Don’t let City Hall erode our protections for historic sites 

click to enlarge Aaron Peskin is the former Board of Supervisors president and the current chairman of the Democratic County Central Committee. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Aaron Peskin is the former Board of Supervisors president and the current chairman of the Democratic County Central Committee.

San Francisco remains a national and international tourist destination. Why?

Poll after poll, survey after survey, give you an idea about how others view our city’s allure. It’s simple: They value our rich history, culture, historic architectural resources and natural beauty.

That’s why it’s especially galling that the Board of Supervisors, individuals elected to be stewards of our city’s history and landmarks, are hell-bent on destroying policy and legal protections that have been in place for almost half a century, and which were affirmed recently in 2008 when San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition J to create the Historic Preservation Commission.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, masquerading as the savior of the middle class, has embarked on a dangerous precedent to erode the underpinning of The City’s greatest economic foundation — the tourism industry. His modifications to our historic-preservation safeguards are the equivalent of kicking out the studs and tearing out the buttresses on the house that San Francisco built.

There’s no disputing the facts and the numbers generated by our city’s protection of our landmarks and cultural resources for the tourism industry. But a closer examination shows the facts are bleak for historic preservation. San Francisco is home to only 11 small historic districts and 275 landmarks. Less than 2 percent of The City’s properties are subject to these preservation protections, which allow appropriate alterations and improvements.

The Historic Preservation Commission and our preservation laws possess far less power than those of Los Angeles; New York; Chicago; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and even Nashville, Tenn.

Yet Wiener — another mouthpiece for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, the anti-preservation, developer-funded “think tank” — is making phony, erroneous arguments to weaken San Francisco’s modest historic-preservation rules.

Arguments include claims that the slow pace of affordable-housing production is attributable to historic districts, the notion that historic preservation leads to gentrification, that the migration out of San Francisco by lower- and middle-class families is due to window sills and door frames, and that nosy neighbors are peering over the boxwood plants to make sure that traditional paint colors are used on  improvements to the cupola.

Such drivel. There’s simply no evidence supporting these nonsensical, misinformed and cynical claims.
Rather, supervisors should encourage their vaunted city “best practices” and develop programs and activities in academic scholarship, fieldwork and learning in the historic-preservation fields.

Community-based efforts that enhance the quality of life in our city and neighborhoods by honoring our past — such as those in the Dogpatch, India Basin and Alamo Square — are examples staring them in the face. In the public hearing, Wiener expressed alarm at the possibility of more historic districts being created, acknowledging his true legislative intention — to erect barriers to prohibit the very formation of historic districts in the future.

Astounding, coming from the representative of one of the greatest concentrations of pre-1906 Victorians in the country.

City Hall, take note — San Franciscans take very seriously their mission to identify, preserve, interpret, and sensitively promote and sustain our historic environment.

Instead of kowtowing to special interests, supervisors should pause before the vote and ask themselves what San Francisco will be if we don’t protect and preserve our rare heritage. The answer is as clear as a spring day on Twin Peaks. Once gone, those links to our past will be irretrievably broken. And those of us out here, outside the dome, simply should not allow that to happen.

Aaron Peskin is the former Board of Supervisors president and the current chairman of the Democratic County Central Committee.

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Aaron Peskin

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