City says Prop. B will hurt parks, Coit Tower; backers say funds are needed 

click to enlarge United front: Proponents of Proposition B gathered on the steps of Coit Tower on Tuesday to officially launch the campaign. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • United front: Proponents of Proposition B gathered on the steps of Coit Tower on Tuesday to officially launch the campaign.

No one is happy about gashes and wear on Coit Tower’s Depression-era murals, but how to fix the problem has sparked bitter disagreement between the Recreation and Park Department and the perpetually watchful neighbors of Telegraph Hill. Now voters will weigh in on whose solution is better.

If passed, Proposition B would give San Francisco a new policy of “strictly limiting” commercial activity and private events at the landmark, while “prioritizing” funds generated by a concessionaire for upkeep of the tower, the murals and the surrounding park.

The policy language does not get more specific about the limits on events or a percentage of funds to be retained for the site, but Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg calls the policy overly restrictive, saying it could set a bad precedent for self-contained “enterprise budgeting” in San Francisco’s parks. Many of The City’s small parks, especially those in poor neighborhoods, can only stay open because of revenue generated elsewhere, Ginsburg said.

He also argues that solutions to Coit Tower’s problems depend on his department retaining a more dynamic concessionaire at the site, which generates about $700,000 per year in profits used to subsidize parks elsewhere in The City. Because of its vague “commercial activity” language, Prop. B could make it hard to find new operators for the popular tourist attraction, forcing the department to limit public access, Ginsburg said.

Prop. B’s proponents called Ginsburg’s response disconcerting.

“Threatening the people of The City with the closure of parks in poor neighborhoods, or of Coit Tower itself, if he doesn’t get what he wants — it’s shocking,” said Jon Golinger, leader of the Protect Coit Tower Committee and head of the influential Telegraph Hill Dwellers neighborhood group.

The committee wants to see The City spend more than the $40,000 to $50,000 it dedicates annually to building maintenance. But Ginsburg says while his department cares deeply about the landmark, it already regularly spends $200,000 per year on the overall site, including the surrounding park. He said private events also help cover the costs and raise money for worthy causes.

“We should be doing more of that, not less,” Ginsburg said.

While Ginsburg acknowledges that the Prop. B campaign has brought some needed attention to Coit Tower, he said Rec and Park was already in the process of fixing problems. The department recently made a $250,000 pledge to fund mural fixes through the Arts Commission, which has jurisdiction over the works and is working with a company to devise a restoration strategy.

Ginsburg said based on information from a conservator, the $250,000 donation “will cover the cost of preliminary restoration,” although a full assessment of costs to restore the murals and structural issues at the tower won’t be available until a contractor completes a full report, which may not occur before the polls close June 5.

Golinger said Rec and Park has been lagging on problems at Coit Tower since they were first realized, and that neighbors attempted to work with the department, but to no avail.

“This is a management problem,” Golinger said.

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