Stop the McGoldrick recall

An abusive challenge to the car culture-challenging supervisor
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EDITORIAL Jake McGoldrick isn't perfect, but he's been a pretty good supervisor most of the time, and the recall effort launched against him by a Geary Boulevard merchant is baseless and inappropriate.

The recall is a potent weapon, part of the Progressive Era reforms that gave California the initiative and the referendum. But it can also be easily abused to threaten an incumbent who has done nothing wrong except show political courage on tough issues.

And that's exactly what's happening here: McGoldrick, who represents a relatively moderate district, is taking the lead on two key attempts to challenge the city's car-driven transportation culture. He's the author of a measure that would close Golden Gate Park to cars on Saturdays, at least for a six-month trial — something the trustees of the de Young Museum have been fighting bitterly. And he's the chief backer of a plan to add bus-only lanes to Geary Boulevard, which would create a relatively cheap, efficient rapid transit system along one of the city's main commute arteries.

Those positions have angered a small group of people, led by David Heller, who owns a beauty supply store on Geary and is adamantly opposed to anything that would reduce car traffic or parking on the street. Heller — who ran unsuccessfully against McGoldrick in 2004 — now wants to recall the supervisor, who has less than two years left in office anyway. Heller insists that McGoldrick is defying the will of the voters, because a majority of District 1 voted against Saturday road closures in 2000 and because McGoldrick hasn't adequately addressed the concerns of some merchants who fear the loss of parking spaces under the transit plan.

Let's get a couple things straight: the 2000 ballot had a pair of competing road-closure measures that left a lot of voters confused — and the museum people ran a misleading campaign that helped muddy the waters even more. The vote that year was hardly an accurate reflection of how San Franciscans or people in the Richmond view weekend road closures.

In fact, the car-free Sunday in the park is one of the city's most popular regular events — and a study commissioned by Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is not a fan of road closures, showed that the traffic and parking impacts on the neighborhoods are almost nonexistent. McGoldrick has been willing to stand up to the mayor and the powerful museum board on this, and that's a good thing.

The Geary transit corridor is tough: any solution that improves transit on the road — and that's a priority for the city — will leave less room for cars. But that's the direction the city has to go in. Public transit will only be effective in this city if it can operate quickly and reliably on routes such as Geary — and that can't happen without some disruption to car travel. The proposal McGoldrick supports would close one lane to cars (possibly by eliminating street parking) and dedicate it to buses only; the buses would have the ability to control traffic lights and would thus in theory be able to operate almost like underground or elevated trains, avoiding the delays caused by car traffic. Digging a subway below Geary would cost several billion dollars and take years; giving buses one exclusive lane in each direction is cheaper and can be done fairly quickly.

No, it won't be painless, and it's not perfect — ideally, there probably ought to be a light-rail line on Geary — but in an era of global warming, with all the costs associated with the use of private cars, it's imperative that San Francisco move aggressively toward improving transit. McGoldrick is absolutely right to be looking for ways to encourage people to get out of their cars — and punishing him for it by forcing a recall campaign is a serious mistake.

Heller needs about 3,000 signatures to move forward. Don't sign the petition. *