GREEN CITY First came the troubling mandate that the Presidio needed to break even financially, a new model for a national park area. Then came the Starbucks. That's right: the Guardian has learned that a Starbucks will open next month in the Presidio's Letterman Digital Arts Center, replacing locally owned Perk Presidio.
The new Starbucks and all it represents has raised the ire of both park and city activists. Scott Silver, executive director of Wild Wilderness, based in Bend, Ore., is concerned that the Presidio's self-funding requirement is a harbinger of things to come across federal land management agencies. He says other properties following the Presidio model include Fort Baker in Marin, Sandy Hook in New Jersey, Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico (Forest Service land), and Fort Monroe in Virginia.
"It brings the entire standard of our national park system down from a high pedestal to a pretty base commercial reality," Silver said. "I just look at the Presidio as the first in what I fear will be a long chain of national parks that move away from the model of a publicly funded public good to a privately funded, largely commercial extension of our commercial world that's really not in any way what we associate with national parks."
City activists point to Proposition G, which passed by a healthy 16 percent margin in 2006, requiring formula retail stores to get conditional use authorization from the Planning Commission before opening in neighborhood commercial districts. Richmond District residents demonstrated the power of this legislation in September by blocking a Starbucks slated for Fifth Avenue and Geary.
Dean Preston, a neighborhood activist and attorney launching a statewide organization called Tenants Together, said, "The law specifically applies to neighborhood commercial districts, but I think those same people who live in neighborhood commercial districts are using the Presidio, which is here in their backyard. I think that whether or not [Letterman Digital Arts] is subject to local law on the issue, they should be taking into account that city sentiment when deciding what kind of businesses to lease there."
Raul Saavedra, leasing director for Letterman Digital Arts, told us he didn't know about Prop. G but that the company is aware that some people have opinions about Starbucks. That's why the LDA originally selected Perk Presidio for the space. "We wanted someone like that to be successful," Saavedra said. "And they weren't, unfortunately."
So the LDA decided to look for a new vendor, considering sole proprietors and local and national chains. Saavedra said the smaller operators he considered had credit issues and concerns about making the location successful. He said the key factors in selecting Starbucks were its strong credit, good service, and solid sustainability program.
Dana Polk, the Presidio Trust's senior adviser for government and media relations, said that as master tenant, the LDA is free to sublet that space to any company it chooses. Nevertheless, Saavedra indicated that the LDA anticipated possible concerns with choosing Starbucks: "We went to the trust before we signed the deal with Starbucks, because we knew that there would probably be some opinions. And at that time there was no problem."
This will not be the first national park area to host a Starbucks.