The Presidio: Lessons in privatization


So the Presidio Trust, the only private agency ever to control a national park, is going to make some cuts to meet its goal of complete economic self-sufficiency. But in tall the talk about this, it's easy to forget that the creation of the trust changed the mandate of the park -- and for the first time in the nation's history, established that a national park is all about making money:

In preparation for an end to federal funding, the trust purposely prioritized projects that would garner the greatest revenue, including residential units and the Letterman Digital Arts Center, said trust spokeswoman Dana Polk.

“We wanted to generate a revenue stream for the park right away,” she said.

Never before in the nation's history has anything like this happened. Yosemite doesn't have to generate enough revenue to cover its operating costs. The Grand Canyon doesn't have to accept real-estate development to pay its park rangers. National parks are something we use tax dollars to support.

Or at least, we used to. Until Rep. Nancy Pelosi came up with the idea of making the Presidio into a money machine.

Along the way, that great pauper George Lucas wound up with a $60 million tax break.

And we wound up with commercial office development and high-end residential uses in a national park.

What an awful precedent.


1) The funds weren't there to create a national park out of the Presidio in the normal way. So the choice was either a semi-privatisation (it's certainly not totally private). Or no NP at all.

And if the land had been allowed to go to seed, you'd be seeing the world's most expensive private housing development there right now. And we all know how you HATE new private housing.

2) The idea that the government owns all the land in NP's and controls everything that goes on in it is fairly unusual, globally. In most European countries (you know, those more left-wing places) the land within a NP is privately owned, but there are strict controls over what can be done there.

So, same deal, but much cheaper to operate. The Presidio NP is actually closer to the model that most nations employ.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 17, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

This is indeed a great example. A historic military base that is now enjoyed by thousands every week for walking, biking, picnicking and enjoying one of the world's great views. The restored wetlands of Crissy Field is one of the city's new masterpieces.

But is it a paradise that is wholly supported by tax dollars? Unfortunately not, thanks to the reasons that Tim listed. Have you walked through the Lucas campus? Did you know that when your kids were looking at the Yoda statue they were actually getting their enjoyment from something paid for by the private sector??

It really is a disgrace. All those people enjoying themselves, and much of the funding comes not from tax revenues but instead from private industry.

Appalling. Thanks to Tim for continuing to point out these travesties.

Posted by Steroidal Progressive on Jan. 17, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

the federal government to decide what use to put it to. When you consider that they could have sold the land to the highest bidder for housing or whatever, the current use is the best possible outcome. It's a remarkably sympathetic conversion and the private and commercial use is restricted and fitting.

Had the city been running it, it would be a rat-infested giant homeless shelter at this point. But of course Tim would prefer that.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2012 @ 6:30 am

"Revenue" does not mean "Profit". "Revenue" means "money" that helps the park sustain itself. "Revenue" simply means the money to operate the park, it doesn't mean they are profiteering or profit motivated. They are simply looking for the park to create "revenue" to break even.

It's such a simple concept!

It's disingenuous to manipulate people who automatically associate "revenue" with "profit".

The Trust simply needs to break even.

Posted by Michelle on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

The Presidio is federal property and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is managed by the Presidio Trust, a federal agency. This is far from privatization and was a compromise made in a difficult legislative atmosphere for a very unique situation. While it has been fairly successful, I don't think anyone is arguing that it is a model that would work anywhere else. It was a unique experiment on a very valuable and coveted piece of land. Rich people do seem to like the place and use it more than others but this is partially just a continuation of the Army's use of the place as a beautiful place for officers to retire in style.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 03, 2012 @ 5:48 pm