Thursday, December 24, 2009

Looking Ahead to 2010: Promise and Problems

The coming year will prove to be the turning point for the Presidio's emergence as a great national park. Let's look at the promise, then the problems.

THE PROMISING OUTLOOK. Defeat of the monstrous proposal for a contemporary art museum in the center of a National Historic Landmark has brought new realism and strong support to oppose other destructive ideas. A 70,000 square foot, 30 feet high hotel right in front of the flagpole is being fought by the Park Service, the State Historical Preservation Officer, and many community groups, including the Presidio Historical Association. The hotel project is being examined and changed in a process carried out in accordance with the laws that protect national historic landmarks. The final result will be only advice to the Trust: the Trust can ignore recommendations. The Trust never has made a case why this hotel is needed beyond spin such as "every great national park needs a great lodge." We believe the hotel will be moved, greatly redesigned, or abandoned.

Another favorable development for 2010 is the recent election of Nancy Bechtle as Chair of the Presidio Trust. She conducted the open meeting on December 8 with a new tone of civility and respect for the public. Mrs. Bechtle is a social leader, former President of the Symphony Board and longtime patron of the arts. She was Vice Chair of the National Parks Foundation. The year ahead will tell if she has the leadership needed to take a clear eyed look at the Presidio and change its direction.

Finally, there is movement after ten years for the Park Service and the Trust to collaborate on "interpretation." which is NPS language for receiving and educating visitors to the history and ecology of the park. The Acting Superintendent of the GGNRA, Frank Dean, appeared at the December 8 meeting and both he and Mrs. Bechtle promised to work together on a visitors center and interpretation plan. This would be wonderful news, but we have heard such promises many time before. This time, however, I believe good things will happen. Congresswoman Pelosi earmarked 5 million dollars of the recent Defense budget for a history display in the Officer's Club. That is not enough to rehabilitate the building and design and install displays. That will be at least $ 20 million. Nevertheless, this has to be made part of the overall interpretation plan that is sadly missing. The Presidio will benefit from the new collaboration and focus.

THE PROBLEMS. The Trust seems to be moving by inertia by continuing to push for the hotel. It has staff that have spent most of their careers at the Presidio developing the plans and starting the process for the contemporary art museum, while ignoring public opposition. The hotel was conceived in its proposed location in front of the flagpole as an "edge" to the Main Parade, which was to become a grand lawn in front of the museum that extended almost to the Bay. Why this ill conceived hotel continues to waste thousands of hours and many more dollars is beyond understanding, unless it is mere inertia and hubris. The hotel company that wanted to build it isn't even sure if it wants to continue the project without the art museum and in today's financial climate.

The notion of a heritage center in the Officers Club is attractive, but how will the Trust and NPS collaborate to do this? The Trust does not have a senior manager to design history exhibits or to manage a mini-museum. The Park Service is woefully understaffed, and its idea of a visitors center is basically a carbon copy of every other park visitors center. Where will the needed imagination and leadership come from?

Finally, there is the basic challenge of a changed Main Post Plan introduced when the contemporary art museum was driving the process. It has been fought over under the process laid out by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in a environmental impact report. The "revised Main Post Update" includes many elements that are destructive to the purposes of a national park and that threaten a national historic landmark district. The process has experienced many procedural and substantive errors. If radical changes are not made in the document prior to the Trust Board approving it, then continued struggle by public groups with the Trust will make 2010 a bleak experience.

I would rather see, as would you, the Presidio's rededication to serving and educating the general public on the history of America at the Presidio, rather than fight over real estate development or art museums in a "cultural center." The public would rise in support and be overjoyed to put years of contention to rest. It would be the best holiday gift of all.

Happy New Year!

Monday, November 30, 2009

December Looking Ahead

December 8, the Trust Board will hold a public meeting at the former Officer's Club at 6:30 p.m.. There will be a chance for the public to speak. The business includes to provide a Main Post Update, to Provide an update of the Visitor Center Planning Process, and update on Doyle Drive. Be there to express your views.

Sometime in December there will be a meeting of the consulting parties, including pubic groups, the Park Service, the State Historic Preservation Officer and the federal Advisory Council on HIstoric Preservation about the latest version of the Trust's building proposals, including the 70,000 square foot hotel in the middle of the historic Main Post. The three federal agencies have written to the Trust with strong concerns about the project as it stands now.

So, the fight goes on. Get ready to support efforts to change the Trust's mindless continued enthusiasm for an obsolete building plan that was based on an art museum that no longer will be built on the Presidio. In fact, we have heard rumors that the proponent of the hotel, Larkspur, has lost interest in project.

Meanwhile, have a joyous holiday season .

Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead

Sunday, November 8, 2009

November Update

First, answering some questions we received since last month:


The old Army Museum was in the beautiful historic building on the corner of Funston and Lincoln, which was a Civil War era hospital. The Museum was closed by the Park Service because the Army took most of the collection when it left. The old building also did not meet the standards of the American for Disabilities Act. The mission of the Presidio Historical Association is to preserve (no more Fisher Museum) and educate (do all we can to get important, entertaining and educational displays on the Presidio so people understand America's presence there.) Under public pressure organized by the Association, the Trust now seems to be moving to help with history education... but no museum yet.

The Park Service has the responsibility for educating the public, but has little funding. When the Park Service pushed back against recent Trust development plans, it also renewed its interest in a real Visitors Center and in historic education programs. The outlook is much better for making the Presidio a park where people can learn America's history at the Golden Gate while they enjoy the Presidio.
But, the money is not there now to do what is needed for museums and visitor centers.


Whoa! It's not time to slack off. The Presidio Trust still is proposing a large hotel complex dead center in the old Presidio. It still wants to build an enlargement of the historic theater building that is larger than the historic structure itself. It wants to build a "public program facility," which they cannot explain, on the site of the Bowling Alley. These development ideas are irresponsible for the Trust to push. After all, the Trust is directed by Congress to preserve the national historic landmark. If the public- YOU - takes its eyes off the Presidio, the developers will win.

Okay for the questions, now more update:

Doyle Drive and Trees. Some of the tree removal has been part of a science based reforestation plan. Others by Doyle Drive have had to come down to make way for the temporary construction roads that are necessary for Doyle Drive construction that will begin this year.

What's Happening with Building Plans of the Trust? A major conference of the federal agencies and public groups that are official participants in the process will be held this month.We expect that the Trust will be directed to make additional modifications to its plans in order to protect historic integrity of the Presidio. The game is not over.

New Trust Board Member. John Reynolds, retired Deputy Director of the National Park Service, began serving on the Trust Board of Directors at a meeting September 17. He will speak directly for the Secretary of the Interior, an influence that has not existed before. He is dedicated to Park Service values and has many years of top level management. Three more appointees are waiting for White House confirmation. There will be some surprises, I bet. The question is if the Trust can get their building plans to a vote before the new directors are appointed. That's what the game looks like.

The Fight to Make the Presidio a Great Historic Park Is Not Over- Stay with us!

Monday, August 31, 2009



The Trust does not control Doyle Drive's removal of trees. The Drive project is a billion dollar BIG DEAL that the Trust, the NPS and the Presidio Historical Association all have participated in, but Doyle has huge momentum because of design and seismic safety issues. Trees and a few  historic buildings will come down. The Trust also is doing some necessary tree removal because the trees simply are too old and becoming dangerous. Give the Trust credit for getting long overdue reforestation started.

Yes, the Trust has revealed a new proposal for a "public program facility" at the Bowling Alley site. What in the name of full disclosure is that? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the Trust does not know and just put a "filler" in their plan. The big new hotel and the extension that more than doubles the size of the historic theater are still being proposed. More on this later.

Who is responsible for the long-standing fiasco over the Fisher Museum and the continuing difficulties? There is enough blame to go around, including the very design of the Trust Act that set up the Trust. That was done by an in-group of businessmen including Don Fisher, but a Republican Congress made it worse in an ideological campaign that wanted all national parks to pay their way. The Presidio Trust was a model for their nutty idea. Sure, the present Board of Directors should have seen the mess that the Fisher/hotel scheme would make of a national park. Yes, the staff did not do the job it should have forecasting what the mess would be. Were the staff blind cheerleaders or good soldiers doing what they were told after they voiced honest opinions? Who knows? Let's not point fingers. Let's move on and get this mess behind us so there will be a great historic park at the Presidio that is unlike any in our city or our state.


A lengthy, contentious but productive three days was spent with the top federal and state historic preservation agencies, the Trust, and concerned public organizations. The Trust persisted in seeking approval for its plan for a hotel. enlarged movie theater and now a much smaller "public program facility" instead of the Fisher Museum. (Remember when the Fisher Museum was disguised as a "cultural facility"?)

At the end of three days, it was pretty clear that the federal and state leaders believed that there was a long way to go with historic review and design modifications before this turkey will fly.

An explanation and design of the "public program facility" is necessary, and then it will remain controversial from a historic preservation viewpoint. Is this a compelling need in a national historic landmark?

The idea of a Holiday Inn style motel was shot down. The Trust will look at their early plans for dispersed lodging in  historic buildings. Any new construction would be smaller scale and dispersed.

The shape and glassiness of the theater addition are in question, as it its size, which is more massive than the original historic theater. When does the addition become the main theater and the historic theater become an addition to the modern part?

There is no way that the Trust will meet its revised deadline for a Board vote on a final plan by the end of this year, and the outlook for anything like what has been on the table for two years is dim. Remember, three more director's appointments have expired and we are waiting for the White House to name replacements, for better or for worse.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


YES! First, Don Fisher recognized that no way in hell was he going to be able to build his art museum as he wanted, where he wanted, on the heart of the historic Presidio. He packed up his marbles to play elsewhere. Thanks to the public for that - those hundreds who wrote letters and attended endless meetings.

Then, The National Park Service named Jon Jarvis to be the new head of the National Park Service in Washington. Jon has been a professional with great integrity to protect Park Service values. As the recent Superintendent of the Pacific West Region of the NPS, he was the head Smokey the Bear fighting against Trust projects that would impair the Presidio National Historic Landmark. It is wonderful to have him as the top man in Washington.

Today, July 29, the Secretary of the Interior named his designee to the Presidio Trust Board of Directors to replace Dave Grubb, the construction executive who now holds the key position as President of the Presidio Trust Board. The new Secretary of Interior appointee is John J. Jarvis, a very experienced high level retired Park Service professional who is deeply familiar with the Presidio situation. John Reynolds was at the Presidio when it was transferred from the Army to the Park Service. He rose to be the number two man in the Park Service. He has great judgment and skills working with the pubic - qualities that will help the Trust Board.

What does all this mean? To me, it means that the Park Service will no longer look the other way when the Trust wants to ruin the Presidio as a national park. There is a new sheriff in town. I also believe that these great developments could signal a new era of cooperation of the Presidio Trust, the National Park Service and the public to bring to reality the great promise that the Presidio has a wonderful national historic park.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Yes, Donald Fisher has finally realized that his vision is not going to happen to convert the Presidio's Main Post, which is the center of a National Historic Landmark, into a grand mall for his contemporary art museum . He is packing up his marbles to play his game somewhere else. Let's hope that he finds the right spot in San Francisco.

I believe that three things happened.

First over 3,000 official comments from the public were overwhelmingly opposed to the art museum as the wrong idea at the wrong place. The public respected the Presidio as a special place with a remarkable history.

Second, public voice gave political backup to the National Park Service, those people who wear funny Smokey the Bear hats. The Park Service devastated the Trust for its plans. The Park Service has a proud tradition carrying out its legal role to protect the nation's historic landmarks from well intentioned bad ideas. I'll thank every Smokey the bear I see for their courageous stand. After all, they had to oppose the Speaker of the House, who can cut their budget or blackball their promotions. Bravo, Park Service! Gutsy bureaucrats standing up for what they believe !

Third, comments submitted June 1 from historical organizations and neighborhood groups were very well prepared. In contrast to previous environmental reviews by the Trust, this time the public organizations understood the legal framework and played hardball instead of rolling over to be "partners" with the Trust. The Trust finally recognized that if this mess were presented in court, the courts would throw out the environmental review. It has been badly mismanaged. The Trust Board members did not want that kind of embarrassment.

The terms of fours of those people appointed by the White House to the Trust Board have expired. They serve only until replaced. They are the ones who wasted about five million dollars of your money on this fiasco. They forced about 12,000 hours of the public's time to be spent opposing their plans. They are the ones who have been tone deaf to public outrage. They are the ones who should be replaced if the Trust is to regain public confidence. Will Nancy Pelosi name people who are sensitive to public concerns and who value historical parks, or will she ask the President to appoint more of her real estate mogul Pacific Heights cronies who again will try to make the Presidio their private playground? How about an educator and a historian instead? Let Pelosi know who you want on the Presidio Trust Board: write her, call her office or e-mail.

The Big Bad CAMP is gone. Let's celebrate today and get back to work on the next steps at the Presidio tomorrow! No new hotel building. No movie theater. But, yes a real honest to God way to teach the public about America's history found at the Presidio.

What are your comments?

Friday, June 5, 2009


Hundreds of letters and e-mails slammed the Trust before the June 1 deadline for public comments.  Trust plans for a contemporary art museum and a hotel in the center of the national historic  landmark and the illegal review process were opposed by every major comment that I have read. (The Mayor and some form messages were the exceptions.) Many were detailed, expert and legally important papers: for example, by  the City and County of San Francisco, Presidio Historical Association (,) Save the Presidio (, the Cow Hollow Association, the Sierra Club, the Marin Community Association,  the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Descendants of de Anza and Portola Expedition, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and many, many more organizations and private individuals.


NEXT: The Trust will need several months and a lot of lawyers to revise their messed up environmental review. If they persist with their reckless plan, then the public sees a "final" Impact Statement and has 30 days to comment before the Trust can declare its approval for Fisher's museum. That looks possible (but unlikely) in early Fall. 

A lot is going to happen before then, I predict. My personal belief is that the Trust will find a way to kill this skunk before it becomes a real stinker in court. How deep into the doodoo will the individual Trust board members, who otherwise have prominent and respected reputations, wade before they wake up to the fact that they are being associated as individuals with the stink coming from this mess? 


Saturday, April 25, 2009

I Sense the Tide Has Turned

On April 7, the Trust Board held a public meeting. A revised - but the same- plan for the art museum was presented with a lot of spin. The first hour of comments was dominated by well dressed people we had never seen at a previous meeting. I am told that they arrived by bus and were headed to a cocktail party. Hmmm? Then a Cal law school class gave its comments. Very interesting and pointed criticism. The public was well prepared and thoughtful in opposing the "preferred alternative" of an art museum, hotel and movie house located near San Francisco's birthplace.

The knockout punch was delivered April 17 by the National Park Service in a formal report to the federal government's top historical preservation council. This report stated five times in no uncertain terms that the Trust proposals "threaten" the Presidio's national landmark status, which is the highest form of protection an historic site can have. The Trust is bound by law to protect that status. There is very little wiggle room in this report that requires the art museum to be moved to the edge of Crissy Field if it is to be located on Main Post. Stay tuned: will the Trust ignore the report at its peril, try to wiggle around it with halfway changes, or use the considerable political muscle of its board members and Don Fisher to put on the fix in Washington?

The Park Service Report is called a "section 213" report. To see it , go to and click on "Issues".

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Play Ball! Entering the Eight Inning of the Presidio Game

Today, April Fool's Day, the Trust begins another round of hearings and written comments. Are you tired of the Presidio Trust wasting your time and millions of public dollars on an illegal intrusion into a national park and historic landmark? SAY SO!

It will be a battle royal at the Palace of FIne Arts Theater commencing at 6:30 P.M, TUESDAY, APRIL 7. Come early and sign up to express your mind. Specific comments with examples are the most powerful. Point out specific propaganda that has insulted you or procedures that have confused the public. Say what you value in the national park and why what the Trust proposes is damaging to the values of the park. Wonder aloud why the Trust supported the CAMP proposal with great fanfare and paraded out the Mayor and art museum directors to do so, and only later it said that it had not made up its mind, and that is why we are enduring this tedious environmental review. Do some homework. Look at the Save the Presidio. org and websites for more information.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Turn Out to Tell the Tone Deaf Trust Board What You Think about an Art Museum and Hotel Near the Heart of the Presidio's Most Historic Area

The meeting will be on April 7, at 6:30 PM, Palace of FIne Arts Theater. Come prepared with a short comment about what bothers you most. Be specific to say why what the Presidio Trust is planning is wrong or why the enviromental review process has confused you and the public. Has any information been misleading or incomplete? Give an example.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Another Glassy White Intrusion into a National Park and a National Historic Landmark District

This is the rendering that the Fisher people leaked to the Chronicle. Can you believe the Trust's lack of sensitivity to the historic site? Law requires that any construction permitted in a National Historic Landmark be "compatible" with the structures on the site. This is compatible? Trust documents imply that the National Park Service approved this contemporary museum. That is not true. The Park Service participated in a workshop to identify characteristics of a design that might be acceptable from an historic preservation point of view. This building is not what the NPS described.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Revised Main Post Plan Is Released

OH, NO! NOT ANOTHER 300 PAGES! The supplement to the supplement to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released today (February 27). Is this fun or what?

We have quickly scanned the version posted on the Trust website and have issued a press release available at

In summary, the revision is mostly the same sour wine in new bottles. The Fisher art museum now is partly underground, but still at the objectionable location at the head of the parade ground near the El Presidio, the 1776 birthplace of San Francisco. Oh, yes, that's part of it. The other part is placed across Moraga Street in the area of the old Library and the Child Care Center.

Our main objection echoes over 1,000 of the public comments: a contemporary art museum just does not belong in a national historic landmark or in a national park. The Presidio is both. The final call is based on total intrusion into the historical landmark of changes past. present, and future. When Lucasfilm, the Disney Museum's expected 400,000 visitors a year, the art museum and its 300,000 visitors a year, an 85,000 square foot hotel, "greening" the Main Parade and a hokey walk through time next to the hotel, a multiscreen movie house, Doyle Drive, parking meters, on street parking where there never was any, stop lights soon? etc., are added up to judge if these all together wil impair visitors' ability to experience the history of the Presidio, there can be only one conclusion: all that construction will bury the historical character of the most important historic site on the West Coast forever. With your help, that will not happen.

And where is the Park Service? It bravely objected last April for historic preservation reasons. It has yet to rule out this project for the reasons laid out in the laws that govern ALL national parks. I bet that it will though, when the time comes. That time may be in court.

Stay tuned. No one has read the whole document yet.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Proposals for Alien Art Museum on Presidio to Be Announced in Late February

Just when we thought that we had gotten rid of pigs wearing lipstick, the Presidio Trust and Donald Fisher will soon introduce another scheme for a contemporary art museum and a big hotel in the center of the Presidio National Historic Site and National Park. Think of a contemporary art museum in Valley Forge. Think of Fisher's modern museum in San Francisco's Alamo Square or its being side-by-side with Mission Dolores. Unbelievable, but that is the mentality that once again wants to build the art museum in the Presidio.

There are National Park rules that are based in law that rule against building "cultural facilities" in National Parks unless the facility is directly related to the resources and values of the park. Somehow to me, a 1776 Spanish Presidio and 230 years as the Presidio's being central to America's growing presence on the Pacific do not have any relationship to contemporary art. The Park Service has not said that it will permit this museum that is so alien to any national park to be built.

The Trust officials and Mr. Fisher never have made the case why this art museum belongs on the Presidio other than Fisher's saying that is where he wants it.

Mr. Fisher, listen to the over 1,000 letters that say we the people do NOT want it there.

Please write, e-mail or phone Nancy Pelosi and the Trust to let them know how you feel. Why does a contemporary art museum belong in the Presidio close to the birthplace of San Francisco, when such an art museum would be permitted anywhere in a national park?