the butler did it
Good servants are hard to find, they say.
Take that big house in the middle of Golden Gate Park known
as the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.
The old structure, badly damaged in the
1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, closed its doors on December
31, 2000. Its walls are scheduled to come tumbling down
early next year to make way for a new state-of-the-arts
edifice, complete with a tower that’s either a proud
symbol of San Francisco civility or the control tower of an
aircraft carrier, depending on how you look at it.
But the issue that rocked the walls of
City Hall last Monday was not aesthetic. The occasion was a
public appeal to the Board of Supervisors, an elected
assembly, to review the conduct of the Planning Commission,
an appointed body. It was ostensibly environmental — to
affirm the commission’s certification of the Final
Environmental Impact Report — but in fact it focused on
whether the servants in that big house were doing their job
Members of People for a New de Young, the
group that has long and loudly criticized the project, said
no way: attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley called the EIR “significantly
inadequate and incomplete.” Supervisor Aaron Peskin,
experienced in environmental practices, concurred: “There
is a certain kind of self-serving language in these reports
that creates a certain kind of self-serving result.”
The odd thing was that the Planning
It seems that there had been a “very
significant” snafu during the preparation of the EIR, so
that projected environmental impacts were based on a tower
10 percent shorter than the one in the architects’ plans.
Straight-faced, Planning Director Gerald Green and Museums
Director Harry S. Parker III apologized for the error,
admitting that the supes had no choice but to return the EIR
What the…? Why didn’t they just ask to
postpone the hearing until they could come up with a
The answer comes straight out of City
Politics 101: How to Undercut Your Opponents.
Parker told Chronicle reporter Rachel
Gordon that the he was “alerted to the problem” during
the week of August 6; the newspapers carried the story on
the following Monday. But on August 10 Parker sent a letter
to museum members that failed to mention the “problem”
but raised the specter of DELAY. His good little soldiers
turned out in huge numbers for the supervisors’ hearing on
Their impassioned pleas to save the city’s
cultural life almost worked. The supes voted, as expected,
to send the EIR back to accommodate the pesky extra sixteen
feet in the tower. They demurred , however, on most of the
appellants’ other concerns, including the absence of
alternative plans, the absence of possible cumulative
effects with other proposed construction in the area. The
museum and its planning colleagues nearly got away with
doing sloppy homework.
Nearly. There was a glitch. The concourse
area of Golden Gate Park is being nominated for landmark
status, which brings the possibility of federal funds. How,
the board wants to know, will the proposed design affect its
prospects? Maybe it won’t at all. But the question gets to
the heart of the dispute — how the “new de Young” fits
into its surroundings — and good stewards should be able
to answer it satisfactorily.
But then, good stewards should also be
able to find ways for the people they serve to enjoy the de
Young’s collection, or at least part of it, over the next
four years. Why has no one suggested taking over a wing of
the Legion of Honor for the duration? Instead, the public is
threatened with artistic deprivation if the plans for the
new museum are not rubber-stamped.
Talk about uppity servants! You just can’t
get good help these days.
August 10, 2001
Dear Museum Member:
I am sure you have been following the
determined effort to rebuild the M.H. de Young Memorial
Museum in Golden Gate Park. Over the past several years we
have endured bond issue losses and political setbacks as we
persevered in our efforts to secure the Museums’
collections in a seismically safe building — safe for the
collections and for visitors alike.
Now, our efforts have come to an important
moment when you can be extremely helpful. Our plans
will be the subject of a public meeting of the Board of
Supervisors scheduled on August 20 at 3:00 p.m. in City
Hall. The main point for discussion will be the
Environmental Impact Report, which was certified by the
Planning Commission in December of last year. However, the
certification decision has been appealed to the full Board
of Supervisors by a small group calling itself People for a
New de Young. Primarily at issue will be the adequacy of the
original Environmental Impact Report, which includes such
issues as shadow impacts of the new building, visitor
projections, and conformity to the City’s master plan.
These issues were considered by the Planning Commission in
the greatest detail with over a year’s worth of work and
multiple opportunities for community input. A decision to
re-open the EIR would be exceedingly costly in terms both of
money and time. With the de Young now closed, we are eager
to maintain our original schedule and open the new facility
as planned in 2005 to serve the many audiences of the de
You can help by attending the
public hearing to support the museum through your presence
or by calling or writing the Supervisor who represents your
district. You might wish to focus your comments on the theme
of “Don’t Delay the de Young” and include the
· Completion of the new de Young is
essential to return this unique and valuable cultural
resource to our city.
· The speedy completion of the new de
Young is vital to our public schools, which depend on
the de Young’s educational programs and support
· Completion of the new de Young is
important to the future of Golden Gate Park and to the
cultural resources in the Concourse area.
· The new de Young is necessary to
ensure the safety of both our collections and visitors.
I list below the San Francisco districts,
their Supervisors, their office telephone numbers and e-mail
addresses. Now is the time to lend your political
support in whatever form is most convenient for you.
I appreciate the loyalty of the museum
membership, which has been so supportive financially as well
as in other constructive ways. If you have any questions
about these issues or your advocacy role, please give me a
call at 750-3543.