Coke-sign controversy deserves to fizzle out 

History and numerous health studies have shown that things don’t go better with Coke.

But San Francisco, as is often the case, may disprove this generally accepted theory, that is, if common sense is allowed to intervene.

It once took me months to beat some into the heads of city supervisors when it looked like the smiling Doggie Diner sign near the San Francisco Zoo was about to get whacked from its noble perch. And now I’m asking for a quicker and more dignified response from our current board, which apparently is the only civic body standing between an iconic Coca-Cola mural and a whitewash.

That work of touched-up art is being threatened by some bureaucratic laws that didn’t come into existence until some 30 years after the sign first appeared on the side of a grocery store in Bernal Heights — a store that is now a private home to a proud city native who is wondering what all the fuss is about.

Richard Modolo discovered the Coke sign after he took down the asbestos siding that covered his home 20 years ago. The picture of a silhouetted girl drinking from a bottle of soda so engaged Modolo that he asked an artist friend of his to repaint it, and the striking feature has been a much-complimented upon part of the neighborhood ever since

That was until about a month ago, when political correctness reared its ugly head.

It appears a parent, or teacher — no one knows for sure — at nearby Paul Revere Elementary School lodged a complaint saying that the Coke sign promotes obesity by encouraging children to drink it. And it turns out that city planning guidelines say that it’s illegal because it amounts to corporate advertising in a residential neighborhood.

To which the only reasonable reply is: You must be joking.

Does anybody really believe that one Coke sign is promoting consumption among The City’s youth? Do parents blindfold their kids on the way to school these days? That’s likely the only way to avoid the bombardment of advertising for products much less healthy than Coke along the way — and a lot less artistic.

Unless people are banning children from watching TV, ordering them to stay out of stores, keeping them out of stadiums and general living the Amish life here in the big city, there is no possible chance that kids will see anything but an onslaught of corporate logos. It’s called the real world.

In Modolo’s case, he restored a quaint symbol that’s been in existence for probably 70 years, a throwback to old San Francisco, in much the same way that the Hamm’s brewery sign and the Hills Bros. coffee sign remind city natives of simpler times here. That’s why so many people have told him they want The City to save it.

“I’m really surprised that there are so many people who care,” he told me. “I thought I was by myself on this one. I’ve been taken aback, but in a good way.”

Sadly, the official response from the city is that the Coke sign must go because it violates a ’60s-era rule about advertising in neighborhoods. Even though the symbol existed some 30 years before it went into effect, once the sign was obscured by siding, it was considered gone for good.

“When the siding came off [in 1991], it was effectively a new sign and a new permit should have been sought," said City Planner Dan Sider, who admits that he likes it. “It has a lot going for it, but we have to rely on the planning code.”

That would be the same planning code that allowed a 100-foot-tall Coke bottle in the bleachers at AT&T Park, a corporate grab that I fought back in 1998, only to have people like then-school chief Bill Rojas testify what a wonderful addition it would be to the ballpark.

Maybe kids should be shielded from that as well.

Sider said only the Board of Supervisors can pass legislation to establish a special sign district to avert a violation. District 9 Supervisor David Campos is allegedly weighing the benefits of sign removal, versus, say, reason.

This is one effort that shouldn’t fizzle. Save it — it’s the real thing.

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Ken Garcia

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