Stow Lake boathouse turbulence likely not done yet 

Lawyers for the Stow Lake Corp. could not convince a Superior Court judge Tuesday that the company has a legal right to keep managing the Golden Gate Park boathouse, but the saga seems destined to continue.

Oliver Holmes, a lawyer for the longtime boathouse manager, said that his clients will probably appeal a judge’s decision dismissing their lawsuit seeking to throw out a decision awarding the contract to another company.

The company, which has managed the boathouse for about 65 years, has fought to be the long-term leaseholder. Citing a lack of investment, city officials have denied the company’s applications five times since 2006. Company officials complained every time.

Finally, an independent panel convened by the Recreation and Park Department last year recommended awarding Ortega Family Enterprises a 15-year contract at the boathouse, mainly because of its plan for renovations. The Board of Supervisors unanimously ratified the decision.

Stow Lake Corp. lawyers argued that the selection process was corrupt and that the department unfairly favored Ortega.

The lawsuit attracted outsized attention once it was revealed that Rec and Park staff advised Ortega to hire a well-connected lobbying firm.

"I think it was a lack of judgment to suggest a particular firm," Judge Loretta Giorgi said Tuesday. But she noted that the decision was ultimately unrelated to the issues she was presiding over. "There’s no question in my mind that this process was done in a forthright manner," she said.

Giorgi said Stow Lake Corp. lawyers did not have evidence that prove the merits of their case. "This needs to move forward," she said.

The company was supposed to vacate the premises March 22, but it has remained in place because of the litigation.

Another company lawyer, Paul Rosenlund, implied after the hearing that his client won’t be leaving soon. "They’re still tenants and they have holdover tenant rights," Rosenlund said. "Does The City want to risk the liability it would incur by throwing out a business that’s been there for 65 years?"

Rosenlund’s colleague Holmes said the judge misinterpreted what qualifies as the "highest responsible bidder."

Meanwhile, parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg said, "We are excited about moving forward."

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

 

A Stow Lake timeline

Ortega Family Enterprises was awarded its contract to replace Stow Lake Corp. in February, and has already purchased a fleet of boats anticipating the move. However, it is unclear whether Ortega will be managing the boathouse this summer.

  • June 21, 2010: Independent panel scores Ortega as highest bidder
  • Aug. 19, 2010: Recreation and Park Commission votes 6-1 for Ortega
  • Feb. 1: Board of Supervisors unanimously approves Ortega’s contract
  • March 4: Stow Lake files petition for temporary restraining order
  • March 22: Ortega scheduled to take over this date
  • May 17: Judge denies temporary restraining order, but Stow Lake lawyers say appeal is likely

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Kamala Kelkar

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