Central Subway just the latest SF planning blunder 

After looking at Muni’s Central Subway project, the civil grand jury reached the same conclusion that most nonpartisan observers have — it’s a useless money pit just waiting to suck down whatever is left of the public transit system’s dwindling revenues.

But no one listens to grand juries, a fact that once got me placed on a press panel of national grand jurors, who seemed somewhat wounded that all their hard work could be so casually ignored.

Yet at least this time, San Francisco’s citizen investigative body got ahead of the curve, pointing out that mega-projects always go over cost. And with a price tag of $1.6 billion, rising from an original estimate of $648 million, the Central Subway project is going to be one of the most-expensive mistakes city officials have ever made — and that’s saying a lot.

While it’s not exactly a train to nowhere, the proposed subway only goes 1.7 miles to Chinatown, but does not connect to the main part of the Financial District, bypassing BART and other feeder lines. It’s a route based on — well, we’re still waiting to find out.

The mayor, the supervisors and other public officials have already hopped on board, so all the good advice our civil guardians are offering will find a good home with the hundreds of other reports gathering dust. But just think if our civic forefathers had a chance to hit the reset button, and could undo all the other grand mistakes sullying our once-pristine landscape.

At least then we’d have a chance to get rid of ...

Sutro Tower: This mindless pox on the city skyline allegedly exists as a television and radio transmitter, though anyone who lives within a few miles of it knows that it only distorts television and radio waves. It looks like it was based on a 1950s erector set — one that Godzilla destroyed in any number of horrible Japanese sci-fi movies.

If only we were so lucky. Residents expressed outrage over both the design and the height of tower, but were rebuffed by the powers that be, one of the cruelest planning jokes ever perpetrated on The City. In a place famous for its scenic hills, this metallic monstrosity is perched on one of the highest, allowing it to be seen as far away as Mount Diablo. This is not a good thing.

VA Hospital: Given the stunning views of the Golden Gate from the site on Point Lobos, this area made perfect sense as a fort and defense battery for the U.S. Army at the turn of the 20th century, but it’s transition to a veterans’ hospital — and the subsequent collection of industrial box buildings — has turned a majestic vista point into an architectural eyesore.

If ever there was a perfect place for a park with recreational facilities, this is it. Yet it remains as a testament to a time when the federal government did anything it wanted anywhere it could.

999 Green St.: Everything that was bad about ’60s architecture and planning found its concrete heart in this structure on one of the prettiest parts of Russian Hill. Even fans of glass jewel-box designer Joseph Eichler have problems with this 32-story gray mass, which is so out of scale with its surroundings it looks like it was beamed down from the Starship Enterprise.

The views and the register list here are impressive. But there’s a reason the anti high-rise movement gained such a footing in San Francisco.

De Young Museum tower: The new museum is vastly superior to its predecessor in every way but one — the adjoining tower is an architectural statement in search of a mission. The tower resembles something out of “The Lord of the Rings.” If only we could find a magic ring to make it disappear.

Candlestick Park: The most remarkable thing about the stadium is that it’s still here — an ode to the days when arenas were built without any aesthetic element or wind studies. The City could make a small fortune selling lottery tickets for the chance to push the detonator button.

Playland: Here not because it got built, but because it got torn down. Its sad history provides further proof that every city could use a fun house.

Ken Garcia appears Thursdays and Sundays in The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at kgarcia@sfexaminer.com.

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