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" We Want a Reasonable Conversation"

by Diana Scott

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"I don't think anyone's got faith in the Trust," said Viveka [her Buddist name] of the Urban Habitat program, concerning its commitment to the originally-envisioned educational center. "They haven't articulated a vision." The Urban Habitat program played a large role in early discussions about the creation of a model for environmental sustainability in the park, which shaped the General Management Plan. Advocacy for the GMP goals now falls to the Presidio Alliance, a voluntary membership organization of Presidio park tenants and other "stakeholders" whose common objective to make sure "green" is not forgotten.

Last year the Presidio Alliance sent written comments to the Trust, urging it to address environmental justice goals. The five-page document, phrased diplomatically, offered 25 suggestions ranging from improving public information, leasing procedures, open space and programming, to monitoring green building design and transportation. None was formally acknowledged or acted upon at the time, according to former Alliance director, Laura Keresty, though a few information-sharing measures have been partially implemented since.

Thoreau Center for Sustainability, a complex of offices refurbished by the Tides Foundation and Equity Community Builders, with no federal funding, is the metaphoric silver lining on the dark cloud hanging over the Presidio. It was completed in 1996, under Park Service auspices, before the Trust was established, using environmentally sensitive demolition and construction techniques. The Tides Foundation funds some 250 nonprofit organizations around the country, which its director, China Brotsky, calls "the infrastructure for social change." Thoreau Center houses over 50 environmentally- and socially-progressive nonprofits.

The concept of Thoreau Center was "to put the General Management Plan into practice, and it has seeds of doing it," Brotsky claims. At the dedication ceremony on June 7, 1996, little packets of wildflower seeds were distributed with the direction: "Disperse to the wind." Will the seeds flower or is the vision blowing in the wind?

Brotsky has faith in the Presidio Alliance's commitment to a sustainable mission for the park. In addition to roundtable discussions which include the Trust, and a range of environmental consciousness-raising activities, the Alliance has prepared sustainable building design guidelines for the Trust to adopt, and worked on a plan to limit auto traffic and provide transportation alternatives.

"It doesn't solve the problem of who is going to be in the [Letterman/LAIR replacement] buildings," she concedes, but the Alliance's intervention has resulted in the set-aside of some space for nonprofit tenants with modest space needs and budgets. "I feel that the community of neighbors, individuals, and tenants have been able to have some effect," she says, characterizing the ongoing struggle in the park as a fight for balance between forprofit and nonprofit tenants, in which community input is crucial.

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Albion Monitor December 28, 1999 (

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