Coit Tower Is Worth Protecting

San Francisco Chronicle

Coit Tower is worth protecting

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cigar-chomping, whiskey-drinking, poker-playing Lillie Hitchcock Coit was a true San Francisco original. The tower that for 79 years has proudly shared her name is undoubtedly one of a kind, too. But if the honorary member of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5 called Firebelle Lil were today to walk through the front door of the monument her bequest "to beautify the city I love" built, she would surely be shocked by what she would see: lead paint peeling from the ceiling, chunks carelessly carved out of the 27 colorful and historic Works Progress Administration murals that adorn the inside, water seeping through the walls and damaging the irreplaceable art, dim lighting, poor signage, seemingly nobody at all in charge. Firebelle Lil would be the first to sound the alarm for a Coit Tower rescue mission.

Proposition B on the June 5 San Francisco ballot will begin that Coit Tower rescue mission. Prop. B was placed on the ballot by 16,300 voters who signed petitions to establish an official Coit Tower Preservation Policy to restore the badly damaged murals and create the oversight and accountability necessary to prevent Coit Tower from ever again falling into such a state of disrepair.

Prop. B does this in two ways. First, Prop. B directs the city to prioritize the existing funding already generated by Coit Tower to repair it and keep it in good shape. Currently, the city receives more than $633,000 a year from revenue such as the fees visitors pay to ride the elevator to the top of Coit Tower, but puts just 7 percent of those funds back into Coit Tower.

When Coit Tower needs repairs and protection, Prop. B will make it city policy to use some of the Coit Tower revenue for that purpose, with the remainder available for other city needs. The city controller's independent analysis in the voter pamphlet states that Prop. B "would not affect the cost of government."

Second, Prop. B will ensure that Coit Tower remains primarily a public place and not the private corporate party venue some would like it to become. Prop. B establishes a limit on the use of Coit Tower for private parties and commercial activities. It was recently revealed that last year Coit Tower was closed to the public during regular hours so that a small private group could hold a candlelight dinner party right in the middle of the fragile and damaged Coit Tower murals. Some city officials want that to happen on a regular basis. Prop. B will ensure that instead Coit Tower remains a public place everyone can enjoy.

Emmy Lou Packard, a famous San Francisco printmaker and muralist who worked closely with Diego Rivera, once wrote that Coit Tower should be treated like "one of the most beautiful art museums in San Francisco." This June, San Francisco voters will have the opportunity to do just that.

Let's give Firebelle Lil's generous gift to our city and the amazing murals that reside inside the protection they need and deserve by voting Yes on Proposition B.

Jon Golinger is chair of the Protect Coit Tower Committee.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/27/EDHA1O98H6.DTL

This article appeared on page A - 14 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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