Cow Palace Debate Turns From Guns to Housing

Officials behind the state-owned property finally banned gun shows, but a debate remains about using the 68-acre land for housing.

Gun shows at the Cow Palace are numbered but the next seemingly intractable issue has arrived at its 68-acres of mostly open land: housing.

For 15 years, Cow Palace’s claim to fame has been the gun shows that took place on the state-owned property in Daly City — against the objections of its surrounding neighborhoods. After multiple legislative attempts were rejected by former Governors Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, state Sen. Scott Wiener’s latest bill included a component to take power away from the current governing body, the Cow Palace Board of Directors, and into a local authority.

It was only then that the board felt compelled to act and in April, it voted at last to discontinue all gun shows at the venue starting Jan. 1, when a contract with Crossroads of the West — which holds shows at the Cow Palace five times a year — is set to end.

However, the huge step toward preventing gun violence does not mean the debate over who has control over Cow Palace is over. He and Assemblymember Phil Ting, who both represent San Francisco, announced last week that they would put the legislation on hold “to allow for additional dialogue” over how to efficiently use the rest of the land in a region starved for affordable housing.

“To be clear, the Cow Palace should have taken this step years ago, and it should not have taken state legislation to move the agency to this point,” Wiener said in a statement. “And, it’s time to have a meaningful discussion about the future of this site.”

But some supporters of the Cow Palace as they know it don’t want all that much to change, save for some repairs and revitalization. This is the place where John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr gave speeches, where the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Grateful Dead performed, they remind us.

Kevin Patterson, an event organizer and executive director of the Save the Cow Palace Coalition, is adamant that it remains in state fairground control to keep costs affordable for local community events, like the Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Golden Gate Dog Show.

“It’s best use is its current use,” says Kevin Patterson, an event organizer and executive director of the Save the Cow Palace Coalition. “If it was held by a local authority, we felt like it was going to get chopped up for housing. We need housing but there are other places to build it.”

Patterson points to the nearby Brisbane Baylands development, which is estimated to bring 2,200 homes as a need to keep a hub for the residents to flock to for arts and culture. He ultimately supports the bill if it keeps control in state control while permanently outlawing gun shows.

Still, local officials like Wiener, Ting, and San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa think they could contribute more with the spare land. Housing and retail development can occur while these community events continue, they argue. The structure and parking lot make up an acre or two, according to Wiener spokesperson Victor Ruiz-Cornejo.

“Our bill doesn’t require the demolishing of the Cow Palace,” says Ruiz-Cornejo. “We want to see the land be put to good use.”

To its credit, at the same meeting the Cow Palace Board of Directors ended gun shows, it also approved allocating 12.5 acres for retail and development housing. Legislators want to give it time to come to an agreement about what to do and if, in eight months, it doesn’t pan out, the bill will move ahead in largely the same form.

Both legislators and supporters of the Cow Palace do seem in agreement over one thing: that the venue has great potential.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t need a place to gather and be creative,” Patterson says of the need for housing. “They’re gonna really need a facility like the Cow Palace.”

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