It is best to start with the part of Proposition B that we can all agree about. The artwork at Coit Tower, and the structure itself, needs repair. Yet this policy statement on the June 5 San Francisco ballot is not the way to fix it.
Prop. B would make it the policy of San Francisco to strictly limit commercial activity at Coit Tower as well as to prioritize funds earned at the landmark to be spent there for work on the murals, tower and surrounding park.
Coit Tower, which sits atop Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park, falls under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Department, but the artwork inside is controlled by the Arts Commission. The tower opened in 1933 and the artwork was painted in 1934 as part of the New Deal’s Public Works of Art Project. One of the leading tourist attractions in San Francisco, Coit Tower is a revenue-generating site for Rec and Park, and the department reinvests about $275,000 of the money made there back into the building and surrounding park.
Supporters of this proposition do not think The City spends enough on the murals, though. So this exercise in ballot-box budgeting would make it city policy to steer more money back to the artworks, building and grounds.
But finding a steady income source for the Arts Commission would be a better means of protecting such murals for the long term. Rec and Park recently dedicated $250,000 for work on the murals, which is a sign of good faith that the department is committed to the project.
Prop. B also would make it policy to limit commercial activity at Coit Tower. This too is a backward way of thinking about an iconic landmark. Rec and Park is in a dire budget situation. The agency has $1.6 billion in deferred maintenance systemwide, and a report in 2011 by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association stated that the department needs $30 million more per year to keep its sites and facilities from falling into disrepair.
Rec and Park is currently searching for a new private company to run the concessions and operations at Coit Tower. Under the guidelines laid out for the new operator, there could be one private event at the site each month.
Allowing private parties to rent out the facility, as is done at fine arts museums and even our own City Hall, could bring in more money to bolster the needs of the department — particularly in less-affluent neighborhoods where parks facilities lack high-profile supporters.
It is bad city policy to start creating park fiefdoms across this city by using the ballot box. It also is dangerous to begin telling each city department where and how to spend dwindling financial resources. Rec and Park is responsible for sites that range from money-making operations, including Coit Tower and the Japanese Tea Garden, to underfunded playgrounds in the Bayview and Mission districts. The goal should be to help the department make money in smart ways and then let it spend that money where needed. Prop. B does neither of these.