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Coit Tower, NIMBY Beacon to the World

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[Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, via Google Maps] The Protect Coit Tower Committee delivered more than 16,000 signatures this week, the first step towards a local ballot measure in 2012 to "preserve" Coit Tower. There's nothing quite like a carefully-written ballot measure, and theirs is vague enough to get behind. How can you not support the preservation of the Coit Tower murals? It's like loving puppies. Although most tourists go to up there for the view, the 1930s murals remain important examples of the Depression's iconic Social Realism style, and they've begun to deteriorate, primarily due to water damage, seepage and fog. So we have all the usual suspects- preservation, NIMBYs, and the perennial battle over parking and access.

An early Works Progress Administration project, most of the murals are frescos (painted directly on plaster) with a distinctly local, left-wing political attitude influenced by Mexican painter Diego Rivera, then a major art world celebrity. Rivera was in San Francisco in 1930-31 to work on two mural projects and knew a number of the artists involved in Coit Tower and would return a decade later to paint his vast Pan-American Unity fresco for City College. Sadly, the Protect Coit Tower Committee and its cousin, Telegraph Hill Neighbors are not interested in raising money to restore the murals They want funds to come from concession revenues, but their ballot measure looks more like a smokescreen to restrict access in the evenings and protect their parking.

Coit Tower is closed in the evenings, but the road up- an extension of Lombard Street- is not, and neighbors enjoy the parking lot there at night. Rec & Parks will soon be looking for a new concessionaire to take over, and a successful operator will want to use the tower and parking lot at night for private events- a room at the tower's top for small events, and there's plenty of room in front for a party tent. Food trucks, a more mobile solution, would make it even more popular with drivers. To be fair to residents, during the day (and not just on weekends) they've suffered the line of cars stretching down Lombard Street, full of tourists waiting patiently for a parking space to open in front of the tower, Justin Bieber playing at full blast, and making the #39 bus from Fisherman's Wharf perennially late- a situation that has existed for decades. And no, they probably don't want valet parking and a crowd of young new tech millionaires dancing the night away, either. It's as much about change as Rec & Parks' need to monetize some of their assets, plus the potential need to shut down Coit Tower for a few years while the murals are stabilized and restored. So far, no one seems to have brought up the subject of naming rights to raise revenue. Facebook Coit Tower?
· Neighbors Look Toward Ballot Measure to Protect Coit Tower [SF Examiner]
· Newly-Formed Neighborhood Group Wants to "Preserve and Protect" Coit Tower [Curbed SF]
· San Francisco's Famed Coit Tower Murals in Peril Due to Fog, Neglect [PBS News Hour]
· CCSF: Diego Rivera's Mural May Not Languish in Semi-Obscurity Much Longer [Curbed SF]

For more images, check out photographer Donald Kenney's outstanding collection of details of the Coit Tower murals.