Presidio Trust gets sued -- for good reason

History -- or hotel?

The Sierra Club and the Presidio Historical Association have filed suit in federal court charging that the Presidio Trust violated environmental laws when it approved a new luxury hotel for the Main Post area.

The suit reflects the essential problem of the semi-private trust: When you force a national park to make enough money to pay its own way, and you stock the governing board with people who think like real-estate developers, then you create the near inevitability of serious problems.

The complaint, filed by lawyers at the Stanford Environmental Law clinic, argues that the construction of a 95,000-square-foot hotel, consisting of 14 buildings, "will degrade the historic, cultural, and aesthetic values and character of the main post, in direct violation of the duty imposed on the Trust by the National Historic Preservation Act."

The suit also challenges the adequacy of the environmental impact statement the Trust prepared on the proposal.

The whole idea of a luxury hotel in an urban national park is a bit odd -- but then, so is the idea of an 850,000-square-foot commercial office building owned by George Lucas's outfit and built with a $60 million tax break.

That's what privatization inspires. That's why the entire foundation of the Presidio Trust and the law that created it are so fundamentally flawed.

In the meantime, we have this fancy hotel, which ought to go the way of the Fisher museum. It's so clearly inappropriate for the site (which, by the way, is one of the most important historic sites on the west coast) that it's hard to imagine how it got this far. (No it's not -- the Presidio Trust is a real-estate development outfit, not a national parks outfit. I keep forgetting.)

So now maybe this lawsuit will stop it in its tracks. Maybe at some point Congress will realize that national parks aren't supposed to pay for themselves (shall we sell naming rights to the Grand Canyon to Disney?) and repeal the Presidio Trust Act. In the meantime, thanks to the folks who are trying to keep the damage under control.