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Clinton set to appoint new guardians of Presidio

February 3, 1997

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ President Clinton is set to appoint a panel that will work on transforming The Presidio’s wind-sculpted trees and deteriorating Army buildings into the country’s first self-sustaining national park.

Clinton has just a few days to appoint seven members of the nonprofit Presidio Trust, a first-of-its-kind board set up by Congress in November. The panel’s job will be to establish a 15-year plan for turning the outpost into a palatable mix of nature and commerce.

At roughly $27 million annually, the Presidio’s operating costs are the highest of any park in the country, more than twice that of Yellowstone or Yosemite.

The board will also have to navigate political land mines in tinkering with a piece of prime real estate that developers might covet but that many residents feel is part of their city’s charm. And there’s the added pressure of Clinton calling the panel a blueprint for the future of national parks.

The price of failure is the park itself. If a 15-year financing deadline isn’t met, the Presidio _ a public preserve since the Spanish built an outpost there in 1776 _ would be put up for sale.

``These appointments are very important. I think (the Clinton administration) knows we are plowing new ground here,″ said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who sponsored the trust legislation.

Clinton’s appointments to the panel are due Feb. 10, but so far the administration has been mum on who will serve.

The law requires each member to have expertise in city planning, finance, real estate or the environment. The secretary of the interior is guaranteed one seat. Three members must live in the San Francisco Bay area.

Joel Ventresca, head of the Preserve the Presidio Campaign, says there could be a conflict of interest if members of the real estate and finance communities serve on the board, and fears the panel could tilt toward those who see the Presidio as prime real estate rather than a pristine urban park.

``There are many who’d like to see the Presidio turned into a cash register,″ he said.

Some say that as the most expensive national park, the Presidio was an obvious target for cost cutting.

``Change makes people nervous,″ said Michael Alexander of the Sierra Club, which supports the trust legislation. ``There are some who are simply ideologically opposed to making use of the private sector. Their view is that the park service ought to run it, and the public ought to pay for it.″

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