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

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

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.

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.

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.

  • Dale

    I’m a volunteer for the Presidio’s natural areas program and appreciate the coverage of this issue. Sounds like the art museum and expanded programming at the Main Post would result in additional automobile trips to the Presidio, and maybe even traffic lights at intersections such as Girard @ Lincoln. That would be a huge, negative environmental impact and no amount of photovoltaic panels or permeable surfaces would compensate.

  • Andy B from Jersey


    Weren’t there more cars in the Presidio when it was an active military base?

    I’m no fan of hoards of cars but this sounds a bit too much like whining. I wish we had such good, adaptive reuse ideas for our old military bases here around NYC.

    Hey, at least this is a good reason to expand streetcar service west, through the tunnel at Fort Mason and down to the Presidio.

  • Barbera

    I live and work near Main Post.

    The proposed plans to develop Main Post (CAMP, Movie Theater, Lodge,
    Café, Visitors Center) are destructive to both the park, open-space conservation/restoration, neighborhood planning & historical integrity.

    Having gone to many of the meetings over the past year, it is apparent the current members of the Presidio Trust are not & have not been acting on behalf of the park nor the majority of its neighborhoods. The last meeting was a travesty given that not only was the meeting planned when 50+% of the affected neighborhoods were out of town on Spring break (including Bob Burke who is a trust member) but also a large group of people, that were clearly either paid or work for one of the development constituencies, wasted everyone’s time giving repetitive remarks – they were not concerned, informed citizens.

    The drawings are misleading – the buildings w/ their walk-ways are going to translate into a dense urban feeling.

    Where are all the cars going?

    The Trust’s traffic solutions were undermined by Muni’s recent cancellation of the primary feeder bus routes so the primary access is going to be cars.

    Presidio Executive Director,Craig Middleton’s assertion the development will only increase traffic by 4% is insulting to anyone who is has ½ a brain and makes no sense when compared to the other projections – such as the development is expected to more than triple the number of annual visitors to Main Post. How do you get a 300% increase in visitors to a small area but only a 4% increase in traffic?

    I go to the Presidio Post office every day – currently the congestion of cars, buses, bikers, dogs and pedestrians can be daunting.

    The Trust’s solution for dealing with the traffic has been to put lights down Presidio & Arguello Avenues and sync them to Bush Street/Fulton St’s respectively. I say why not re-open the Presidio/Broadway gate (@ the Lyon Street Steps) since this is a much more direct (about 1/2 the distance) and safer route (not as many pedestrians and only 10% number of garages opening onto Broadway) to a major thoroughfare (Divisidero). Of course I know the answer…but the answer is evidence of cronyism and political self dealing.

    There are numerous other reasons to oppose this development as I am sure you are aware. What about the noise? The wildlife?

    In closing – If the development must go in the Presidio, please locate the plan to Fort Scott which is lying fallow right now and has thousands of square feet of empty buildings (other than a few offices and kids playing fields which could be moved to Main Post). Fort Scott is a majestic site with great views; it is conveniently located off the Golden Gate Bridge and would not have the impact on so many dense residential neighborhoods. One could route traffic down 19th Ave, Doyle Drive-Lombard or across the bridge. And it is far enough from neighborhoods to not have an adverse affect on them… Fort Scott is “on the edge” like the Metropolitan Museum in Central Park/NYC.

    There is a meeting tomorrow night – all elected officials should attend and openly explain his/her position on this highly charged issue.

    Thank you.


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