Jul 6, 2015 ยท 5 minutes

Sometimes the forces of good combine to stun the prevailing darkness and rouse the hearts of the trampled-upon.

One such tale arrived in Pando’s mailbox this past weekend from Ron Conway [Disclosure: A Pando investor].   

The email, sent to Pando’s Sarah Lac[e]y, began:

From: Ron Conway
Date: July 4, 2015 at 12:53:08 PM PDT
To: Sarah Lacey
Subject: RE: Ron Conway/Presidio Trust

HAPPY 4th!

After a year of getting jerked around by the Presidio Board we got the truth via the FOIA request the Tech Community teamed up on.

Once again I am proud to be part of the tech community in finding the gross collusion that occurred.


That’s right, Ron Conway and his friends have harnessed the force of FOIA to expose a conspiracy of “gross collusion” at the heart of San Francisco politics! This is huge!

To explain how huge, Conway forwards along a second email from Aaron McLear, partner at Redwood Pacific Public Affairs:

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross column today exposed a conspiracy at the Presidio Trust to kill the (George) Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, which was brought to light through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by tech heavyweights including Ron Conway, Laurene Powell Jobs, Sean Parker, Marissa Mayer, Biz Stone, and Reid Hoffman.

Yes, it seems that the Presidio Trust, the blue-blooded government outpost created by Congress in 1996 to manage most of San Francisco’s Presidio National Park, has been caught conspiring to stop the construction of a museum built to house George Lucas’ collection of comic and digital art.

For shame!

In the spring of 2013, George Lucas submitted a bid to build the museum -- a 93,000 square foot waterfront homage to the Beaux Artes splendor of the Panama Pacific Exhibition -- at the site of a current Sports Basement in Chrissy Field.  The project had the backing of all sorts of important people, from Dianne Feinstein to Martin Scorcese to MC Hammer to… well.. all of the people listed in Conway’s email.

(Notably absent from Conway's list: Marc Benioff who apparently recused himself sometime before his wife Lynne was appointed to the board of the Presidio Trust last week.)

The Trust is reported to have offered Lucas the site, with some conditions. Lucas refused to cede design considerations, at which point the City offered him an alternative site for the project just north of AT&T Park on the Embarcadero.

Ultimately the plans collapsed and Lucas now intends to build his museum in Chicago. The Crissy Field Sports Basement will remain a Sports Basement.

But Conway and his friends weren’t going to let the Presidio kill the Lucas Museum without a fight. They bandied together to FOIA the Presidio trustees and, as a result, discovered that some of them had apparently conspired to reject the project, regardless of of its merits.

Most notable was this exchange between Trust staffer Tia Lombardi and a consultant, Brent Glass:

Lombardi: “(Trust executive director Craig Middleton and I) talked for another 40 minutes or so about the fact that GL’s [George Lucas] building will NEVER get built.”

Glass: “Perfect! Now we have to produce some really good proposals.”

Lombardi: “I have no worries.”

That exchange was mixed among other desultory references to the project and avowals of solidarity in making sure it was never built. Another interesting tidbit in the catalog -- on February 22, 2014, Glass remarks in an email:

“I only wish some smart art critic would weigh in on LCAM’s lack of curatorial vision.”

A week later, the Chronicle’s urban design critic John King published a piece dragging the proposal through the critical mud, calling it “boilerplate Beaux Arts, ornamentation without imagination,” and “ a generic box gussied up with arches and domes, with no more depth than a street on a Hollywood lot.” King went so far as to use the words of the city’s revered 20th century Beaux Artes master, Bernard Maybeck, against the Lucas project, “a conglomeration of soulless buildings dolled up in holiday attire.”

Lucas was a longtime friend of the Trust. In 2005, he moved LucasFilm, LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic to the Presidio, helping the park meets its ‘fiscally sustainable by 2013 mandate.’ In a weird twist, Disney bought those companies in 2012, three years after Walt Disney’s heirs, led by his San Francisco society daughter Diane Disney Miller, opened the Walt Disney Family Museum -- in the Presidio.

The museum kerfluffle has likely made for some uncomfortable moments at society parties in San Francisco in recent years, pitting the one percent against itself as it has. An ugly business, that. When the Governor, the Mayor, Dianne Feinstein, Dede Wilsey and the tech industry find themselves squaring off against the Haas family, heirs to Levi’s, nobody wins. Except Sports Basement.

But anyone who knows a thing about Ron Conway knows that he is a champion of transparency in government and an enemy of backroom handshakes. And that’s not all. As the email from Redwood Pacific -- the preferred lobbying group of Conway (and the California Republican Party) --  makes clear: it’s for the children.

McLear writes:  

It is unfortunate that Bay Area kids were robbed of this national treasure that was blocked completely behind closed doors, but the mission of the FOIA request was to bring this conspiracy and collusion to light.

Still, at least Conway the watchdog has exposed the underbelly of San Francisco’s leisure class and their unseemly government influence, which conspired in this case to maliciously pooh-pooh George Lucas’ architectural tastes.

More importantly, this transparency push by Conway, Laurene Powell Jobs, George Lucas et al has brought to light the second worst example of secret collusion between obscenely wealthy Bay Area power players in living memory.

The first, of course, would be the time when Steve Jobs, George Lucas and a half dozen others archetected the single biggest wage theft in Silicon Valley history. 

But, yeah, this Presidio thing is really bad too.