This week, a duo of neighborhood organizations succeed in gathering enough signatures to get a measure on next June's ballot that would fundamentally alter operation at one of San Francisco's most iconic landmarks.
The measure, pushed by the newly formed Protect Coit Tower Committee and the influential Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association, is targeted at restoring a collection of historic Depression-era murals ringing the inside of Coit Tower's base.
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The group believes the city's Recreation and Parks Department is doing an insufficient job of protecting the Diego Rivera-inspired murals, which were painted by renowned artists like Ralph Stackpole and Bernard Zakheim, from wear and tear--particularly water damaged owing to the thick blanket of fog that often envelops the neighborhood.
The Parks Department has a plan to restore the murals by partnering with the city's Arts Commission to spend $250,000 on their upkeep. The department has also mandated that whichever private vendor wins the contract to operate the tower's gift shop use one percent of its profits--which will include hosting occasional private parties on the tower's viewing deck in the evening hours, when the monument is normally closed--for the murals' upkeep.
The Protect Coit Tower Committee feels these steps are insufficient and its ballot measure, while non-binding, would prioritize all money made at the concession towards the building's upkeep as well as "strictly limit...commercial actions and private events at Coit Tower."
The group turned in 16,386 signatures in support of the measure, 9,702 of which must be declared valid in order for it to qualify for the June ballot.
"More than 16,000 San Franciscans signed this petition because Coit Tower is such an integral part of our city's fabric and people feel it's simply unacceptable to let it continue to decay due to neglect and poor management," Protect Coit Tower Committee President Jon Golinger said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle. "Right now, Coit Tower already generates far more than enough money every year to keep it healthy, but instead conditions have been allowed to deteriorate there because nobody has taken responsibility to deal with them."
According to Rec and Park, the popular tourist attraction generates an average of $633,000 annually from concessions and a $7 elevator fee. But The City's Arts Commission is technically in charge of the murals and only budgets $75,000 per year to maintain all public art in San Francisco.
"This is a problem that can't wait to be solved," Golinger said, noting that Rec and Park has spent an annual average of only $44,000 on maintenance of the tower.
However, department officials worry that by keeping Coit Tower's earnings essentially inside the monument, it would deprive other city parks of necessary funds. "The money we make at Coit Tower which is one of our most important tourist attractions along with Golden Gate Park and frankly Candlestick Park, is what keeps our neighborhood rec centers and parks operating," Parks and Recreation director Phil Ginsburg told ABC-7 News. "If all the money we made at Coit Tower stayed at Coit Tower, Willie Wu Wu Wong playground in Chinatown right next door wouldn't have funding for rec staff or custodial staff."
Local real estate blog Curbed SF took a similarly skeptical view of the group's motives:
Sadly, the Protect Coit Tower Committee and its cousin, Telegraph Hill Neighbors are not interested in raising money to restore the murals. They want funds to come from concession revenues, but their ballot measure looks more like a smokescreen to restrict access in the evenings and protect their parking.
Coit Tower is closed in the evenings, but the road up--an extension of Lombard Street--is not, and neighbors enjoy the parking lot there at night.
The Department of Elections expects finish its count and determine whether the measure has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot by early next week.
Check out this slideshow of the historic murals: