Cow Palace Out to Pasture?
By Quentin Kopp
H. L. Mencken in The American Mercury in May 1930 declared: “The legislature, like the executive, has ceased to be even the creature of the people; it is the creature of pressure groups, and most of them … are of dubious wisdom and even more dubious honesty. Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation … The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle – a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game … If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of chiropractic, astrology or cannibalism.” That applies to state Senator Scott Wiener, who aspires to destroy our historic Cow Palace.
Last year, Wiener prosecuted legislatively a measure to ban gun shows at the Cow Palace. His bill emanated from pressure by people espousing gun control and disdain of the Second Amendment. He was thwarted by Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., who vetoed his legislation, observing that the Cow Palace Board of Directors is composed of people from the community, consisting of San Mateo County and San Francisco residents only.
This year, the same politician introduced Senate Bill 281, not just to render gun shows illegal in the Cow Palace, but to abolish the Cow Palace by transferring its valuable 68 acres to a “joint powers authority” composed of Daly City, San Francisco and San Mateo County. This land grab contained no payment to state taxpayers for such real estate conveyance. All but two acres of the Cow Palace are in San Mateo County, which last month declined to pass a resolution supporting SB-281 despite entreaty by the board of supervisors member from Daly City, D. J. Canepa. (SB-281 was amended by the State Senate Government Organization Committee to require payment of market value by Daly City, San Francisco and San Mateo County, one of whose supervisors observed to me that there isn’t an acre of unimproved land in San Mateo County worth less than $1 million!)
The legislative author has disseminated such falsehoods as “the bill is not controversial” and that Cow Palace board members don’t represent San Francisco or San Mateo County residents. In fact, one member resides in Daly City, which has always been involved with the Cow Palace. Its police department, fire department and “SWAT” team, plus the California Highway Patrol, Muni, and American Medical Response all train at the Cow Palace.
A historical refresher needs recitation. The Cow Palace constitutes California Agricultural District 1A; there are 54 agricultural districts in California and another 23 county fairs and expositions. Ten years ago, the state budget, because of economic conditions, ceased funding agricultural districts. The Cow Palace, constructed under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and opening in 1941, had to generate enough revenue to cover operating expenses. It has done so brilliantly, now possessing more than $4 million in cash reserve. It has hosted political conventions, circuses, ice hockey, basketball, track and field, and boat shows. It now generates rent from the traditional Grand National Rodeo, Horse and Stock Show, the Junior Livestock Show, 4H shows, the Great Dickens Fair, dog shows, a reptile show, flower shows, a circus, auto exhibitions, AIDS Lifecycle fundraising weekend, Salesforce and Facebook corporate events and cannabis events.
Despite denial that his bill would result in destruction of the improved Cow Palace and surrounding animal stalls and space, Wiener’s intent is to transfer it to wealthy land use developers under the guise of solving the “housing crisis.” Despite language in SB-281 which states it isn’t a precedent for other agricultural districts or county fairs, such language is precatory, easily overcome by subsequent legislation grabbing other state and county agricultural exposition properties for developers. Except for the naked land grab, SB-281 is moot as to its original purpose: On April 16, 2019, the Cow Palace board voted unanimously not to re-lease the premises in 2020 to the gun show operator, whose lease expires Dec. 31, 2019.
Those gun shows have never resulted in sale of a firearm used in a reported assault, much less a death, because state and federal laws control purchases, requiring scrupulous background checks and prevention of possession of a purchased gun at the Cow Palace for 30 days or more, without any physical transfer of a weapon at the Cow Palace.
Finally, the Cow Palace is engaged in negotiations with an adjoining private property owner and Daly City to develop jointly approximately 25 acres west of the Geneva Avenue entrance for housing and a supermarket. Wiener’s destructive approach, including another bill (SB-50) usurping local control over zoning ordinances by California cities, would abolish a history of not just rodeos and 4H events, but availability of the acreage for emergency shelter and rescue after earthquakes and other physical disasters as well as legendary appearances by President John F. Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Beatles!
Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Committee and retired judge.