Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -

Streetwise - Some Stimulating Improvements

by Frank Dunnigan
March 2009

As I read more and more about the economic stimulus package, I recall that many of our most revered civic improvements from the past were built with public dollars during some previous tough times. Remember that construction on both our major bridges began in the early 1930s, and that many of our schools, parks, and libraries also came into being at the same time in order to create jobs and ease unemployment.

Lately, I've begun wondering about just what our elected officials are going to come up with this time around. I'm concerned that they do the right things and in the right way, so here you have my own personal wish list, with a focus on the western neighborhoods, both in terms of what is needed, and also with some reflections on the past. Those of you who are so inclined should feel free to print this column out and mail it to your favorite federal, state, or local politician.

These may be dream-items to be sure, but if we could span the Golden Gate at the height of the Great Depression, then we can accomplish anything that we want with OUR money!

Dear Elected Official:

We, the public, are trusting you to spend a couple of trillion of our hard-earned tax dollars to get the economy moving in this country. Here are some things that we'd like see done:

1) Build a new Doyle Drive approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, using the same gently curving forms of the Junipero Serra Freeway as a guide, and include some ornamental detail in the retaining walls and support structure. Take a look at the at the Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard overpasses that cross Sunset Boulevard for some architectural inspiration, if needed. Allow for pedestrian and bicycle access, plus landscaping and irrigation, and make the whole thing visually attractive from all angles.

The north "Dutch" Windmill and caretaker's cottage in Golden Gate Park, depicted on a postcard. - WNP collection

2) Since the Cliff House is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, spend what it takes to complete the restoration—install windows or even lighted windowed boxes in the architectural recesses on the front side of the building, along with some better landscaping than those potted plants, to make the exterior façade look a bit nicer, especially when approaching the entrance from the uphill portion of Point Lobos Avenue.

3) Fix both of the Golden Gate Park windmills and endow their future permanently. Period.

4) Use some of the stimulus funds to subsidize the Park's museums, extend their hours, and eliminate entry fees completely during the newly-open evening hours. FUN is our new motto—"Free User Nights." Taxpayers are already supporting these institutions, so they should not be forced to dig into their pockets yet again when they want to see the items that their dollars have acquired and which have been put on display in buildings that they have also paid for, which are located in a public park whose acquisition and daily maintenance they are also paying for. Let the tourists pick up the tab during daytime hours and let the locals in free after 6 p.m.

5) Ditto for free admission at the San Francisco Zoo—all day, every day.

6) Develop some type of a people mover system in Golden Gate Park—elephant trains that are powered by rechargeable batteries would be a good way to support alternative fuels. If you can't make all those trillions stretch, then just run them on weekends, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., from McLaren Lodge to the Beach Chalet. Make them free, and guarantee headways of no more than 5 minutes between them. This worked on Treasure Island 60 years ago, so let's see if today's technology can't come up with something equal to or better than what we had back then.

7) While we're at McLaren Lodge, let's reshuffle some of the offices there and create a site that can be rented out for meetings or receptions. Hey, what a great place for an outdoor wedding, followed by a reception. I'd like dibs on the place for the Saturday night before Christmas 2009, when the outdoor tree has been lighted, so that we can host an Outsidelands holiday event. The money raised from rental fees could be used for lots of maintenance and improvements on this great old building.

8) Speaking of civic improvements, how about better and more attractive street lighting? The standard fixtures that San Francisco has been installing in the Richmond and Sunset since about 1965 look like they should be illuminating an auto wrecking yard in Emeryville. If ideas are needed, look at Westwood Park or the 1800 block of 24th Avenue in the Sunset for older fixtures that have survived the test of time.

Stucco houses on 18th Avenue near Ulloa Street, 2006. - WNP photo

9) When building public housing, use some creativity. Mr. Doelger built thousands of sturdy, serviceable houses that had just a bit of architectural detail to distinguish them from neighbors. If you're feeling really flush with our dollars, look at some of Mr. Rousseau's homes around 34th Avenue in the Sunset for a bit more detail. Both of those builders managed to construct some nice houses on 25-foot lots, and the structures have withstood the test of time.

10) When it comes time to erect new public buildings, don't waste money on a "world-wide search" for the architect/designer. Find someone local—we do have a large number of highly rated colleges and universities right here in California (that are also subsidized with my tax dollars), so let's hire someone from one of them, while at the same time, improving the employment situation of local architects and designers, who presumably have some clue about what might fit in to a certain location and not offend local sensibilities. (By the way, dear politician, this may limit your ability to take a "world-wide junket" to find that architect/designer, but hey, times are tough for all of us, and we'll happily pay your Muni fare to get you out and about to see some of our best local buildings.) For inspiration, check out some architectural gems such the Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Mother's House at the Zoo, and local schools of varying architectural styles like Francis Scott Key, Commodore Sloat—even the classically modern Ulloa School. Look also at the cozy fireplaces, leather seating, tall windows, and tranquil garden areas of the Parkside and Merced branch libraries to see what human beings need and like in their public spaces—not the interior architectural dissonance of San Francisco Main. Right now, there are some PG&E substations with more refinement and neighborhood presence than some recent public endeavors, so please don't allow any more construction along the lines of Dianne Feinstein Elementary (Lionel train-Plasticville, USA) or the new deYoung Museum (battleship moderne). Also, when adding new buildings to a location like San Francisco State, try to keep the overall look in mind. The Sunset campus of St. Ignatius has been there for 40 years now, with new buildings added periodically, but there is a level of cohesiveness to the entire complex that makes it fit nicely into the surrounding area. Public buildings should make the same effort to be good neighbors to their communities and to one another.

11) Build a Muni Metro line underground from Market Street to Van Ness (non-stop), then run it as an elevated line from there to the Cliff House (with stops at Fillmore, Masonic, Arguello, 10th, 25th, and 43rd Avenues). This has been one of San Francisco's most heavily traveled, yet least-served, corridors for about a hundred years now, and the existing bus system doesn't begin to address the needs of the residents.

12) Face it: there's a huge path worn into the landscape by autos driving from the end of the Junipero Serra freeway at the county line, then up 19th Avenue to the Golden Gate Bridge. Let's divert all that traffic into a new subterranean tunnel that would run under 19th, then under Golden Gate Park and Park Presidio Boulevard, directly to the bridge approach. Without all that through traffic, 19th Avenue and Park Presidio could become pleasant tree-lined boulevards to support neighborhood traffic through the Parkside, Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods.

13) Install a BART extension with a dozen or so stations from Sonoma County, down through Marin, and into San Francisco (either underwater or on a new lower deck on the Golden Gate Bridge—let the engineers figure out the details). Place local stops at the Toll Plaza, the Presidio, and the Cliff House, then down the middle of Great Highway (no tunneling needed), with more stops at Fulton, Judah, and Taraval (for easy connections to Muni), before tunneling underground to make a stop at Stonestown-SF State, and then continuing on to link into the rest of the system at the Daly City station.

14) Get those city libraries open 7 days a week, 12 hours a day—OK, cut Sunday hours down to 12 Noon to 5:00 p.m. if you really must economize.

15) Spend more money on schools, including sports, music, drama, and art. If things get really tight, run a bake sale or a raffle to raise money to pay the salaries and benefits of anyone who is classified as an "administrator" or who works anywhere other than in an actual school building, interacting directly with students, teachers, and parents.

Sign for Wirth Bros. Pastry Shop at 5901 Geary Boulevard, January 2006. - WNP photo

16) Let's use some of those tax dollars to encourage neighborhood businesses. Develop a Section-8 type federal subsidy that would encourage property owners to be more willing to rent to small, non-franchised outfits like a shoe repair shop, hardware store, neighborhood delicatessen, independent bookstore, bakery, produce shop, or variety store. This, in turn, would increase sales tax revenue, and people might just enjoy local shopping once again.

17) And while we're improving neighborhood shopping, let's install more street furniture in those neighborhood shopping areas. In the 1950s, there used to be City-sponsored benches and trash containers, plus posted Muni schedules along West Portal, Noriega, Irving, Clement, etc. Bring 'em all back, and add some more.

18) Sweep those streets. Back in the 1970s, the was a huge brouhaha in San Francisco over the issue of street sweepers earning the then-substantial salary of $15,000 a year, but at least we had clean streets, and there were not huge lakes of rainwater building up around clogged sewers at many street corners, especially in the neighborhood shopping areas, during and after every cloudburst.

19) Follow the suggestion from the Parkmerced-SF State community to re-route the M-Oceanview to a new station located west of 19th Avenue on Holloway Avenue, then extend the line down Holloway to Juan Bautista Circle before looping it back to the original 19th Avenue route, thus placing public transit closer and making it more convenient to tens of thousands of people, which would encourage more daily ridership.

20) Lastly, copy the Congressional health plan (100% FREE to members) for use by the entire population, so that our local neighborhood cafes do not have to tack a $1 surcharge onto every customer's check in order to support employee health care. The Congressional plan seems to work well for all of the 535 members of the House and the Senate (so many members still healthy and on the job into their 70s, 80s and 90s—just amazing!), so it should be just fine for the rest of us. By covering all 300 million people in the U.S., the cost per person should be very reasonable, indeed, and then we'll all be so healthy that we'll be around forever, just like our politicians.

The public will be reaping the benefits from the above spending plans for decades to come, and future generations will continue to enjoy the legacy that our own tax dollars will be bringing into our own neighborhoods.

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