendous opportunities, San Francisco, California and the United States have provided for us."

Fang said he was surprised that the SF Recreation and Park Department discussed the garden prematurely, creating misconceptions about the sister-city project.

"I was really caught off guard when I was informed that Rec. and Park made a presentation," he said. "I was under the impression that we were working together with them. Then, literally on the eve of our departure to Shanghai to explore more details of the garden, Rec. and Park makes a surprise, inaccurate and premature presentation on Sept. 6 concerning what the friendship garden is about," Fang said.

Dennis noted the September meeting Fang was referring to was a commissioners meeting that is open to the public. She said the walled garden information discussed was not a formal presentation, but simply a response to a question asked by one of the commissioners on the board.

Dennis mentioned that as a public landmark, Golden Gate Park has 15 to 20 million visitors stream through it each year. There are many groups and organizations requesting that a portion of the park be designated or altered for one purpose or another.

"Every inch of the park is precious," she said.

Fang claims the proposed garden would be at no cost to the City and that an endowment would be established to provide for its maintenance.

"It's our honor, and perhaps even our duty, to give back to the City," he said.

"This is for all San Franciscans, something for them to revel in and to take pride in and build together. We haven't even begun the process of getting the garden to move forward," Fang said.