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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Arts + Action | Environment & Forest Defense
A Gap billionaire's museum in Pelosi's privatized National Park?
Don Fisher, the multi-billionaire founder of Gap, Inc. and "personal friend" of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wants to build a 100,000 square foot museum for his personal art collection in the Presidio National Park. The deadline for public comments on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement for Fisher's proposed big box museum is Monday, October 15.
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Don Fisher has a monumental problem and he wants a monumental solution--one with possible "significant effects on the human environment" in a National Park. The deadline for public comments on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement for Fisher's plan is Monday, October 15 (see "How to Submit Comments" below).
Fisher, the multi-billionaire founder of San Francisco-based Gap, Inc., is reeling under the weight of his massive collection of international investment-grade modern art. Unable to strike an agreeement with any of San Francisco's existing art museums, Fisher has determined that he must erect and control his own museum. Fisher has determined that it must encompass 100,000 square feet; roughly the size of a Walmart.
And Fisher has determined that his big box should be erected right in the heart of San Francisco's Presidio National Park. That's the forested former Army base at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (with help from Senator Dianne Feinstein), it's now the nation's first privatized National Park, with most of it managed--as an "innovative public/private partnership"--by a federal government-owned corporation called the Presidio Trust. 
San Francisco's progressive weekly, the SF Bay Guardian, urged its readers to "Oppose Don Fisher's Museum" in an August 15 editorial. 
Meanwhile, San Francisco's corporatist media are greasing the skids for Fisher, never asking "Why would Fisher's--or anyone's--personal art museum belong in a National Park?" or "What relevance does Fisher's art have to the Presidio's history or environment?" or even "How much would Fisher charge the public for admission?" And the Presidio Trust appears to be playing right along.
Fisher's plan was celebrated by the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle in a front-page story on August 9, 2007, which proclaimed that "Donald Fisher's proposed contemporary art museum in the Presidio would add a bright star to San Francisco's growing and eclectic collection of museums..."  A followup article in the Chronicle on August 13 titled "Why Gap founder Fisher decided to build his own art museum" quotes Dede Wilsey, who oversees San Francisco's publicly-owned museums, as saying "We were at a party in mid-June, and that's when he [Fisher] told me that he had decided to go with the Presidio." 
Fisher may have decided in mid-June, but it wasn't until August 8, 2007, that the Presidio Trust issued a "Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement" for a "Public Museum at the Presidio." The notice, published in the Federal Register on August 14, 2007, makes no mention of Fisher, but it explains that the proposed 100,000 square foot museum would be built on a site that "was not identified as a 'preferred location for a large museum' in the Presidio Trust Management Plan." It says the proposed museum erection "may have significant effects on the human environment." It also says "The Trust will promote competition for the project site by widely publicizing a request for proposals..." 
There's reason to doubt the Presidio Trust will receive any serious competitive proposals, and there's reason to believe Fisher will have his way unless the public speaks up.
REPUBLICAN DON FISHER: "PERSONAL FRIEND" OF NANCY PELOSI AND DIANNE FEINSTEIN
Don Fisher is among the nation's top donors to Republican candidates and causes, but he's more than that, more than a controversial businessman, and more than a privatization ideologue (Google this: Fisher Edison schools). He's a former member of the Presidio Trust's Board of Directors--appointed by "Democratic" President Bill Clinton. According to the SF Weekly, Fisher "regards Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein as personal friends."  Fisher, his wife Doris, and/or other Fisher family members have been generous donors to the campaigns and/or PACs of Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and other neo-liberal/corporatist Democrats. 
And the Presidio Trust's Executive Director, Craig Middleton, is a former senior aide to Nancy Pelosi.
If Fisher has his way, he won't be the first billionaire to control a piece of the Presidio "National Park" action. His museum would be just down the street from the Disney Family Museum (under construction now in an existing historic building); only a few blocks from George Lucas' sprawling, uber-private Lucasfilm corporate headquarters; close to several of the Presidio's growing gaggle of privately-owned high-end restaurants; and within yards of a new privately-owned luxury hotel (now in the planning stages).
All of this is on public land, and none of this pays even a penny in property tax to California or to San Francisco. Yet well-intentioned, goretex-clad San Franciscans still brave the fog volunteering weekend time to clear brush or plant native plants on land they think of as their "National Park."
Private interests say "Jump!" The public is expected to say "How high--and please, may I be your volunteer gardener?" It's a victory for the haves and the have-mores. It's a neo-liberal dream come true. It's a public/private partnership, Pelosi-style, and it could be the future of all our public parks unless we speak up now.
HOW TO SUBMIT COMMENTS
Appropriate comments would include urging the Presidio Trust to reject the Fisher proposal outright as unnecessary and wholly inappropriate, not to mention out-of-synch with the Presidio's master plan. By rejecting the proposal, the Presidio Trust would spare themselves the expense of preparing an EIS and of marketing Fisher's plan to the public. Other issues to raise in your comments--including the potential for serious auto traffic congestion within the Presidio--are touched on in the SF Bay Guardian's editorial. 
According to the Presidio Trust's Notice , "Written comments or suggestions to assist in identifying significant environmental issues and in determining the appropriate scope of the EIS should be submitted on or before October 15, 2007."
Fax comments to: Presidio Museum at 415-561-5308
Mail comments to: Presidio Museum, Attn: NEPA Compliance Manager, The Presidio Trust, 34 Graham Street, P.O. Box 29052, San Francisco, CA 94129-0052
E-mail comments to: PresidioMuseum [at] presidiotrust.gov
Keep in mind that the Presidio Trust's Notice warns: "Please be aware that all written comments and information submitted will be made available to the public, including, without limitation, any postal address, e-mail address, phone number or other information contained in each submission.
You might also send a copy of your comments to your Congresspersons, and to Nancy Pelosi at:
Fax: 202-225-8259 or 415-861-1670
E-mail: sf.nancy [at] mail.house.gov
In addition to the following, check out the SF Bay Guardian's many articles regarding the Presidio (Google this: pelosi presidio site:sfbg.com)
 Pelosi's "Presidio Trust Act" of 1996 gave control of most of the Presidio not to the National Park Service but to a new, federal government-owned corporation, the Presidio Trust, to preserve and manage the Presidio "through an innovative public/private partnership."
The Presidio Trust Act (Title I of H.R. 4236, November 12, 1996) is online at http://www.presidio.gov/NR/rdonlyres/82E9F9C7-FBB7-42E5-8D4B-E58C2FE858DF/0/PTA_122801.pdf
 "Oppose Don Fisher's Museum" http://www.sfbg.com/entry.php?entry_id=4278&catid=4
 "Fisher art would join explosion of S.F. museums" (title of article from the Chronicle's print edition) http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article/article?f=/c/a/2007/08/09/MNLQRF5LC.DTL
 "Why Gap founder Fisher decided to build his own art museum" http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/08/13/MNP7RFR09.DTL
 Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Conduct Scoping; Public Museum at the Presidio" http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-IMPACT/2007/August/Day-14/i15892.htm
 "The Influencer: Meet Donald Fisher, the private billionaire with unprecedented sway over ordinary San Franciscans' lives" by Matt Smith, SF Weekly, June 21-27, 2006, Volume 25, Number 21 (This article appeared as the cover story in print, but it appears to be absent from the Weekly's website, http://www.sfweekly.com.)