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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Coit Tower: Prop. B Passes. What Does it Mean?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 6, 2012 at 11:25 AM

click to enlarge This is what you voted to preserve
  • This is what you voted to preserve

You can find the results of the election locals cared about so much that more than 75 percent of them didn't bother to vote here.

Elections, however, aren't American Idol. They don't exist for entertainment purposes -- the saga of lawyer/dentist/Birther Queen Orly Taitz notwithstanding. Even boring elections can end up shaping the future. And, yesterday's contest was hardly a total snoozer in the compelling human interest department. Take Prop. B, the Coit Tower measure. Despite some $170,000 pouring in from massive companies, Indian tribes, rich politicos, and the state's dentists -- and the opposition of City Hall, the Recreation and Parks Department, and both daily newspapers -- the measure won.

Prop. B is not the 14th Amendment -- its passage will not change the city's political landscape with the force of a thunderclap and its future effect is not entirely clear. As a "policy statement" to "prioritize" Coit Tower-generated money for site upkeep and to "strictly limit" private events at the landmark, it is also not entirely legally binding (you can read the proposition in its 75-word entirety here).

Jon Golinger, the measure's author, notes that while Prop. B is now official city policy, since it wasn't an ordinance or charter amendment, "you can't go to court to force it." If so, that means the penalty for unelected vestiges of the city's power structure deciding to blow off the stated will of the voters -- is to face the wrath of the city's voters.

Similarly, it remains to be seen just how the "policy" of "strictly limiting commercial activities and private events at Coit Tower" and "prioritizing the funds" it generates toward upkeep is translated into nuts-and-bolts procedure -- or who will be doing it and when.

click to enlarge coit_tower.jpg
That said, there are reasons for the Recreation and Parks Department and the "City Family" to make an actual effort to comply with Prop. B, beyond any quaint notions of doing right by Coit Tower or adhering to the will of the majority. In November -- when we'll be electing a president and turnout will slip higher than 23 percent -- Rec and Park will be asking city voters to pony up for a parks bond of some $200 million.

If, between now and then, the city is perceived as blowing off the will of the majority of voters, who backed Prop. B, it might become that much harder to convince a supermajority of voters to give Rec and Parks huge amounts of money.

Rec and Parks' strategy in fighting Prop. B was to intimidate voters, claiming a vote for Prop. B was a vote toward shorter Coit Tower hours and pulling funds away from parks and playgrounds in low-income, underserved neighborhoods. Rec and Parks boss Phil Ginsburg's letter to the Department of Elections providing "analysis" of what would happen if Prop. B passed stopped short of predicting lava would flow from the earth if voters approved the measure. If lava were to be involved, however, Ginsburg's analysis seems to indicate it would have flowed directly to the parks in those low-income, underserved neighborhoods.

The real legacy of Prop. B may have little to do with Coit Tower -- which could help explain why the powers that be fought it so heavily and secured funds from organizations and politicos who couldn't tell Coit Tower from Coit carpet cleaning.

Prop. B was, arguably, a small-scale version of the ballot box budgeting that has crippled the state of California. But it was also a clear-cut instance of the city's voters telling their government what they wanted -- and to get on the ball. This could serve as a template; aggrieved, politically active communities around the city now know they can go directly to the voters to undo perceived city power grabs and mismanagement (people angry about the entry fees to Strybing Arboretum are certainly bandying about some new ideas).

This could explain the relatively expensive war waged against Prop. B. But that's not Golinger's concern. "They saw this as a power play," he says. "But, really, this has always been about Coit Tower."

It would seem those bemoaning the lack of interest generated by the just-concluded election were premature. The next several months look to be rather interesting indeed.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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