Earlier this month, San Francisco voters approved a ballot measure requiring the city's Recreation and Parks Department to strictly limit commercial activities and private events at Coit Tower.
But there might be a problem. Since the proposition was a non-binding advisory measure, it was more a recommendation for Parks Department policy than a hard and fast rule regarding the tower's operation.
And now it looks like the department, which vocally opposed the measure, allow private events to happen there anyway.
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At a meeting of the Recreation and Parks Committee this week, department officials will seek approval to begin negotiations with the owner of the Anchor Oyster Bar on a contract that would allow for the hosting of one private event at the historic landmark each month.
This plan to allow for a small handful of private events at the iconic Telegraph Hill edifice is essentially unchanged from what department officials intended before Proposition B became official city policy.
"Despite the results of the election, the parks department seems determined to go ahead with the same plan they had before the vote," Jon Golinger, founder of the Protect Coit Tower Committee and the measure's primary public backer, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It could transform Coit Tower into a venue for corporate events and private activities, which is exactly what Prop. B opposed."
Parks officials feared prohibiting private events at Coit would deprive the city's parks system of much needed resources. A report released by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association noted that the Parks Department saw the level of funding it received from the city's General Fund decrease by one-quarter over the past half decade while its labor costs spiked by over one-third.
Rec and Park spokeswoman Sarah Ballard had no specific comment on Golinger’s grievance, but she noted that the new policy--like every other city policy--is ultimately up to the Board of Supervisors to interpret, as mandated by the City Charter.
While the Board must study non-binding policies approved by voters, they're not under any obligation to actually implement them. Additionally, much of San Francisco's political establishment--Mayor Ed Lee, for example--opposed the proposition. Lee, along with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, even announced the creation of a $1.7 million fund to go towards fixing up the tower in the weeks immediately preceding the election, largely seen as a way to diffuse some of the pubic enthusiasm for the measure.
Last year, Coit Tower generated around $900,000 from its concession stand and the sale of tickets to ride the elevator to the top of the monument.
Parks chief Phil Ginsberg has said that keeping Coit Tower, one of the few city parks that actually turns a profit, as a self-contained fundraising entity could lead to the closure of lower-profile parks in neighborhoods across the city.
However, these arguments failed to convince a majority of the 30 percent of San Franciscans who actually voted on June 5 (an all-time low).
Even if the Board sides with the Parks Department and decides to allow for private events at the tower, there could still be consequences. SF Weekly reports:
That said, there are reasons for the Recreation and Parks Department and the "City Family" to make an actual effort to comply with Prop. B, beyond any quaint notions of doing right by Coit Tower or adhering to the will of the majority. In November--when we'll be electing a president and turnout will slip higher than 23 percent--Rec and Park will be asking city voters to pony up for a parks bond of some $200 million.
If, between now and then, the city is perceived as blowing off the will of the majority of voters, who backed Prop. B, it might become that much harder to convince a supermajority of voters to give Rec and Parks huge amounts of money.
The Board of Supervisors has 90 days to consider the policy changes brought by the new law and determine how to be best put them into effect.
Take a look at some of our favorite images of the tower below: