Disability Perspective: The Historic (Self) Preservation Commission

by Bob Planthold on November 2, 2009

In this period of honoring the dead — Halloween, All Saint’s Day, Day of the Dead –, it’s worth addressing again a new- born city agency that focusses solely on the past. The newly- functioning Historic Preservation Commission [HPC] already is functioning worse than the low expectations that people with disabilities projected for it.

On October 7th, throughout presentations about the North Beach branch library by staff and consultants for the Library Commission or the Rec. & Park Commission, and despite multiply- reinforced comments by the public, the seven HPC members adamantly failed to talk about PEOPLE.

The effects on recreation space, on a children’s playground, on assuring proper and affordable access for people with disabilities were all mentioned by many speaking.

By contrast, the Planning staff and the HPC members brushed off, by their silence, these concerns. Even the resolution passed by the HPC had a tellingly deceptive, but self- deluding, phrase: “… has reviewed documents and PUBLIC TESTIMONY …”

The silence of the HPC members doesn’t indicate they reviewed public testimony nor that they paid attention to the documented concerns of the staff and consultants for Rec. & Park and for the Library Commission.

HPC says they have to look at historicity– and distort that into looking ONLY at historicity. Then, they claim they are bound to that narrow topic.

Fortunately for people with disabilities, the monthly meetings of the Mayor’s Disability Council are cablecast live and taped for multiple scheduled re- broadcast. SO, whenever the Mayor’s Disability Council has a presentation about the lack of accessibility of the North Beach branch library and the unresponsiveness of the Historic Preservation Commission to people with disabilities, thousands of people can see what the HPC is trying to do — and not do.

Now it’s time to get to why this might be a Self- Preservation Commission.

One of the HPC members is head of THE group that called for initially designating all these eight branch libraries as historic. While there may not be any money directly involved in this position within that advocacy group, there can be self- gain impacts, or even motivations, involved.

Though a member of the HPC couldn’t directly perform any preservation analysis on any building or project coming within the jurisdiction of the HPC, still by inflating the number of buildings to get such an historic designation can accrue political benefit. And, by increasing the amount of historic preservation analysis done on San Francisco buildings, then it might be easier to get preservation work on private buildings outside San Francisco. If the advocacy group members get preservation work in San Francisco– work prohibited to an HPC member, there’s nothing to prevent an HPC member from easily picking up preservation work on any building outside San Francisco. All this might skirt the edge of the law, but still not be entirely appropriate.

An HPC focussed on SELF- preservation — of preservation work? Could be.

But, until and unless the Supervisors act– and act quickly, access will be delayed and costs will mount to get a proper, modern library in North Beach.


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