SUPPORT THE CLIFF HOUSE

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This petition is directed to the National Park Service, and to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, in the hope that a solution can be found to the imminent closure of The Cliff House, an historical San Francisco landmark restaurant since 1863.  The current operator (Hountalas) and news reports confirm that The Cliff House will permanently close on December 31, for want of NPS renewing its concession contract (the Hountalas notice is posted in full below).  Given that Hountalas has been the operator since 1973, and has developed credibility and respect in our community, we urge NPS to renew the concession or, through the Feinstein office, immediately discuss an equitable extension of the concession.

Known by all San Franciscans, and by many million visitors, The Cliff House is a valued institution and part of the fabric of the City.  According to Hountalas and as confirmed by the San Francisco Chronicle, NPS failed to timely post, and then failed to timely respond, to the bureaucratic process of renewing the concession (a Request For Qualifications, or RFQ).  Instead, NPS only granted Hountalas a series of short-term extensions.  Now, NPS requires the RFQ process begin from the start, which will take years  --  and, in a startling new arrogant turn, without consulting those of us in San Francisco, NPS has stated that it is no longer looking to renew The Cliff House as a restaurant, despite its 157-year legacy.

In the meantime, ignoring the pandemic, NPS has refused to negotiate an extension with Hountalas, offering only another short-term “take it or leave it” lease at full cost, regardless of the inability to operate a restaurant during this time.  The result would be that Hountalas, unable to operate The Cliff House for these many months, must continue to pay all ongoing expenses regardless of the closure.  Alternatively, Hountalas must remove the entirety of their many decades of historic property and all restaurant furnishings and equipment, by December 31.  And then, The Cliff House will be a shuttered empty building for years. 

NPS, with its ever-rotating leadership in Washington, D.C., is acting like an unconcerned and heartless landlord, without heed for the many dozens of people who work at The Cliff House and the many thousands of neighbors in the community.  This is shockingly inconsiderate behavior, as well as a failure to abide by its own government RFQ requirements.  We are dismayed at the imperious manner in which this has been decided  --  and we are so disappointed, given the promises made by past NPC leadership when it took control of The Cliff House.

We urge Senator Feinstein to intervene with NPS.  There must be a way to resolve this immediately and fairly, without high-handed “take it or leave it” landlord tactics.  The pandemic will pass, and NPS need not produce years of blight and the abject eviction of a good and important neighbor in our community.

Please sign this Petition to express your feelings about this important issue, and encourage corrective steps to be taken.

 

For more information on The Cliff House:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliff_House,_San_Francisco

 

HOUNTALAS NOTICE OF EVENTS

NPS Forces the Cliff House to Close Its Doors Permanently

180 Employees Lose Their Jobs

It is with deep regret and heartbreak that we must inform you that The Cliff House will close permanently on December 31, 2020. Our 20-year concession contract expired on June 30, 2018; by that time, the National Park Service (NPS) should have selected an operator on a long-term basis to ensure the continued operation of this national treasure. Since then, the NPS has issued us one six-month and then two consecutive one-year concession contract extensions rather than proceed in a timely fashion with their responsibility to execute a new long-term contract or lease.

The first step in this process was to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) which they did not do until August 13, 2019 — more than a year and half after this process should have begun. Since 2018 we have negotiated in good faith with the NPS to continue our long stewardship of this iconic San Francisco Landmark including our teaming with another operator which submitted a response to the requested RFQ. Our last extension was executed on January 1, 2020 and expires on December 31, 2020.

As we all know the unprecedented situation brought on by the Covid-19 Pandemic has decimated the restaurant industry. We have continued to uphold our responsibility throughout 2020 even though we have been unable to operate since March 17th. We did attempt to institute takeout service in early June but after 10 weeks could not continue to sustain the unbearable losses associated with takeout.

It costs tens of thousands of dollars every month to maintain and guard the massive Cliff House building. There really is no excuse to be in this situation. There was no COVID-19 in 2018; one or more upper echelon leaders within the NPS obviously did not do their jobs, resulting in this sad situation.

The NPS offered us a fourth one-year extension to continue guarding and maintaining their building with all costs to be paid for by us without any compensation whatsoever from the NPS. Unlike the government which is not held accountable for profits and losses we could not accept the additional extension as there is no possibility of doing a sustainable level of business for the foreseeable future.

We attempted to work with them to find a way to move forward given the challenges everyone continues to face during the pandemic. We waited patiently for a response from the NPS to our inquiries regarding the fate of The Cliff House. We finally received an answer at the late date of December 7, 2020. The decision they provided is as follows:

·      The first RFQ has expired and will need to be completely redone causing a further delay of what could be years. Given how that went in more normal times we do not expect this to be done in a timely manner.

·      There will not be an interim successor/partner so the building will be left unoccupied and watched over by the NPS at taxpayers’ expense.

·      We must remove all personal property in the building including all memorabilia as opposed to being paid for our property by the ultimate successor operator as provided in our contract.

·      There will be no effort to speed up the process for successorship.

We have been the proprietors of the Cliff House for 47-1/2 years and are probably the longest tenured in the 157- year history. We were in fact operating the Cliff House four years before it became part of the National Park System. We leased the Cliff House from George Whitney, Jr. in 1973 and the NPS did not purchase it until 1977.

This is certainly not the way to thank us, a local small business owned and operated by native San Franciscans, for taking care of this San Francisco treasure this past year at a significant financial loss. Again, this all could have been prevented by the award of a long-term contract two and half years ago.

It is obvious that the NPS has failed in its stated mission to safeguard natural and cultural resources:

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. (Source nps.gov)

As a result, The Cliff House will be boarded up and fenced in for several years as they once again try to implement their own processes.

Realistically we are looking at two to three years of a closed facility. And if there is insufficient maintenance done to keep it up, re-opening costs will be tremendous. How will The Cliff House look/feel when it eventually re-opens? Will there be some element of local ownership? Will it even be “The Cliff House?”

All of us here at The Cliff House are outraged at the failure of the NPS to select a new long-term operator in 2018, thereby avoiding all this unnecessary hardship and heartache. In the meantime, a lot of priceless memorabilia will be auctioned off and be gone with the wind. Lost forever and with it an important part of San Francisco history.

We are seeking help in holding the NPS publicly responsible for their failures resulting in the loss of the livelihood of 180 employees and their families, as well as the loss of one of San Francisco’s treasured landmarks and the financial loss suffered by those of us local folks who did our best to stay true to this legacy.

To show your support you can email the NPS directly at:

Laura Joss  --  goga_superintendent@nps.gov

 

Thank You,

Dan and Mary Hountalas

Proprietors since 1973