What seems on the surface to be a relatively uncontroversial ballot measure aimed at protecting a ring of 27 historic Depression-era murals running along the base of San Francisco's Coit Tower is coming up against increasingly stiff opposition from critics who worry it would serve to defund many of the city's less famous parks.
Spearheaded by the politically influential Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association, Proposition B would prioritize the up to nearly $1 million in annual revenue generated from the tower's elevator and concession stand toward the upkeep of the monument, particularly its murals. As it stands, much of that money is dispersed throughout the rest of the city's parks system.
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The measure would also prohibit the tower from hosting the type of private events the cash-strapped department is hoping to hold there with some regularity.
In an editorial published on Monday, the San Francisco Examiner came out forcefully against the proposal:
It is bad city policy to start creating park fiefdoms across this city by using the ballot box. It also is dangerous to begin telling each city department where and how to spend dwindling financial resources. Rec and Park is responsible for sites that range from money-making operations, including Coit Tower and the Japanese Tea Garden, to underfunded playgrounds in the Bayview and Mission districts. The goal should be to help the department make money in smart ways and then let it spend that money where needed. Prop. B does neither of these.
Agreeing with the Examiner, the San Francisco Chronicle also came out against the proposition, decrying it as "pure unadulterated NIMBYism."
Despite a lack of support from the city's major papers, Prop B did manage to secure the backing of the local Democratic party.
Only a fraction of the $1 million generated from Coit Tower each year is reinvested directly back into the monument's upkeep. The rest is distributed around the rest of the city's park system. This money is especially important as the department is increasingly forced to do more with less.
A 2011 report by the San Francisco Urban Planning and Research Association noted that the Parks Department saw the amount of money it received from the city's General Fund drop by 25 percent in the past five years and, over the same time period, had its labor costs jump by more than one-third.
Parks Department head Phil Ginsburg explained to the Examiner that without the revenue generated by high-profile attractions like Coit Tower, many parks in the city's lower-income neighborhoods would likely be forced to shut their gates.
Coit Tower is one of a small handful of San Francisco parks lucrative enough to operate completely self-sufficiently.
Even though there is currently no consistent funding source for the upkeep of the murals--money is allocated as the need arises--the city's Arts Commission, tasked with overseeing the pieces, plans to budget $250,000 for their restoration.
However, Prop B's backers insist this plan doesn't go nearly far enough.
"The place is not in good shape," Jon Golinger of the Protect Coit Tower Committee told NBC Bay Area. "Lead paint is peeling from the ceiling. The murals are in decay--there's no real information about what you’re looking at."
In a PBS Newshour segment detailing the controversy, Ruth Gottstein, the daughter of Coit Tower muralist Bernard Zakheim, criticized the city's Recreation and Parks Department for allowing the murals to fall into disrepair. "If it were treated as a museum, if the walls were kept secure, if the entrance was guarded so that people could walk around it, as in any other museum of any importance in the world, it would be secure," said Gottstein. "And its not."
Even if the measure does pass, because of its non-binding nature, the Board of Supervisors will have the option to ignore its recommendations or reject it outright.
Take a look at images of the murals below: