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Debate over Marina Green disintegrates

In this month’s op-ed column, the Marina Community Association (MCA) gives a detailed and informative timeline of how the Recreation and Park Department’s plans for a Woodhouse Fish Co. restaurant on the Marina Green came about, and they criticize the Marina Times for a front page article on the subject that ran in the February issue. The MCA points out that the Marina Times quoted Peter Fortune, who ardently opposes the restaurant plan; they also point out that I didn’t seek comment from the MCA, and that I am “confusing” the Marina Green restaurant plan with an unrelated project, a Pet Food Express store proposed for Lombard Street. In fact, the MCA is correct on all three points.

The front-page article last month was coverage of a Lombard Street Merchants Association (LSMA) meeting, which I was invited to cover. I have never been invited to cover an MCA meeting — if I had, I would have written an article based on that meeting, and in it I would have quoted people in attendance, just like I did in my coverage of the LSMA meeting.

While the MCA says their op-ed is not intended “to advocate for or against a restaurant” on the Marina Green, the MCA is in fact the only neighborhood group that publicly supports the project. The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, which represents 48 neighborhood groups, came out in opposition. Another group of residents (associated with the website SaveMarinaGreen.org) has collected more than 1,600 signatures against it. In a neighborhood with 23,000 residents, the MCA board based their support of a Marina Green restaurant on an August 6, 2012, survey answered by 78 of its members in which approximately 50 of them favored the idea. My own admittedly unscientific survey of 60 or so Marina residents at Crissy Field between October of 2012 and March of 2013 found an overwhelming majority opposed to the restaurant. During my regular “Stir the Pot” segment on the Cooking with Ryan Scott show on KGO Radio (Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.), which boasts over 80,000 listeners per hour, our boards lit up two weekends in a row with calls from residents who were against it. The reality is that 50 members of a community association don’t represent the majority sentiment in the neighborhood regarding a restaurant on the Marina Green — and the MCA is finding that out as the project receives media coverage and more and more residents express their disapproval.

Let’s face it; community associations are special interest groups with personal and political motivations. They are jockeying for power amongst each other and often take positions on projects not based on whether they are good for the neighborhood, but rather on personal feelings and how it will help or hurt them politically. Nowhere is this more evident than in MCA board president Ariel Kelley’s spontaneous rant on the Woodhouse Marina Green Facebook page after Art Scampa — a 30-year resident of Marina Boulevard and backer of SaveMarinaGreen.org — spoke out against the restaurant project to guest Mayor Ed Lee on KGO Radio’s Ronn Owens show, prompting the mayor to say he would be inclined to veto it.

“Sounds like Art Scampa [the head of the anti-movement and Mr. Marina Boulevard DB] and this radio host are definitely in cahoots,” Kelley wrote. She later realized that her personal attack (DB is the shortened version of “douche-bag”) and her obvious bias (calling Scampa “the anti-movement”) didn’t reflect well on her organization and she removed the post — but not before numerous readers forwarded it to the Marina Times. Frankly, it’s hard to take an organization seriously when their president resorts to a juvenile social media outburst because someone dares to disagree with their position.

As far as “confusing” the Marina Green restaurant project with the “unrelated” proposal for a Pet Food Express store on Lombard Street, I completely agree with the MCA — they couldn’t be more different. One is good for the neighborhood and one is potentially very bad.

The Pet Food Express store would go into the long-empty Blockbuster building on Lombard Street, an interstate with dozens of vacant buildings desperately in need of a quality tenant to breath life into the area and help its struggling businesses. Incidentally, in my Crissy Field survey, most residents either supported or were indifferent to the Pet Food Express plan. The MCA, which focuses primarily on Chestnut Street, opposes Pet Food Express on Lombard for some very odd reasons sprinkled with liberal doses of hypocrisy and nonsense (more on that next month).

The Woodhouse Fish Co. would go into the old degaussing station, which should have been demolished years ago, with a lease that gives Rec and Park director Phil Ginsberg carte blanche to do whatever he wants in the future. Kelley told me that Rec and Park “gave their word” this would be the only restaurant on the Marina Green, but if she believes that, I’ve got a big red bridge I’d like to sell her. Ginsberg is famous for wanting to privatize and monetize San Francisco’s public space (he refers to such efforts as “commercial amenities”). He once advocated for carts selling chotchkies throughout Golden Gate Park; he turned Stow Lake over to an out-of-state concessionaire known for running tacky gift shops; and he wants to see a soccer field replete with Astroturf and stadium lighting across from Ocean Beach. With the 49ers leaving town, he’s made no secret of the fact his department will be looking for replacement revenue, and the Marina Green is prime real estate. Allowing even one full-service restaurant sets a dangerous precedent — it opens Phildora’s box, if you will.

The bottom line is that no community group speaks for the neighborhood, and if you don’t want them speaking for you, make your voice heard by writing to city officials and attending meetings at City Hall. Get involved. Otherwise, that pristine shoreline you love so much may someday be visible only as it peeks through the rooftops of a dozen “commercial amenities.”

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