Prop. B: Tracking the Money Poured into the Coit Tower Battle

Even in an era when top hats and monocles have given way to blazers with jeans and loafers, it's still swell to be a swell. The trappings of wealth may change, but the access to it — that's a constant.

Proposition B on the June 5 ballot had been dubbed the Nimby vs. Swells measure. On the cusp of voters' decision on how to spend the funds generated by aging landmark Coit Tower, the city announced it had unearthed $1.7 million with which to maintain its rough-around-the-edges beacon, WPA art space, and occasional moneymaking champagne room.

That's good news. Tourists shocked at the filth and degradation of city amenities could do with one fewer example.

Even still — and true to swells' form — cash poured into the fight against Prop. B, a ballot measure calling for Coit Tower money to be directed toward site upkeep and restricting use of the landmark for private events like the one we wrote about last month, a dinner party by right-leaning politico Thomas Coates in exchange for a $20,000 donation to the nonprofit Parks Alliance — a party that required Coit Tower to close to the public two hours early (“Occupied by the 1 Percent,” May 2).

The Parks Alliance subsequently led the battle against Prop. B — and, campaign finance records reveal, more than $170,000 was funneled to it and the Golden State Leadership Fund Political Action Committee to maintain the status quo.

The provenance of some of this money makes sense: Curtis Gardner, who donated $15,000, was a guest at the 2011 Coates soiree. Yet large piles of money amassed in May and June hail from entities without an obvious dog in this fight. Among them: the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians ($25,000); PG&E ($20,000); Police Officers Research Association of California ($10,000); California Dental Association ($2,500).

How this matter resonates for a utilities company, cops, or dentists is a bit of a head-scratcher — as is its relevance to an Indian tribe hailing from outside San Bernardino. It warrants mentioning, however, that the San Manuel Band has heavily advocated for gambling-related state legislation in years past, along with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. Willie Brown has served as a consultant to the Morongos; the former San Francisco mayor and California state Assembly speaker was a prominent advocate for recent San Manuel Band-backed legislation. It was also Brown who set up Coates' $20,000 Coit Tower soiree.

This week's election was among the most ho-hum in years; many voters returned their ballots long before the fundraising bonanza. It will soon be apparent if this glut of cash bought what its donors were gambling it would.

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