What it does
An $87 million bond measure to renovate and expand the California Academy of Sciences.
Why it is on the ballot
The California Academy of Sciences is a private, non-profit educational institution that manages and operates a collection of museums and other facilities located in Golden Gate Park, including the Natural History Museum, Steinhart Aquarium, and Morrison Planetarium. The buildings housing these facilities, while originally constructed with private monies, are the property of the city and are deteriorating due to age and lack of maintenance.
The complex of buildings dating back to 1916 requires a major renovation: fire, life safety and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) code compliance improvements; renovated mechanical, electrical, security and roofing systems; and expanded education facilities. This bond measure would fund a renovation and expansion of the California Academy of Sciences.
The estimated cost of such improvements, including bond underwriter and issuance costs, is $87,445,000. The increase in annual tax for the owner of a home with a net assessment value of $300,000 would amount to $33/year if all bonds were sold at the same time. It is likely the bonds will be authorized over a period of time, in which case the effect on the tax rate would be less.
Those who support this measure state:
- The Academy of Sciences, among the 10 largest natural history museums in the world, is a treasured civic asset. This bond measure is essential for its continued vitality.
- Under the terms of a voter-approved agreement, the city has been responsible for maintaining the buildings. Because of insufficiently funding maintenance-a chronic city problem-some of the buildings have deteriorated to the point that they now require major repair or replacement. The city has an obligation to fulfill its commitment to take care of the buildings.
- The Academy (and its neighbor, the De Young Museum) are important activity generators to have in the park, helping make the eastern end of the park the vital place it is. This bond measure will make this section of the park both more beautiful and more active.
Those who oppose this measure state:
- Additional improvements and additional attendance means additional traffic in the park.
- The Academy does not belong in the park. Because both the Academy and the De Young Museum are major regional destinations, they should be located closer to regional transit hubs.
- Because the Academy of Sciences is a private, non-profit organization, its facility should not be paid for with public bond money. Like other non-profit organizations, the Academy should fund its buildings through private fundraising, grants, or-alternately-revenue bonds (instead of general obligation bonds) backed by Academy revenues.
The Academy's original Market Street home was destroyed by the fire following the 1906 earthquake. In 1910, the voters approved a charter amendment authorizing the Academy to relocate in Golden Gate Park. The conditions of the amendment stated that all buildings would be built by private dollars, but they would be owned and maintained by the city. Subsequent additions to the Academy's facility, including the Steinhart Acquarium, have been constructed under the same terms.
Unfortunately, as with many public facilities, the city has not appropriated sufficient funds for maintenance of the Academy's buildings. Therefore, a major portion of this bond measure is necessary for repairs that fall into the category of deferred maintenance.
In addition to the proposed $87 million in public funds, the Academy has pledged to raise at least $100 million in private money for a more comprehensive overhaul of the facility. The full building package includes structural repairs, renovation and expansion of exhibits, and improved access for people with disabilities. Construction is proposed to be concurrent with the construction of the new De Young Museum, and the underground garage at the Concourse.
While the renovations and improvements will yield a net addition of approximately 50,000 square feet, the work will be in compliance with the general requirements of the Academy Master Plan approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1985. This approval mandated no additional expansion of the Academy's current footprint and no new shadow cast on park open space.
SPUR recommends a yes vote on Proposition B, confirming the city's commitment to the safety and maintenance of the buildings it owns, and to the long-term viability of one of the city's most important educational institutions. The Academy is an important cultural facility benefiting the general populace, the park, and park users.
We also urge the Academy to demonstrate a commitment to an environmentally sound transportation agenda that encourages transit, walking, and pedestrian access, with specific consideration of:
- Addressing traffic concerns
- Supporting implementation of the Golden Gate Park's Master Plan recommendation for four-hour parking in the eastern end of the park to discourage commuter parking and facilitate visitor parking.
- Helping to fund a feasibility study of the "G" line light rail study
- Developing a progressive employee trip reduction program that does not encourage drive-alone commuters (as is the case with the provision of free employee parking)
SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition B.