Alcatraz should be left in peace

The full-page ads have been appearing for years on the back covers of local New Age publications such as Common Ground and Open Exchange. Featured is a pretty illustration of a greenery-covered island in San Francisco Bay, adorned with futuristic buildings including a large dome and a pyramid.

The headline announces: “The Global Peace Center … Alcatraz Island.” Accompanying text touts the worldwide benefits of constructing “a new and peaceful paradigm for all humanity” that would “activate powerful forces for cooperation, reconciliation and healing” at this “sacred site.”

Now this ad copy has been transferred to San Francisco’s Voter Information Pamphlet for the Feb. 5 election. Proposition C asks, “Shall it be City policy that the City should explore and facilitate the acquisition of Alcatraz Island from the United States government to transform it into a Global Peace Center?” The measure would simply be a Declaration of Policy that doesn’t actually force City Hall to take any action whatsoever.

The Global Peace Center initiative is being promulgated by a self-financed confederacy of foundations clustered around the Light Party and its founder, Da Vid. These groups have separate Web sites but all share the same mailing address and phone number in Mill Valley. They placed Proposition C on the ballot by collecting 10,396 valid resident signatures, meeting a required minimum equaling 5 percent of total voters in the 2003 mayoral race.

Internet descriptions of the Global Peace Center proposal are eloquent about the advanced features for this coming “Jewel of Light,” such as “three-dimensional holographic sound technologies … which will promote and elicit a deep meditative, transpersonal and transcendental experience,” a giant medicine wheel and labyrinth, and “an international showcase for sustainable energy technologies.”

However, the Web site is notably silent about how much this conversion would cost and where the money would come from. In recent interviews, Da Vid has mentioned a billion-dollar project, although clearly nobody knows. Da Vid’s concept for financing the Global Peace Center is that “money will come.” He believes The City could recoup expenses for taking over Alcatraz responsibilities by charging a tax on tourist boat tickets.

Of course, the bottom line is that any major changes to the Alcatraz Prison monument would be as impossible as they are undesirable. The island is already one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing about 1.4 million visitors yearly. It also happens to be a national park and a designated historic landmark, so converting it to a more “enlightened” image would require a vote by Congress — a legislative body not known for New Age sympathies.

Proposition C might well win on Tuesday, because people like peace and pretty theme parks that supposedly won’t raise their taxes. But that pointless victory would accomplish little to advance Da Vid’s dream into reality. There’s nothing wrong with creating a magnificent Peace Center in the Bay Area, but Da Vid and his cohorts need to go for it on private land and with private funding.

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