A key test for Pelosi

Pub date December 12, 2006
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s signature legislation came out of a Republican Congress. It was shortly after Newt Gingrich and his gang took control of the House that Pelosi began moving to privatize the Presidio; she argued that the GOP majority would never fund a real national park in San Francisco and the only way to prevent Congress from trying to sell off the land the military no longer wanted was to find a mechanism that wouldn’t cost any money and would be palatable to the archconservatives who were calling the shots.
When she’s criticized for the bill — and that’s been happening a lot lately — she replies, in effect: we had no choice. If we wanted to save this remarkable 1,400-acre parcel of land, we had to play the Republicans’ game. And indeed, her approach was everything that the Gingriches of the world liked: instead of using tax dollars to fund a national park (something that had been done since the birth of the National Park System), she created the semiprivate Presidio Trust, which was charged with raising enough cash through development and rents to pay the park’s own way by 2013.
Now we have George Lucas operating a commercial office building in the middle of the park and housing renting out at top market rates to wealthy tenants and a plan to turn a former hospital near Lake Street into a dense luxury condo complex — and, in general, the future of the park being driven by commercial interests.
But things are different now: Pelosi, not Gingrich, is calling the shots. The Democrats control both houses of Congress, the president is a lame duck bogged down in a war that is making him more unpopular by the day — and for the first time since the Sixth Army moved out and the privatizers moved in, there is no political reason why Pelosi can’t amend her bill and change the way the Presidio is run.
It’s clear that the current system isn’t working. The federal government keeps pouring big money into subsidizing the private ventures in the park. The Sierra Club, which initially supported Pelosi’s bill, is now demanding reform.
This is a test of how Pelosi will use her new power — and whether she was telling the truth when she blamed the privatization of the park on Republicans. She needs to introduce and push a bill to eliminate the Presidio Trust, turn the land over to the National Park Service, and manage it in the interest of the public, not private profit. SFBG