Coit Tower: Prop. B Passes. What Does it Mean?

This is what you voted to preserve
You can find the results of the election locals cared about so much that more than 75 percent of them didn't bother to vote here.

Elections, however, aren't American Idol. They don't exist for entertainment purposes -- the saga of lawyer/dentist/Birther Queen Orly Taitz notwithstanding. Even boring elections can end up shaping the future. And, yesterday's contest was hardly a total snoozer in the compelling human interest department. Take Prop. B, the Coit Tower measure. Despite some $170,000 pouring in from massive companies, Indian tribes, rich politicos, and the state's dentists -- and the opposition of City Hall, the Recreation and Parks Department, and both daily newspapers -- the measure won.

Prop. B is not the 14th Amendment -- its passage will not change the city's political landscape with the force of a thunderclap and its future effect is not entirely clear. As a "policy statement" to "prioritize" Coit Tower-generated money for site upkeep and to "strictly limit" private events at the landmark, it is also not entirely legally binding (you can read the proposition in its 75-word entirety here).

Jon Golinger, the measure's author, notes that while Prop. B is now official city policy, since it wasn't an ordinance or charter amendment, "you can't go to court to force it." If so, that means the penalty for unelected vestiges of the city's power structure deciding to blow off the stated will of the voters -- is to face the wrath of the city's voters.

Similarly, it remains to be seen just how the "policy" of "strictly limiting commercial activities and private events at Coit Tower" and "prioritizing the funds" it generates toward upkeep is translated into nuts-and-bolts procedure -- or who will be doing it and when.

Coit tower.jpg
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.

Rec and Parks' strategy in fighting Prop. B was to intimidate voters, claiming a vote for Prop. B was a vote toward shorter Coit Tower hours and pulling funds away from parks and playgrounds in low-income, underserved neighborhoods. Rec and Parks boss Phil Ginsburg's letter to the Department of Elections providing "analysis" of what would happen if Prop. B passed stopped short of predicting lava would flow from the earth if voters approved the measure. If lava were to be involved, however, Ginsburg's analysis seems to indicate it would have flowed directly to the parks in those low-income, underserved neighborhoods.

The real legacy of Prop. B may have little to do with Coit Tower -- which could help explain why the powers that be fought it so heavily and secured funds from organizations and politicos who couldn't tell Coit Tower from Coit carpet cleaning.

Prop. B was, arguably, a small-scale version of the ballot box budgeting that has crippled the state of California. But it was also a clear-cut instance of the city's voters telling their government what they wanted -- and to get on the ball. This could serve as a template; aggrieved, politically active communities around the city now know they can go directly to the voters to undo perceived city power grabs and mismanagement (people angry about the entry fees to Strybing Arboretum are certainly bandying about some new ideas).

This could explain the relatively expensive war waged against Prop. B. But that's not Golinger's concern. "They saw this as a power play," he says. "But, really, this has always been about Coit Tower."

It would seem those bemoaning the lack of interest generated by the just-concluded election were premature. The next several months look to be rather interesting indeed.

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thanks for the insightful coverage! I voted Yes on Prop B & here is why: 1) the building & it's murals are priceless historical reminders of what a city can produce in the middle of an economic depression. 2) on a purely practical level, Coit Tower is an iconic tourist attraction. Aka revenue stream. If the city wants to use $ generated from Coit Tower to benefit low income neighborhoods, that's great. But they have to take care of Coit Tower first. Who is going to pay to see a dilapidated building with water damaged murals? If Parks & Rec were REALLY smart, they'd put as much TLC into Coit Tower as golden gate national park service put into the new Sutro Baths visitor center. That place is a work of art!

SF Ocean Edge
SF Ocean Edge

The commercialization of Coit Tower is part of a pattern by the Recreation and Park Department -- the indiscriminate use of publicly-owned open space and facilities for generating revenue.   Golden Gate Park is beloved by residents and visitors alike, yet it is also threatened by commercialization.  The Beach Chalet Soccer Complex has been proposed for the western end of the Park.  That project will destroy over seven acres of natural grass and replace it with over seven acres of artificial turf - gravel, plastic carpet, and waste tires or other infill.  This project is the environmental equivalent of installing an asphalt parking lot in Golden Gate Park.     The soccer complex includes 150,000 watts of sports lighting on 60-foot poles.  These lights will be lighted from dusk to 10:00p.m., 365 days a year, right next to Ocean Beach.   The lights are for adult soccer leagues from all over the Bay Area, who pay higher fees to Recreation and Park.   Our parks should not be exploited.  SF Ocean Edge supports youth soccer, and the Win-Win Alternative -- renovate the Beach Chalet fields with NATURAL GRASS and NO lights and use the remaining funds to FIX UP MORE PLAYING FIELDS.  There is only one Golden Gate Park.    Learn more at 


Once again, little man arrogant  pesky is able to project power beyond his napoleonic stature from his troll cave in telegraph hill.

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