The (Not-So) Odd Reasons Why SFPD Parks Cars All Around Park Station

This path outside SFPD’s Park Station is blocked by an SUV — for an unusual reason. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A few years ago, SFPD’s Park Station in Golden Gate Park started storing police trucks and vans on a short section of pathway adjacent to the station’s fence. I first noticed this while biking on Kezar Drive several years ago, and since then I’ve never seen the path without a police vehicle and/or barricade in the way. The section is at a fork between a pedestrian-only path and a shared ped/bike path, so people can still walk around the barricade to take the fork.

The explanation for the SUV storage, however, was unusual — stay with me and we’ll get to it below.

Around the same time, I also noticed stencils on the clear part of the bike/ped path, warning pedestrians and bicyclists to watch out for drivers entering and exiting the station — putting the onus on the vulnerable users going straight through, rather than the trained police officers making a turn. This absurdity wasn’t too surprising, given former Park Station Captain Greg Corrales’ reputed low regard for people on bikes. He was known, for instance, to order his limited enforcement staff to conduct stings of bike commuters rolling stop signs on the Wiggle. The “watch out” stencils on the path have mostly worn off by now.

But there’s another, more blatantly egregious use of park land nearby. Private automobiles, apparently owned by police officers, have long been parked on a patch of dirt (would-be grass), next to the footpath outside the station. Police cruisers also routinely drive down the path to get to the Stanyan and Waller Street intersection — circumventing the closure of Waller Street to all other motor vehicles years ago, when it was disconnected from Kezar inside the park.

Officers’ private cars are stored on park land. Photo: Aaron Bialick

I long presumed that if asked, SFPD would just say that they illegally commandeered the park land for parking because its parking lot doesn’t suffice, and that the Recreation and Parks Department condones it. Now that Park Station has a new captain, I decided to finally ask for the answer. It turns out my presumptions were only mostly right.

Raj Vaswani, the Park Station captain since June, said the path is actually blocked to protect bicyclists from police drivers.

Officers driving cruisers had some “very close calls with bicycles/skaters because of the way that lot/path’s location created a danger to the bicycles,” Vaswani wrote in an email. “As officers pass that fence threshold, if someone is riding a skateboard/bike, by the time the front of the car creeps out to view the path they are in danger of hitting the police car exiting.”

So, SFPD barricaded the path with parked SUVs to separate bike traffic from the fence, so that bikes are visible to exiting drivers, according to Vaswani. Apparently, this problem only emerged in recent years.

Pedestrians can still squeeze past the police vehicles, but Vaswani said the intent is to block bicyclists and skateboarders, who don’t appear to be allowed on that side of the path anyway: Only the path continuing on Kezar has markings that indicate a shared bike/ped path.

“Those vehicles are not there for storage, actually we have room in the back and our lot,” Vaswani wrote in an initial email, referring to the over 300 spaces in Rec and Parks’ adjacent Kezar Stadium parking lot.

But when I followed up with a question about the private autos stored on the would-be grass patch, given that Vaswani said “we have room,” he responded by saying that they don’t have enough room for the private cars of officers and staff at the station:

We have all officers park outside of the gate because inside the gate we can hold mostly marked/unmarked police cars. This station was designed as a police stable / small station back in 1910, we now have over 96 employees that work out of Park District. There was a budget request for long term capital improvement project to expand the lot, but some of those projects are on a 10 year facilities plan. We have coordinated w/ Parks & Rec to allow us to use that unimproved area for officers vehicles.

Recreation and Parks spokesperson Connie Chan confirmed the agreement.

Let us know in the comments what you think — is the path blockage warranted?

Meanwhile, Vaswani can celebrate the “Park” in Park Station’s name by moving the private cars off the grass and into the existing lots. We sure don’t need more of Golden Gate Park to be paved over for parking lots.

  • PeterAkkies

    Interesting article. Can you figure out why there are so many police cars parked right in the middle of the street on Eddy at Jones? I have yet to pass by there when there is not at least one police car blocking a full lane of traffic.

  • RoyTT

    I am sure the cops could park both their official vehicles and their private vehicles in the Kezar lot for free. But the Kezar lot is often full during the day with UCSF workers and others, so the lot would then have to turn away more paying customers if they let dozens of extra cop vehicles in there. And that would lead to a loss of revenue for Parks and Rec,

    I’d guess that instead Parks and Rec simply suggested setting aside that unused pathway instead for the cops, but it would have been better to formally designate it as a parking lot in that case.

  • RoyTT

    The Tenderloin SF cop shop is at 301 Eddy and as far as I can tell, it has little or no parking. So I think the cops just park where they can.

  • phoca2004

    I am just happy Captain Greg Corrales is out the door.

  • GetHubNub

    They’re hypocrites who only work for themselves and the laws don’t apply to them unless they do something really egregious and obvious. Otherwise the skies the limit for them to do as they please. They are a very lazy group of police officers here in San Francisco and get away with a lot due to poor dispatch and management. I had a cop hassling me on my own leased rental due to a crazy roommate. He came in to sit in my kitchen after I moved in my fish aquarium. When I asked him why he had nothing better to do he responded “I have all the time in the world”.

    Well he lost his job when a neighbor reported his cruiser being on his property all of the time. They investigated and filed 8 misdemenors against him and there was an article in the paper that he was going to lose his job. These officers are poorly managed and get away with a lot of leisure time on the job.

  • In a similar vein, I’ve had a running conversation with Rec & Park about North Beach Pool employees who feel it is within their rights to park _on_ Joe DiMaggio Playground. It wasn’t until the death of that poor woman under the wheels of a Rec & Park vehicle last year that the edict finally came down that employees may not drive and park on/in the park itself. They still try it from time to time to see if anyone’s still looking. And they find out pretty quickly that people are.

    So, yes, they’re cops and they’ve got a hard job. Yes they all drive in from the suburbs because they can’t afford to live here, and parking is expensive. But no one is letting me park for free in the park near my work because I have a hard job and parking is expensive. And from a safety standpoint, there really should not be be frequent driving and parking in areas where pedestrians are not expecting to encounter them.

  • Tom H

    I’ve had periodic curiosity about these parked cars, but this answer is not very surprising. The Park Station bldg could be quite a lovely little building set in a nifty little location if fixed up well. If the PD or Rec/Park ever get the $$ to do capital improvements, then I hope that the City can make the station look a little more approachable and appealing. The chain link and barbed wire fence and parked cars make it look like an abandoned vehicle lot.

  • sfsoma

    Special privileges for special interests. Cops and Fire get to park for free, guaranteed wherever they work. They are exempt from the We Hate Cars laws in SF, just like the politicians who enact them.

  • Eddie_Snowden

    why did you mention your fish aquarium?

  • danfinger

    If you’re not a cop, you’re little people!
    ~Deckard

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG