Sunday, December 18, 2005

 

San Francisco city offered option to bid for WWII battleship Iowa

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San Francisco Chronicle
By Joe Garofoli & Edward Epstein
December 17, 2005



Pressure increased on San Francisco officials Friday to decide whether they want the World War II battleship Iowa after two key federal lawmakers agreed to let any California community bid for the vessel.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, who had been offering dueling proposals on the Iowa's future, agreed that the ship should be transferred to California for permanent donation status and that any city in the state could bid for it.

Pombo's proposal would have directed the Navy to give the 63-year-old Iowa, now moored in Suisun Bay, to the Port of Stockton. Feinstein proposed opening it up for bid.

The language will be included in the defense authorization conference report that Congress is expected to pass in the next few days. If it does, Feinstein aide Howard Gantman said, the Navy could decide on the winning bid within a year.

The process shouldn't take too long, as the only California cities that have openly expressed interest are Stockton, which has a deep-water port, and San Francisco.

But while Port of Stockton officials have already pledged a 1,000-foot dock, a 90,000 square-foot building and a 15-acre parking lot, supporters of bringing the Iowa to San Francisco are still trying to convince the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom that it's worth the effort.

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 not to back a plan by the nonprofit Historic Ship Memorial at Pacific Square to bring the ship to the Port of San Francisco as a tourist attraction.

Opponents gave a variety of reasons -- lukewarm support from the Port of San Francisco and Newsom, the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays and lesbians serving in the military, and the city's history as a center of the peace movement.

But San Francisco's Iowa supporters are hoping to reintroduce what they call a "brand new" resolution to the board in mid-January. It would include a proposal to hold an annual "peace conference" on the battleship. Supporters are meeting with supervisors about their new plan.

Friday's agreement between Feinstein and Pombo "absolutely turns up the heat for San Francisco to decide whether it wants this," said Jim Maloney, executive director of the Military Education Initiative. The organization, which seeks veterans' support for gays and lesbians in the military, is working with the Historic Ship Memorial group to bring the Iowa to San Francisco.

It wants to open a museum on the Iowa focusing on the contributions of gays, lesbians, ethnic minorities and women to the military.

Port of San Francisco staffers are reviewing the supporters' business plan for bringing the vessel here.

"The people who want the ship here are still working hard at it," said Supervisor Fiona Ma, who wants to see the Iowa brought to San Francisco.

Feinstein, who blasted the supervisors in July for their "petty" vote against the Iowa, said she was still interested in having the battleship moored in San Francisco as a tourist attraction.

"I'd like to see it there,'' she said in an interview in Washington, D.C. "There is great interest in these ships. Most San Franciscans have no idea what these ships are like or what life aboard them was like for the crew. It's really interesting.

"But the board's resolution remains a problem,'' Feinstein said. "It's up to them.''

Stockton port leaders expect that San Francisco will submit a bid for the ship, and that another city could enter the contest as well.

"No matter what the ground rules are, whether it's just us and San Francisco, or another city, we will be ready," said Richard Aschieris, director of the Port of Stockton. "This would mean a lot to the Central Valley."


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