Thursday, May 19, 2005

We are all reporters

(My response to Chris Duderstadt's letter to me posted on PROSF's bulletin board. My response was sent to PROSF, but, of course, they didn't post it.)

Chris:

In a sense, all of us who are involved in political issues need to be reporters, since we all need to get our facts right. As I pointed out, posting the picture of the tunnel about to be destroyed with no context left the impression that it was destroyed for no reason at all, that is, the Concourse Authority is deliberately destroying significant historical structures because, well, that's what they do. You and your allies in the anti-garage, anti-widening of MLK movement have used hyperbolic rhetoric as a political tactic: the redesign of MLK is a "highway through the park," those who disagree with you are "enemies of the park," etc. What I objected to in the picture episode is that, when the executive director of the Concourse Authority is getting threatening phone calls, been spat on, and threatened with a baseball bat, it tends to incite this kind of behavior. I naively thought that just by mentioning the threats in the interview people would exercise more caution to avoid inflaming the more unstable members of the community.

As anyone who read the interview with Ellzey knows, there is another explanation for the destruction of the three tunnels. I didn't claim it was the only explanation or the definitive explanation, just that there is another perspective that can be held by people of good will. The Concourse Authority concluded that the tunnels were structurally unsound and a safety hazard, which apparently is the main reason they were demolished. The other reason, not discussed in the interview, is that the tunnels were incompatible with the design of a remodeled Concourse. That consideration was rendered moot when the tunnels were indeed found to be of unreinforced concrete and in need of repair.

You quote from the Structural Evaluation Report by Degenkolb Engineers, but your quote is inaccurate and misleading, since you leave out the most important point the report made---that the tunnels were unsound and, garage or no garage, in serious need of repair. The sentence in the report you seem to be referring to actually reads like this: "If the tunnels and walls are repaired, we believe they would be acceptable to serve their current function." That's a big "if," however, since the report analyzes the structural problems with both the tunnels and their retaining walls and the elaborate measures that would have had to be taken if they were to be incorporated into the remodeled Concourse and the garage.

You leave out citations from the report that don't help your case: For example, the authors of the report wrote that they "failed to identify any steel reinforcing in the concrete...All three tunnels appear to be constructed of unreinforced concrete...In their existing condition, the unreinforced concrete tunnels could not be directly incorporated into the new parking structure..."

Just as significant, the report talks about how easy the tunnels will be to replicate: "It should be noted, however, that most of the architectural features of the tunnels could be easily replicated, as they consist of scored plaster overlay..." and "...the architectural features could be easily recreated in the new construction," which is exactly what's going to be done.

And it would be helpful if you could document your claim that Bill Lee was threatened over the tunnels. That's a serious charge, but it isn't credible without some very convincing evidence.

Rob, if you want to be a reporter your should do your leg work before simply quoting a source. Michael Ellzey knew the tunnels were sound because he commissioned the report that found them sound. That he, and now you, are trying to also rewrite history is all part of spin to justify the garage. The pedestrian tunnels are gone, the City General Plan was violated and we have all lost a wonderful linkage with our past. But don't try to rewrite it without first checking your references. Don't look for them at the library, but Michael has the Degenkolb Engineering Report, the Page and Turnbull Report, and the Transportation Report, about 8" thick of documents created for the Environmental Impact Report. It took me much effort to get copies of these from the Planning Department, but I'm sure Michael will allow you to review his. You can also check with Bill Lee, formally[sic] of the Planning Commission, and have him tell you how he was threatened if he tried to simply consider the tunnels historically significant. This would have lead to the MCCP having to simply consider ways to protect the tunnels function. In an engineering study commissioned by the Concourse Authority in 2001 and conducted by Degenkolb Engineering, the Concourse pedestrian tunnels were found to be sound and in need of only minor repair. "..with minor repair the tunnels would serve their current function into the foreseeable future." Reference to this report is buried in the Page and Turnbull Landmark Report, also commissioned by the Concourse Authority.

Page and Turnbull also found in relation to the southwest tunnel: PAGE 91: "The pedestrian tunnel is directly associated with improvements made to the Music Concourse around the turn of the century and is a character defining feature. This proposed variant (removal of the southwest tunnel) would remove or destroy an original architectural feature associated with the Music Concourse, an important cultural precinct within Golden Gate Park. Removing the tunnel and eliminating the subterranean pathway would alter the spatial orientation and the circulation pathway between the Music Concourse to the Shakespeare Garden. The underground pathway establishes a pedestrian link between two park features. The proposed alterations would appear to violate the Secretary's Standards for Rehabilitation and would diminish the integrity of Golden Gate Park and the Music Concourse."

The City General Plan states:
OBJECTIVE 2: Conservation of resources that provide continuity with the past.
POLICY 4: Preserve notable landmarks and areas of historic, architectural or aesthetic value and promote the preservation of other buildings and features that provide continuity with past development. (PAGE 41)

Chris Duderstadt,

not hysterical or knowingly dishonest.

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