SF Presidio plan triples employment base and adds 99 acres open space

By Justin Pritchard, The Associated Press
Wednesday May 22, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Developers who want a piece of a one-time military oasis may find themselves squeezed under a new plan for San Francisco’s last sprawl of prime real estate. 

The document lays out how the Presidio, a national park on a decommissioned Army base, plans to break even without selling out the property’s wraparound views of the Golden Gate Bridge and trails that arch through eucalyptus groves. 

Congress has mandated that the Presidio be economically self sufficient by 2013. 

Freshly turned mounds of dirt at the eastern gate show development is already underway. Lucasfilm Ltd. is building a 23-acre office and film production facility there for 2,500 workers. 

But Presidio officials insist their new vision constrains development. 

The 2,500-page plan was unveiled Tuesday, hours before Presidio officials scheduled a public comment session that was sure to generate a storm of opinions. 

In all, the plan would more than triple the employment base to 6,890 workers and add about 1,500 people to the current 2,250 residents. 

But open space would rise by 99 acres from the current 695 acres. And the total building space would fall from nearly 6 million square feet to 5.6 million square feet. 

The document updates a draft version Presidio officials released last summer. It tries to reconcile thousands of public comments from all 50 states — save North Dakota — that ranged from building an RV park to letting the space drift back to the sand dunes that Spanish soldiers first settled in 1776. 

“The public said, ’It’s a park, stupid,”’ said Craig Middleton, executive director of the Presidio Trust, which manages 1,168 acres of Presidio land. “If you really read the plan, you’ll recognize that the goal is to preserve the Presidio.” 

The best way to preserve it, Middleton said, is to occupy its barracks, warehouses, gymnasiums and commissary with tenants who will finance renovations and upkeep. 

In all, the plan expects the total investment to reach $588 million by 2030. 

Prior Presidio plans have drawn fire from preservationists, along with complaints that the trust ignores public input. The trust’s former executive director resigned in December amid allegations of financial mismanagement. 

Environmental groups have offered alternate plans for the space. 

“In some ways they may have been responsive,” said Donald Green, a member of the Presidio Committee of the Sierra Club who stressed that he has only heard sketch details of the plan. “It’s very important to the public that the Presidio have institutions that contribute to world peace, security and the environment.” 

Trust officials stressed their mandate to develop a series of public-use destinations. 

One example, Middleton said, is a plan to develop an exhibit at Building 640 — a nondescript corrugated metal warehouse where Japanese-Americans helped crack the Japanese code during World War II. Not far away, Middleton said, American commanders gave the order to ship more than 100,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps.