In 1968 the City had bought a block in Downtown North and designated it for a neighborhood park, but lacking sufficient funds, initially razed only some of the properties and left the land undedicated. Seems that a small park in Downtown North doesn’t provide sufficient environmental cachet, so in 1979, with low-income housing having become the flavor-of-the-month, even for the “environmentalists,” the majority on the council wanted to change the designation of the land to PC, opening the possibility of high-density blocks of flats being built there instead. Somewhat late in the day the neighbourhood realized the implications of what was happening and started to organize, trying to get the land dedicated as parkland as originally promised. However the majority of the council nixed that. Some of them resorted to fear and smear tactics to justify their vote, creating a specter of out-of-towners and homeless being attracted to the park and becoming the bane of the neighborhood: They maligned the neighborhood activists as heartless, greedy people opposing low-income housing. The 5:4 majority against park dedication included Byron Sher, Alan Henderson, Emily Renzel and Gary Fazino, who are now fighting strongly for park dedication by leading opposition to Measure E!
Key players in the neighborhood effort to get a park for Downtown North, at least in terms of dipping in their pockets to pay for some legal advice were, if I remember correctly, Tony Badger, Bob Freedman, Tom Reid, John Flather and myself. Our counsel, Kent Michel, advised that we should gather signatures for a ballot initiative to reverse the council decision, and get the city block dedicated as parkland. Sterling efforts by the neighborhood succeeded in getting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
However, to his credit, at that point Byron Sher, noting the tremendous neighborhood effort decided to spare us the pain, reversed himself and provided the vote needed to dedicate the block of land as park. In the event, Emily Renzel also switched her vote to support park dedication. Despite the dire warnings, the block eventually become the highly used, but nevertheless delightful Johnson Park: A park that has provided a critical breathing space for the crowded Downtown North neighborhood and has served to maintain the residential character of this wonderfully eclectic community.
As an interesting footnote, the park was a favourite of Steve Jobs who offered to help pay for renovation of a small neighborhood park near his home to make it similar to Johnson Park (Web Link).