Saturday, January 14, 2006

 

USS Iowa debate causes sinking feeling

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The Examiner
By Ken Garcia
January 11, 2006



Even the most reasonable ideas have a way of running aground in San Francisco, but that would hardly describe the assault on the plan have to bring the World War II battleship Iowa here, a proposal that would be smooth sailing in most coastal cities.

Lost in a sea of political correctness, the Board of Supervisors rejected a plan last year to bring the historic ship here and turn it into a museum and tourist center. The main objection appeared to be that the Iowa was an instrument of war — hard to shoot down that notion. Yet even though it’s been out of commission for 16 years, some of our fearless leaders somehow linked it to the war in Iraq that they vehemently oppose.

But a new year brings another opportunity to brush aside such fuzzy logic, and if the nonprofit group lobbying to bring the Iowa to its Pacific perch can convince enough officials of its rightful berth here, San Francisco might just get a chance to get the battleship and the benefits such an attraction could bring.

Otherwise, it’s likely that the Iowa will sail to Stockton, and it’s hard to imagine Stockton beating San Francisco in any race other than those involving monster trucks.

A new resolution is expected to surface at the board soon that should address concerns surrounding the battleship museum, which include its financial feasibility, its cost to The City and the unequal treatment received by gays, lesbians and people of color who have served in the military. The objections to the war in Iraq can’t adequately be addressed in any measure, since the only link there is one of wayward imagination.

According to members of the group Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square, the new plan would provide the Iowa with up to $13 million from private contributions so that The City wouldn’t get stuck with any of the costs for docking it here. In addition, the group would agree to give $250,000 annually to the Port of San Francisco as well as a percentage of the ticket gate.

Further, part of the museum would include an education project focusing on the contributions of gays, lesbians and ethnic minorities in the military. And the group would offer to hold an annual peace conference on the battleship — the kind in which the Iowa once participated when it was sailing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt around the world to negotiate the agreements to officially end World War II.

But the Iowa’s sterling contributions have a way of getting battered in the anti-military rhetoric that passes for official comment in San Francisco. So even the best proposal — one that possibly would bring money and tourism and not cost The City a dime — could face choppy waters ahead.
“The Iowa could be an economic catalyst for the waterfront’s revitalization and it could create jobs,’’ said Merilyn Wong, head of the ship lobbying effort. “You could say it’s been an instrument of conflict, but history shows it’s also been an instrument for peace.’’

Recently, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, upped the ante by getting a measure passed that would allow the Iowa to be transferred to any California city that wants to bid on it. Feinstein, who called the supervisors’ action “petty’’ when they rejected the original proposal, doesn’t want to see The City lose another chance at a historic vessel, such as when it botched the chance to get the USS Missouri, now a popular tourist destination in Pearl Harbor.

And no matter how confusing the debate gets over its future placement here, there is no doubt that there is endless public fascination with giant battleships. Both the battleship New Jersey and the battleship North Carolina are permanently based on the East Coast and draw hundreds of thousands of visitors a year — and both naval memorials are self-sustaining.

So does San Francisco once again want to deem itself unlike other cities and reject its ties to the nation’s past and its own role in the military for more than a century? The answer, my friend, could be sailing in the wind, headed to a port town less than 100 miles away. If the historic ships group can prove that its deal is financially feasible, then city officials need to seriously consider getting on board.

Preserving the past is an often-stated goal among city officials. This could be a great chance to embrace history rather than once again try to revise it.


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