Presidio hearing brings overflow crowd
Public speaks overwhelmingly: no modern-art museum at Main Post
Technically it was a hearing on the Main Post Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). In reality, one big question hung over the whole proceeding: should there be a contemporary art museum at the historic Main Post? The question was all the starker because the SEIS included no consideration of alternative museum sites outside the Presidio - presumably because donor Donald Fisher has publicly rejected any other location. Controversy also attended the proposal to construct the "Lodge", a 1950s-style motel, allegedly needed to re-create the division of the parade grounds.
Opponents of these proposals far outnumbered supporters. Presidio neighbors were joined by environmentalists, historic preservationists, bowling enthusiasts, and educators and parents connected to a Presidio school and childcare facility.
Attorney Deborah Reames, of the public-interest environmental-law firm Earthjustice, testified against the museum proposal on behalf of the National Parks and Conservation Association. (Reames represented the Sierra Club in successful 1986 litigation regarding the proposed construction of a new post office near Crissy Field on the Presidio.) Reames pointed out that the enabling legislation for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Presidio Trust itself severely restricts new construction within the Presidio. Construction is allowed only under a "one up, one down" rule: construction is limited to the size of demolished buildings of similar size. The Trust, however, is proposing to use banked square footage from the removal of a number of small buildings to allow the construction of a huge new building - contrary to the law.
Proponents of the Contemporary Art Museum at the Presidio have acclaimed the museum as a generous gift to the city, downplaying the museum's disruptive impacts on the Main Post historic district, and the fact that the museum would be run not by the city but by a private, tax-free foundation. The Sierra Club opposes siting the art museum anywhere on the Presidio.
Since the Presidio is a national historic landmark district, and the Main Post contributes significantly to this designation, the Trust is required by section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to take into account the project's effect on historic resources, but in June the Trust halted its legally mandated consultation process, announcing that it was hiring an outside consultant to conduct the effort instead of relying on its own highly qualified federal-compliance officer, whose departure soon after raised questions about the integrity of the process.
On Aug. 8, the Presidio Trust made public a "Draft Finding of Effect for the Main Post Undertaking, the Presidio of San Francisco National Historic Landmark District" dated May 27. If it took the Trust's consultant over two months to be able to release this document, then the public needs more than the announced 30-days to comment on it. The next meeting in the required consultation process has not been announced.
With multiple hotels and motels just outside the Presidio's Lombard gate, placing the Lodge in the park appears to be development for development's sake. A more suitable alternative might be rehabilitation of an existing historic building as lodging, though this might not work out financially.
The proposed 100,000-square-foot glossy stone-and-glass museum, 95,000-square-foot three-story Lodge, and 27,000-square-foot multiplex movie theatre, supposedly needed to "revitalize" the Main Post, would overwhelm and smother the historic significance of the birthplace of San Francisco.
In addition to its degradation of the Main Post's historic resources, the project would have a number of environmental impacts.
On July 28 the Trust held a transportation workshop, focusing on graphs in the SEIS. The public questioned the basis for the graphs. It is apparent that traffic generated by the proposed projects will overwhelm the park. Even without new development, the Aug. 2 - 3 Aloha Festival at the Main Post found all available parking taken and traffic jams in several areas of the Presidio.
Further, Muni is planning to reduce its present service to the Presidio under its Transit Effectiveness Project. The PresidioGo shuttle service, funded by the Trust and Presidio tenants, currently serves people living or working on the Presidio, with only limited mid-day service available to the public.
The SEIS identifies a number of environmentally sound stormwater-management techniques, but makes no commitment to comply with the new federal regulation that federal facilities of more than 5,000 square feet shall "maintain or restore, to the maximum extent technically feasible, the predevelopment hydrology of the property with regard to temperature, rate, volume and duration of flow." The Trust has yet to produce a comprehensive plan for protecting the Bay from run-off pollution while maximizing other benefits including wildlife habitat.
Also, the SEIS fails to adequately address the impacts of increasing the volume of sewage to be pumped to the city's Southeast Treatment Plant, the increased potential for combined sewage overflows into the Bay on the city's eastern shoreline, the increased demand for potable water (e.g. by the hotels), and the water consumption of the huge acreages of lawn, even if some comes from the not-yet-certain Presidio water-recycling plant.
The comment deadline for the SEIS has been extended until Sep. 19. The Trust Board will hold another hearing in September, date to be determined. Even with the extension, the comment period may be inadequate, especially given that the historic-resources process is not complete.
Write to the Presidio Trust at:
The Presidio Trust
P.O. Box 29052
San Francisco, CA 94129
Tell the Board not to build a modern-art museum at the Main Post.
Several web sites are collecting comments on the Presidio SEIS. Send a copy of your comments to one of these:
You can request a copy of the SEIS by emailing mainpost -at- presidiotrust.gov or by surface mail to:
34 Graham St.
www.presidio.gov (This web site also has information on tours of the project area.)
To join in the Sierra Club's efforts on this issue, contact or call (415) 200-8975