Enviro, Preservation Concerns Drive Opposition to Presidio Main Post Plans

1268294616_0236b9e3e0.jpgFlickr photo: 2composers
Revised plans for the Main Post of San Francisco’s Presidio national park, which include construction of a contemporary art museum for the collection of billionaire businessman Donald Fisher, are still unsatisfactory, say many preservationists, environmentalists, and neighbors who attended a hearing on the new plans Tuesday night.  Despite the fact that the museum plans have been scaled down since their original release to the public and the National Park Service, they could, in fact, lead to a lawsuit to stop the project from moving forward.

In addition to Fisher’s proposed Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio (the CAMP), the seven-member governing body for the park, the Presidio Board of Trustees, has tentatively approved a Heritage Center in what is now the Officers Club, a 129-room hotel called the Presidio Park Lodge in one of the barracks, and an expansion of the Presidio Theatre, all at the Main Post.  It has already adopted plans for the Walt Disney Family Museum for the Main Post.

According to Presidio Executive Director Craig Middleton, the organizing theme of the altered Main Post will be sustainability, with the use of reclaimed water for landscaping, the improvement of PresidiGo shuttle for transportation around the entire park, the installation of permeable surfaces to reduce runoff, and photovoltaic panels on buildings.

However, the attractions are expected to bring many people by private automobile.  The plans for the rebuild of Doyle Drive, the six-lane state highway that links the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marina District, include the addition of a seventh lane from Veterans Boulevard to Girard Road in the Presidio, which leads to the Main Post.  The off-ramp to Girard is intended to divert traffic now bound for the Main Post away from the nearby neighborhoods where drivers currently have to meander through the Marina or Cow Hollow to get back into the Presidio.

Picture_2.jpgA conceptual design for the museum.
At this time, there are 2,200 parking spots in the Main Post, but only about half of those spaces are used on any given weekday.  Under the new plans, the number of parking spaces will be slightly reduced and the parking lots – which now occupy the Main Parade Ground, the center of the Main Post – will be relocated to the backs of buildings and perhaps moved underground.  While the Main Parade Ground will be transformed into a lawn, the plans project that parking lots will be at capacity.

Nonetheless, Middleton said that the CAMP and the Presidio Lodge are only expected to increase current traffic by about two percent each.  Board members are planning to charge for parking. Still, members of the public objected.

The completed Main Post is projected to attract over two million people annually, about three times the present number.  About 62 percent of those visitors are expected to come in cars.  Neighborhood watchdogs and others have noticed that the 2002 Presidio Trust Management Plan (PTMP) includes the option for traffic lights at six points in or near the Main Post, indicating an expectation for possible congestion.

“Here’s an organization that’s talking about sustainability and you’re bringing in cars? I don’t understand that,” said Tom McAteer of the Presidio Historical Association (PHA).

In addition, he said, the closest BART station to the Main Post is 2½ miles away, the Ferry Terminal is three miles, and Caltrain three miles to four miles.

“With climate change and global warming threatening the very survival of civilization, why is a huge art museum being proposed for the Presidio's historic Main Parade Grounds, miles away from the center of San Francisco tourism?” asked retired computer programmer and long time environmental activist Shirley Hansen.

“The environmental impact statement doesn’t discuss planned cutbacks on the 29 and 41 Muni lines,” buses that travel in or near the Presidio, due to budget shortfalls, added third-year UC Berkeley law and city planning student Jamie Volker.

Fisher, who served as a Presidio Trust board member from 1997 until 2005, first made public his CAMP proposal in 2007.  According to the most recent draft environmental impact statement, the current proposed uses for the Main Post, including the CAMP, exceed the permitted Main Post building area by about 44,000 square feet but are otherwise consistent with the PTMP.

Not so, said Amy Meyer, a trustee from 1998 to 2003.  The CAMP “is going to be very big, very white, and very glassy with plazas and overhangs.  It’s going to be much bigger than anything that’s ever been there,” she said, calling the CAMP “a donor-driven disaster.”

The Main Post’s National Historic Landmark designation mandates that it be kept in a condition as close to its original state as possible, according to Gary Widman, president of the PHA.  The Presidio Trust, he says, is violating that by adding 240,000 square feet of new construction that includes the CAMP.  The PTMP does indeed allow for a museum, he and others noted – but in the Crissy Field Commissary, not at the Main Post.

If the Presidio Trust decides to move forward with the plans as they now stand, the PHA could file a lawsuit to stop the project.

San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, responding to concerns of neighbors, sponsored a resolution that passed in January, supporting the siting of Fisher’s museum within the City and County of San Francisco and not the national park.

The Presidio Trust, as a federal agency, conducts its project review and compliance under the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.  The end of public comment for National Environmental Quality Act compliance is April 27th, while public comment for the NHPA will continue.