Friday, April 16, 2010

GGNRA message to small family businesses: "Show me the money!"

Garcia: Red tape sinking landmark

By: Ken Garcia
Examiner Staff Writer
April 9, 2010

When it comes to dealing with San Francisco beach icons, the federal government has a penchant for running aground. And that would certainly be the case with a landmark city restaurant that’s gotten entangled with the mindless bureaucracy known as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Last month, the owners of Louis’ restaurant, with its famous perch above the Cliff House, received word that they would have to submit a competitive bid to keep its lease, despite the fact that the family has operated the site for nearly 75 years.

It wouldn’t be so bad, except the Hontalas family — which owns the eatery — tried to sign a long-term lease more than 12 years ago, only to have the GGNRA tell them that they couldn’t accept it due to changes in federal law. And ever since that time, they’ve been on a year-to-year lease, up to the point that they got the notice that the next contract goes to the highest bidder.

Does 73 years of experience running the joint make a difference? Not to the GGNRA, which says rules are rules. If you think you’ve heard something like this before, it’s because it was the GGNRA that almost ended up shutting down The City’s famed Musee Mecanique — the largest private collection of historic arcade games in the world — when it was overseeing the remodel of the Cliff House, where the Musee was formerly located.

A certain columnist launched a campaign to save the Musee, and 20,000 people joined the protest, which forced the GGNRA to relent — though it did require the game museum to move.

Then-GGNRA chief Brian O’Neill admitted the agency handled that issue poorly, but the ever-fair O’Neill died recently, apparently taking all manner of bureaucratic sense with him.

“We’re not here to bad-mouth the National Park Service,” said Tom Hontalas, who runs the popular eatery with his brother Bill and their families. “But I know a lot of people are upset that we could lose Louis’.”

The restaurant, by the way, is named for his grandfather, who started it.

More than 1,500 people have already signed petitions to try and convince the feds to keep Louis’ the way it is, classic San Francisco cafes being in short supply these days. We should know by summer whether there is any sense of justice remaining in Washington and beyond.

“It’s just another bump in the road,” Bill Hontalas said.

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Posted by Steve Sinai


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