Prop L: preserve Presidio ex-base housing for poor, homeless FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 27 May 1998 14:52:36 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.sfgate.com:80/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1998/05/26/N
EWS4601.dtl
FWD  May 26, 1998  San Francisco Examiner   Page A 4
     CAMPAIGN '98  Gerald D. Adams  SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER


   OPPONENTS FEAR PASSAGE MAY REVIVE CONGRESS'EFFORTS TO SELL FORMER BASE


Since February 1996, a nun has broken into dwellings within the Presidio's
Wherry housing tract, staged sit-ins and goaded police to arrest her and
her followers representing Religious Witness with the Homeless.

Their purpose: to stop a plan to demolish some 460 housing units, on a
promontory overlooking the Golden Gate, and to persuade those in charge of
the national park to rent the dwellings to the poor.

The sit-ins have stopped. They failed to achieve Sister Bernie Galvin's goal.

Now Galvin is wielding a potentially more powerful weapon: the ballot.

She takes her 2-year-old campaign to preserve the Presidio's Wherry housing
to San Francisco voters June 2 in the form of Proposition L.

The initiative omits any mention of homeless people or the poor. Prop. L
simply asks voters to approve a city policy that would nudge the National
Park Service and Presidio Trust to restore open space, stop any demolition
of existing housing and offer the housing for rent.

"This is a whole new matter," said Galvin, sounding confident that the
proposition will generate support among conservationists, housing advocates
and critics of the Presidio Trust. The seven-member trust board was
appointed by President Clinton to govern land use on all 1,486 acres of the
national park except its shoreline, which remains within the province of
the Park Service.

"We're calling for the availability of Presidio housing (some 1,119 units)
for all economic levels of San Franciscans," she said.

Because Prop. L is so appealingly worded, Galvin's latest campaign has
aroused old fears among longtime protectors of the former military post
that passage of its housing language may revive an effort in Congress to
sell areas of the Presidio on the real estate market.

Rep. Ralph Regula, the Ohio Republican who heads a subcommittee on
appropriations for national parks, said, "It is not the mission of the park
to deal with housing problems of any community. We have HUD and other
agencies to deal with that."

Prop. L has aroused considerable controversy among well-meaning people on
both sides.

Calvin Welch, veteran advocate of low-income housing and Galvin's new ally,
sees the measure as a way to take back some power over the Presidio's
future from the trust board.

"This is the only chance for San Franciscans to get any meaningful say
about the future of the Presidio," Welch said.

If Prop. L's policy is enacted, he believes The City would have the power
to withhold bus service to enforce its preferences for the use of housing
within the park.

Welch also is concerned the trust's federally mandated mission to make the
Presidio self-supporting by 2013 is likely to invite commercial
development.

And he disagrees with Regula, contending the Presidio Trust has an
obligation to shoulder the burden of housing San Francisco's populace
because of its development plans.

He likens the trust directors to developers of new downtown office
buildings who are required to contribute to The City's affordable housing
funds.

"They should be playing by the same rules every other developer has had to
play by," Welch said, "especially if The City is going to have to pay about
$6 million in transit improvements."

Galvin is suspicious of the trust's plans to maintain the same numbers of
housing units. "We don't know if they're talking about a tree house
somewhere or a shack because they make their plans in secrecy."

And she is concerned that the trust will rent Presidio dwellings at market
rates. "That eliminates low-income and many middle class people."

Opponents, however, believe passage of the initiative could risk
congressional funding for the park and force the trust to sell parts of the
Presidio as private real estate.

Michael Alexander, a Sierra Club activist who chairs the opposition
campaign, noted that congressional Republicans have long objected to paying
for what they regard as a San Francisco park rather than a national park.
They are looking for excuses, he said, to stop the $25 million annual
appropriation needed to pay for Presidio operations.

That, he said, would dissolve the trust and revive efforts to sell Presidio
lands under its jurisdiction.

The first priority for Presidio housing units will go to Presidio and
National Park Service employees who are expected to total about 4,800, as
compared to about 5,500 when it was a military post.

The trust intends to provide housing for at least half the eventual work
force, including park police, firefighters and tenants. That, Alexander
said, will hold city traffic problems to a minimum.

Alexander said a plan to demolish the Wherry Act housing has been put on
hold for at least 10 years until replacement housing is available.

Some 30 years hence, it is intended that the Wherry housing site be
restored to the general public as one of the Presidio's most scenic areas
for hiking and picnicking.

Invoking Prop. L's policy would prevent the Presidio Trust from exercising
the flexibility it needs to generate sufficient income - some $375 million
- needed to pay for park maintenance. And the trust board faces a $245
million bill to bring Presidio buildings up to code.

>From a legal standpoint, the Presidio is federal land for which The City
lacks jurisdiction.

The trust board has a mandate to uphold the Presidio General Management
Plan, which is intended to preserve the park's open space through its
planned demolitions of nonhistoric buildings.

Alexander denied suggestions that the public lacks influence in Presidio
long-range development. The general management plan, he said, is the
product of hundreds of public meetings.

"If this passes," Alexander said of Prop. L, "San Francisco is saying we
want to use this place to solve San  Francisco's social problems. How's
that going to play in Congress that's looking for excuses to kill Presidio
funding?"

If Prop. L had mentioned using Presidio housing for the homeless, "it would
have been a dead loser," he said.

END FORWARD


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