Friday, December 23, 2011

The rehabilitation of Warren Hellman

Photo by Alexander Warnow

Everyone---even the Bay Guardian---is talking nice about Warren Hellman now, but it wasn't always thus. Hellman got a lot of shit for his role in creating the parking garage under the Concourse in Golden Gate Park. Parking in the park! The horror! And a billionaire is doing it! A story in the Guardian was entitled "Hellman's Hole" ("The wealthy interests behind Golden Gate Park's museums are destroying a popular civic treasure"). 

When Judge Warren ordered the Concourse Authority to study the idea of creating a dedicated entrance to the garage that begins outside the park as per Proposition J, the Authority proposed widening MLK Drive to the garage entrance by taking away parking on both sides of that street.

That led to a story in Beyond Chron: "Public Kept in the Dark over Golden Gate Park Garage" was the hed of a story raising suspicions about the process, quoting only people who were opposed to the garage ("...a non-profit organization backed by Warren Hellman, who also happens to foot the bill for the park's annual Strictly Bluegrass festival. With Hellman's help, the GGPCA raised $35 million").

Some accused Hellman of controlling the Councourse Authority, which was wreaking havoc in the park: "Warren Hellman's MCCP Destroys Northeast Pedestrian Tunnel."

Others saw Hellman as just one of the "plutocrats behind the privatization scam" in Golden Gate Park. The Guardian bought into the "privatization" line as late as 2006.

Eventually Hellman reached out to the city's progressives, including the Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum---the coalition opposed the garage---and Hellman gave them some money, which probably helped with the healing. 

Soon Hellman appeared on the cover (the picture above) of the Bay Guardian with Shahum and Andy Thornley, and his political rehabilitation in Progressive Land was complete.

For some background/context on the garage issue, an interview with Mike Ellzey, executive director of the Concourse Authority, which actually got the garage and the remodeling of the Concourse done.

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