Tuesday, December 14, 2010

While We Wait ???

What is happening between the Cancellation of the December 8 Presidio Trust Board meeting and the Holidays? Short answer: a lot of heavy lifting and maneuvering by neighborhood groups, national organizations and the Presidio Historical Association. The Trust has given us a short deadline to agree to sign a "programmatic agreement" that the "Big Three," the key agencies, have agreed to sign. This is an agreement on the procedures how they will supervise any actions that the Trust takes after - or if - it approves the plan for construction on Main Post of the Presidio. The Trust had planned to do that by the end of 2010. The big danger to us is that if we sign, the agreement is worded to go beyond procedural approval to say that the Trust has "taken into account" the many objections to its building plans. What does "taken into account" mean? How can the Trust approve actions that its own study says will harm the historic integrity of the Presidio and "take into account" the fact that this damage will happen?

This bizarre situation is our main issue: what does "taken into account mean?" Organizations that do not sign will lose their rights as "concurring parties" in future implementation of the plan, such as commenting on what a hotel would look like. But if they sign, they may be yielding completely to the Trust's incorrect claim that the Trust building plans comply with regulations and law. We know that they do not. How can we sign a document that says it is okay to go ahead and damage the historic landmark? Even worse, signing would undermine any later complaints we make through other channels.

So? The Trust has been asked to extend the deadline to sign the programmatic agreement until the end of January, It is now due on Christmas Day. That time is needed to get help from technical experts and for community groups to meet with their membership. For you, I say forget this stuff until after the Holidays and return from good times with family and friends to fight another battle soon after the New Year.

Season's Best to All, Presidio Pal

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Today, December 7, the Presidio Trust abruptly cancelled tomorrow's long-announced Board of Directors meeting that included the last time that the public could speak directly to the directors to tell them that people care about the Presidio and do not want a commercial hotel in the middle of it..... especially since the Trust has no real reason to do that harm to the National Historic Landmark.

One thing about being a Presidio groupie is that there's never a dull moment. And, we never know exactly what's going on.

So, we ask, what's up? Even though the Trust was not required by law or policies to open tomorrow's meeting to public comment, it announced that it would. Now, the meeting is cancelled until some time in January, a date uncertain. They claim scheduling difficulties for this meeting that has been scheduled for weeks? Not convincing. Has the Board decided that it could not take take the heat of more hours hearing the public telling them that they are on the wrong course? No, the board members are very experienced in flak catching.

My speculation - absolutely a SWAG - is that one or more of the board members is asking to maneuver around more public testimony by making the decision first and then later having a public meeting to announce the decision. On the other hand, there are few board members who do have quiet reservations about a controversial hotel decision being really necessary right now, when there is not a commercial sponsor chomping at the bit to pay for it and ready to start building. Are these directors bucking the Trust's group think and speaking their minds to cause this delay?

Wouldn't it make sense if the hotel project were put on the back burner until it could be revived - if the Trust decides to fight on - in a revised master plan for all the Presidio that is due in a few years? By then, personal egos can chill and the memory of the art museum fiasco will fade away. Then, maybe a hotel could be located in a far less sensitive location that makes better sense for temporary lodging purposes and better respects the historic values of the national park. Nah, nothing at the Presidio makes sense, so why should this?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 8 Meeting of Presidio Trust Board is Crunch Time

At 6:30 p.m., December 8, the Presidio Trust Board of Directors will hold a business meeting at the Golden Gate Club (near the National Cemetery) with an opportunity for the public to speak. This is our LAST CHANCE to tell the Trust that they have no understandable excuse to knowingly harm the historic landmark that Congress told them to protect by building a commercial hotel in the center of the most sensitive historic heart of the Presidio. The commercial hotel chain that offered a proposal has disappeared. The Trust gives no economic reason for this damaging project. Competition from 33,000 hotel rooms in San Francisco makes building 100 more in an urban national park ridiculous.

The Board will formally approve the project shortly after this meeting unless YOU, the public, makes it clear that this turkey won't fly. We did it with the proposed modern art museum, and we can do it again on Wednesday night.

For details, go to the Presidio Historical Association website at For more, go the the Presidio Trust website - Major Projects - View the Documents. Find the latest Main Post Update dated November, 2010, and see pages 36 and 37 for their sanitized description of the "Lodge." An earlier analysis of the damage Trust plans will do to the historic integrity (that's what makes it a NATIONAL Landmark) is in a document titled "Finding of Effects," also on the Trust web site. It is written in National Historic Preservation Act language, but we all can see that even the Trust admits it is screwing up if it builds this hotel.

Why does the Trust Board persist in this scheme that started as an arts district based on the now-defunct "gift" of a mega art museum? Hubris perhaps? Top staff's careers invested in getting something out of this mess to save face? No, the Trust Board is made of very prominent and well intentioned people accustomed to the sort of power no one says "NO!" to. They aren't used to reexamining their assumptions or backing off under pressure. They don't question wayward staff judgments, and they have staff that does not challenge them. YOU, the public, have to make that challenge. Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., Golden Gate Club (next to the National Cemetery. Signs will be posted.) BE THERE!


As you can picture, there are too few of us in the trenches and Presidio issues have been flying fast and furious. My day Presidio volunteer job is eating up most of the time. (Don't ask). Presidio Pal has not responded to over 80 posts. In fact, I missed finding them until today. This cybergeezer has much to learn about blogging. Thanks for your patience and support. We are in the midst of redesigning our web/blog/social networking methods. Until then, stay tuned, but above all, keep up your wonderful presence in supporting the richly historic Presidio and Golden Gate National Park. Thanks, Presidio Pal

Friday, September 17, 2010


There will be a Presidio Trust Board meeting Sept. 22, Wednesday at 6:30 at the Golden Gate Club (next to the Presidio National Cemetery.)

Be there. It is your last chance to speak directly to the Trust Board before they approve a large hotel in the middle of the parade grounds. If they can explain why a commercial hotel is needed in a historic National Park surrounded by 33,000 hotel rooms in the city, I would be surprised. If they can explain why the Trust plans to build this hotel which its own studies admit will have an "adverse effect" on the historic integrity of the 220 year old site, integrity that the Trust is required by law to protect, then they will speak with forked tongue. It's crunch time. Come and speak your mind.

There will be more interesting and, I hope, good stuff at this meeting. The Park Service and Trust agreed in a formal document months ago to work together to get a real visitors center on the Presidio, so people can understand the richness of its layered history from the birth of San Francisco to the Pacific Coast in World War Two. Finally, we will get an update at this meeting and hear from the new person who has been hired to lead this vital program.

By the way, did you notice that Dave Grubb, the Trust Board President who led the charge for the Fisher Museum Fiasco and then was replaced by the Secretary of the Interior is now REAPPOINTED to the Trust Board. Do those folks on the Trust contribute big time to politicians? Are they tight with Pelosi?

I apologize to the many who have commented on this blog without a response. Presidio Pal has been up to his what'sit writing and researching tangled historic preservation laws and regulations to write the documents that have made a difference. We got the hotel cut back from 95,000 square feet (humongous) to 70,000 of new construction (merely huge). Best, the height is now 30 feet instead of a towering 45 feet. But, there is no place for a nonessential commercial hotel in a National Historic Landmark District...NO WAY, NO NEED !

If you enjoy self-abuse, go to the link to our formal statement about the hotel and other technical stuff. It is in the press release on the first page of Important but dull technical matters we have been slaving on for the past months explain the process and who's who.

See you Wednesday, 6:30, Golden Gate Club

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Put Up or Shut Up, Says the Presidio Trust

Groups including the Presidio Historical Association have been working in a consultation being conducted according to the National Historic Preservation Act. This process has reduced the size of the commercial hotel that the Trust wants to build 150 yards from the flagpole from 140,000 square feet of two story building to 70,000 square feet - sort of like trying to make us happy because only one half of our house burned down.

Our right to be part of these discussions may be denied soon. The Presidio Trust has notified all public groups that we cannot participate in these historic preservation talks after May 10, unless we agree to sign a statement that the legal requirement of the Act have been followed. In effect, we are being told to Put Up or Shut Up. The same demand was made of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Cow Hollow Association, Marina Homeowners groups and many others. It will take more time than allowed for us to find out if this demand is legal, and if so to decide what to do about it. It is inconceivable that any group would waive its legal rights in order to sit at the table to talk about the final design features for a commercial hotel that will have adverse effects on a historic landmark.

Another problem is a dispute over whether or not to keep the two ugly WW II barracks in front of the Officers Club. They are important because they tell a story. The barracks were for junior officers who crowded the Presidio during WII. Those officers slept near the original Spanish adobes where the Americans later slept. For almost 200 years, the officers of Spain, Mexico and the United States ate in the same building, and the barracks outside the officers club were there so the young officers would live near the officers mess. This is a neat story to show the layering of story on top of story at the Presidio. I think that the old barracks should stay, become used as an education space for school kids about the El Presidio site, and remain part of the story.

The hurry on this is probably related to changes on the Trust Board that are waiting for a White House decision. It's long overdue. I guess that the White House does not place the same importance on a Presidio Trust Board member as it does a Supreme Court Judge!

See the Presidio HIstorical Association website for the details.

Monday, March 8, 2010


So, what's going on now in the long-lasting struggle over the Presidio: will the 230 year old historic site become a great national park for all the people, or will it become an office and arts park for the few? The struggle is taking place in two arenas.

One, a formal federal process requires consultation about plans to build a commercial Larkspur Hotel near the Spanish El Presidio and the U.S. flagpole of the historic site. Most recently, two leading agencies in the consultation, the National Park Service and the State Historic Preservation Officer have sent detailed objections to the Presidio Trust concerning procedures and mishandling of information. The core concern is that the review of the hotel is taking place without the larger context of what is planned where being brought up to date. The last update on the larger plan (draft Main Post Update) was February, 2009. That plan included the monstrous modern art museum idea that the Trust supported. Removing it from the picture - thanks to your public opposition- changes the game, so the hotel plan is being evaluated in a vacuum. Both the Park Service and the Historic Preservation Officer, the chief "deciders,"have stated that they will not agree to any hotel without having a full plan for the heart of the Presidio - the historic Main Post. Key to this is having a firm location and plan for a Park Service Visitors Center. It has to be a valuable service for the public to expand their appreciation of the park, and it cannot be located near a commercial hotel. We strongly support the official agencies that are insisting upon a complete plan before any decisions will be approved.

The second arena of the struggle for the Presidio's future is with the Board of Directors of the Presidio Trust. Some of them see the Main Post as a development opportunity, a place for buildings to increase income. Others see it as an opportunity to satisfy their personal interest in contemporary art. Recently, the "Goldsworthy Spire" appeared. Soon, there will be ten more "art installations" on the Presidio. These could be interesting, but art of any kind has to be very carefully weighed against the distraction it will cause from the natural and historic values of the park itself. There isn't modern art at Yosemite Falls or Gettysburg for good reason. Google "Goldsworthy Spire" to see what I am talking about. Under pressure to justify the defunct modern art museum, the Trust promised to make the former Hispanic headquarters that became the Officer's Club into a "heritage center." To date, there is nothing to say what that means. The Park Service and Trust are talking, but the Trust does not have a qualified person on its staff to credibly lead such an effort. We don't know if the Trust Board has its heart in paying for a "heritage center."

The members of the Trust Board of Directors can make the right things happen to benefit the public, or they can continue to pursue ideas that damage the park and leave the Presidio's historic stories unknown to visitors. That will be decided this year. The new Board President, Nancy Bechtle, has a lot of experience leading the Symphony. Can that talent be shifted to serve the broad public that visits national parks?

Thanks for recent comments. Some have provided useful information. Others are answered on the web sites of the Presidio Historical Association or the National Park Service. Watch this blog for updates.