The latest Presidio disgrace

Pub date March 6, 2007
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Here’s yet another reason why the Presidio national park is a national disgrace:

Way back in 1995, when Rep. Nancy Pelosi was in the process of turning the Presidio over to private interests, we and some other critics asked what the rush was. Sure, money for the new park was tight under a Republican Congress, but that didn’t justify privatizing a national park.

Pelosi’s response: if we don’t let the private sector control the park’s future, the Republicans will just sell it off to the highest bidder.

That struck us as unlikely at the time, particularly since the president, who would have to sign any bill to sell the park, was a Democrat named Bill Clinton. But in retrospect, even if Pelosi’s worst fears had come true, at least the private developers who’d bought it would have had to abide by city zoning rules and state laws.

Instead Pelosi has created the worst of both worlds. As Amanda Witherell reported last week, the Presidio’s special status as a federal enclave means the dozens of private businesses operating there don’t have to abide by California labor laws. And we already knew they didn’t have to follow city or state land-use or environmental laws. In effect, Pelosi has created a private-sector libertarian Wild West in progressive San Francisco, a place where big operators such as George Lucas can avoid taxes and, if they choose, skirt California labor laws, San Francisco’s minimum-wage and health-insurance requirements, and a long list of other workplace protections.

The Presidio isn’t the only national park to face this problem; legal battles over, for example, the right to sell untaxed booze at Yosemite have created a precedent that federal law rules on federal land. But it’s not much of an issue in the rest of the country, because most national parks aren’t business parks and have only modest, if any, private commercial activity going on. Most of the people who work on that federal land are federal employees, who have union contracts that protect them.

And most national parks aren’t right in the middle of crowded urban areas, where businesses right across the street have to obey rules, pay taxes, and act like part of a community.

This isn’t what the late Rep. Phil Burton, whose seat Pelosi now holds, had in mind when he passed a bill requiring that the Pentagon turn the Presidio over to the National Park Service when its days as a military base were done.

There is, of course, a simple fix, and organized labor ought to join the growing chorus of environmentalists putting pressure on Pelosi to get with the program. She needs to repeal the bill that privatized the Presidio, eliminate the requirement that the park pay for itself through commercial ventures, and let it be run like every other national park in the nation.

At the very least, she needs to put through an amendment that requires Presidio businesses — and the Presidio Trust itself — to abide by state and local laws and regulations. *