OPINION The recent Guardian editorial was absolutely correct in its analysis of development in the Presidio: San Francisco "wound up with the worst of all worlds" ["Playing Hardball in the Presidio," 7/12/06]. Essentially it was Rep. Nancy Pelosi who created the all-powerful, arrogant, and unaccountable Presidio Trust to simply have its way with the conversion of the park, one of most breathtaking, inspiring pieces of real estate in the world, situated right here in our own front yard.
The voices of San Franciscans hoping to inject any conscience into the transition process of the military base into a national park have been basically ignored from the beginning; any opinions expressed at the mandated community hearings that did not fit in with the trust's plans counted for nothing.
Many will remember that in January 1996 Religious Witness with Homeless People launched a campaign to preserve the Presidio's roughly 1,900 housing units and make them available to San Franciscans of all economic levels. We specifically targeted the 466 units of former military family housing and tried to have those set aside for homeless individuals and families and other low-income members of our community. This powerful campaign extended over a period of almost three years and was actively supported in a variety of ways by a diverse collection of at least 237 organizations and more than 1,700 individuals in San Francisco, including then-mayor Willie Brown and other elected city officials. But even the powerful, united voice of this campaign was haughtily disregarded by the seven members of the Presidio Trust, all with the smiling blessing of Pelosi.
The ultimate step taken by our campaign to secure the availability of the housing for our city, which even then suffered a crisis in the lack of affordable housing, was to place a measure on the 1997 ballot. Proposition L stated that unless the Presidio Trust made housing available to San Franciscans of all economic levels, the city would withhold the nonemergency services so desperately needed by the Presidio in order to function.
The passage of Prop. L provided the powerful leverage needed to achieve our goal. We had no reason to suspect that Mayor Brown, who had strongly, consistently, and publicly supported our campaign and the passage of Prop. L, would betray us.
However, shortly after the passage of Prop. L, Brown simply gave the trust the public services it needed. This was a betrayal of hundreds of men and women living on our streets, and the 93,002 voters who favored the proposition.
Throughout our three-year campaign, Pelosi, the National Park Service, and the Presidio Trust repeated the mantra: "The National Park Service is not in the business of providing housing." How hypocritical, then, are the trust's current plans to build hundreds of housing units in the Presidio, even as its seven nonelected members continue to arrogantly ignore the expressed concerns of the neighboring communities? That's what happens when the guiding force is money instead of social and environmental concerns.
What was once a dream for San Franciscans has become a nightmare. It happened as Pelosi stood firmly with the Presidio Trust as it created an elite city within our city. But the plans are not yet fully implemented, and San Franciscans still have a chance to put a stop to the Presidio Trust's most recent assault on our community. SFBG
Sister Bernie Galvin
Sister Bernie Galvin is the director of Religious Witness with Homeless People.