letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor: Should Heather Knight Be Selling the Bay Lights?


Heather Knight is trying to sell us the Bay Lights.  She is fund-raising for Ben Davis on the front page of the Bay Area section of the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle (Knocking ‘Lights’ out proved arduous, March 19, 2023).  Davis is the self-described founder & chief visionary officer of Illuminate, the private nonprofit that pays him a six figure salary to promote himself and Illuminate. According to Propublica, Davis was paid $169,623 in 2021. Illuminate calls itself an arts organization but Davis is the only person getting paid.

Do we really want a lead reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle boosting this glorified promoter?  In the very first paragraph of her article, Ms. Knight tells two untruths: that the Bay Lights are “stunning” and “famous.” They are neither. Ms. Knight has featured Davis prominently in her reporting. In addition to the Sunday Chronicle feature on March 19, replete with a photo of the dashing Ben Davis in hardhat, there was an article on March 4, S.F.’s Bay Bridge lights are about to go dark by Ms. Knight, also with a photo of Davis, this time dressed very haute couture and dramatically lit as he poses beneath the Bay Bridge.  Also, an article, on March 13, Bay Bridge’s light display has gone dark again. What happened?  This last, mercifully, without a photo of Davis.

That’s not all. The Chronicle can’t get enough of Davis and the Bay Lights. Last chance to see: Bay Bridge lights turn off on Sunday byJordan ParkerMarch 2, 2023.  Here’s Heather Knight again: S.F.’s famous Bay Bridge lights will come down soon — unless $11 million is donated for an even better version, Jan. 7, 2023. Was it just that these were slow news days?  Don’t we have more important issues in San Francisco than fundraising for the light-polluting, energy-wasting Bay Lights? This is a shameless promotion of a private arts organization, run by one man, who serves as a front for a group of elite businessmen seeking to influence government policy in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  Usurping public space is part of their agenda and, unfortunately, Phil Ginsburg of SF Rec. and Park has helped them do it. 

For example, “The city has extended the permits for his Golden Mile on JFK Promenade in Golden Gate Park — featuring yellow Adirondack chairs, Doggie Diner heads and a whimsical whale tail — through Leap Day 2024. ‘I’ve heard it described as the happiest place in San Francisco,’ Davis said” (Knight 3/19/23).  In typical self-congratulatory fashion, I might add.  A “whimsical whale tail.”  Isn’t that cute?  Something’s not right here.  And really, aren’t there better uses for the $11 million they’re trying to raise? In addition to taking over the Bay Bridge, he is trying to take over Golden Gate Park.  It’s his special property now; his “happy place.”  He has even co-opted the City of San Francisco: “Los Angeles is the City of Angels. San Francisco is the City of Awe.” says Davis (Knight 3/19/23)  Illuminate has rebranded San Francisco as the “City of Awe.” It’s the first thing you see on their website now.  Here’s Heather Knight: “But the loss of  ‘Bay Lights’ would be a setback for a city that, more than ever, needs not only beauty and art, but affirmation that it still brings the biggest dreams to life.” Are you kidding me? 

The lights of Illuminate are like sugary sodas or candy.  They initially provide a rush akin to the sugar rush and a pleasurable sensation but, just like too much sugar degrades the human environment and results in diabetes and illness, too much light degrades the natural environment and also human health. 

“In ways we have long understood, in others we are just beginning to understand, night’s natural darkness has always been invaluable to our health and the health of the natural world, and every living creature suffers from its loss.” The End of Night by Paul Bogard
We need to reduce energy use and light pollution. Both can be accomplished by letting the Bay Lights go dark. 

David Romano

12 replies »

  1. That’s not all. Heather Knight is the shameful promoter for political causes. Her reporting, inflammatory and dishonest, was a substantial factor in the Recall of Chesa Boudin. On the other hand, Heather is smitten with the new DA Brooke Jenkins. Writing a fawning puff piece last summer. Which included the tasty tidbit. Their trip to the ice cream shoppe


    • The campaign of misinformation and feat-mongering leading up to the Recall of Chesa Boudind was indeed shameful. Even the SF Chronicle recommended that he not be recalled. And yes, the new DA Brooke Jenkins has mostly been given a free pass by the media. I wasn’t aware of the ice cream shoppe trip but isn’t that too sweet.


  2. I loved the lights when they were initially a two-year public art piece. And I was really glad when somebody donated a few million dollars to reinstall the lights. But when I read what the plan was with this $11 million donation, it was just too much! I just think it would be vulgar! And not at all what San Francisco is about.


    • Yes, one of the problems with temporary installations is they seem to get extended again and again. A prime example is the SkyStar Wheel in Golden Gate Park. It was granted a Certificate of Appropriateness for one year only on the basis of its being a temporary installation. The next thing we know, Mark Buell, President of the Rec and Park Commission, has asked the Historic Preservation Commission to extend it to 5 years because the vendor isn’t making enough money! And. as the HPC seems to give Rec and Park anything they want (including a massive concrete slab in the Polo Field), we were stuck with the Wheel for 5 years instead of the original 1 year.


  3. Heather Knight is an opinion columnist (as opposed to a “lead reporter”) and her job is to write a column giving her opinions. Disagreeing with her opinions is one thing, but acting like it’s wrongdoing for her to give opinions is pretty much unclear on the concept. (Full disclosure that I was a co-worker of Knight’s for 10 years.)


    • Caroline. As a media person presumably you are aware that “opinion” is one side of the story. But using ones platform with alternative facts and distortions with a goal to destroy a public official is another matter entirely. That is exactly what Heather did with award winning Nightcrawler column. Destroy an honest ethical Progressive DA Chesa Boudin.


      • Well, Heather either is or isn’t entitled to her opinion, so I’m not sure what the point is here. The frequent view is that she’s entitled to give her opinion ONLY IF the commenter agrees with it, but it’s an outrage that she dares to give an opinion if the commenter disagrees with it. These commenters seem to assume that she should run all opinions by them personally beforehand for approval or rejection. For the record, the Chronicle editorial board endorsed a no vote on the Boudin recall, and the recall campaign screeched pretty much constantly that the actual news reporting was biased against the recall. So if Heather’s coverage came across as pro-recall (even if your view is that she has no right to give opinions that you disagree with), the recall campaign felt the Chronicle was on Boudin’s side overall.


  4. CarolineSF. You, as Chronicle employee in which capacity I don’t know, hopefully realize more people read Heather, for whatever reason – her writing skills, perhaps, than do the editorial page. Heather’s reporting about Chesa which began with the blatant puff piece on Suzy Loftus, interim DA, just before the November 2019 election and continuing through her puff piece on ‘Volunteer’ DA Brooke Jenkins in August 2022 which included their visit to the ice cream shoppe has been nothing more than political pandering. In between Heather did her best through misstatements, alternative facts, and innuendo to destroy Chesa. For that she is no journalist. She is a Public Relations shill.


    • I’m a longtime copy editor and recently retired. Except for opinion columnists, Chronicle journalists are prohibited by the ethics code from publicly expressing political views, but since I’m retired I’m now free to announce that I personally opposed and voted against the Boudin recall. But I’ve heard this over and over — I disagree with the opinion so the writer has no right to give an opinion; I disagree with the opinion so the writer is no journalist. I don’t actually know the online engagement data for Heather’s columns, but I’d say it’s actually her columns on issues like the outrageous cost for one toilet in a Noe Valley public square that attract more readers. She’s probably written some columns you agree with (of course in those cases, she has a right to give an opinion and is a journalist).


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