A San Francisco Chronicle Opinion by Gary Widman, PHA President
The appointed boards of the Presidio Trust have received praise for restorations (the Officers Club, the Presidio Inn) and criticism for advocating major construction (the Fisher contemporary art museum and the Lucas cultural arts museum, neither of which came to fruition) in or near the Main Post. The public now faces a new Main Post construction issue, begun under the former board but not yet addressed by the new board.
The Presidio of San Francisco, along with the White House, Monticello and the Alamo, is a National Historic Landmark. Each landmark offers understanding of a special historic place and the people and events that make it significant to American history. The people in the Presidio’s history lived, strategized, fought and died to make a better world. Arguello, Briones, Vallejo, Pershing, Letterman, Stilwell and 30,000 military dead in the Presidio National Cemetery are among those whose stories are part of the Presidio.
As the Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club read the law, the job of the Presidio Trust is to protect the site from “development and uses” that destroy its historic character. Its charge is to protect this National Historic Landmark “to the maximum extent possible.” When the former Presidio Trust board lifted building limitations in the Main Post in order to accommodate a proposed 14-building hotel — 12 of the buildings would be new — the historical association and the Sierra Club, supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sued to set aside that rezoning and planned hotel.
Such protection should be easier now that Congress has approved the Presidio Trust’s status as self-supporting. But if the historic Main Post is to be saved for future generations in the form entrusted to the Presidio Trust Board, both responsible decision-making and legal duties should prevent the board from lifting building restrictions or constructing a multi-building hotel. This dispute is now set for oral argument in the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco next Tuesday.
The general public will follow this case: The co-plaintiff, the Sierra Club, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation together have nearly 1 million members. So will Bay Area residents, including history, conservation and neighborhood groups who objected strongly to prior proposals.
Will the new Presidio Trust Board change the course set by the prior board? Or will the courts determine the future of the Presidio National Historic Landmark?
San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 12, 2015