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Politics & Policy

Laser light show for San Francisco’s Coit Tower likely to get approved after weird political dispute

An artistic rendering shows the laser art installation “The Candle” that is being proposed for Coit Tower in San Francisco from July 14-16. | Courtesy Illuminate

A simmering dispute over shooting lasers out of the top of Coit Tower appears to be nearly settled, as San Francisco officials are now saying they expect next week’s light show to receive final approval.

The light display—dubbed “The Candle” by the arts nonprofit Illuminate—is slated to begin July 14 and run three nights as part of the organization’s “Summer of Awe” campaign. 

In an email Thursday, Recreation and Park Department spokesperson Tamara Aparton said the agency expects to grant final approval as long as measures are taken to protect murals at the art deco landmark on Telegraph Hill.

Ben Davis, the founder of Illuminate, was thrilled to hear the project is expected to move forward.

“We’re an arts organization, and we love San Francisco,” Davis said. “We deeply respect the need to do things safely, and we have a perfect track record of doing it.”

Davis gained notoriety with The Bay Lights project, which installed twinkling and cascading lights along the Bay Bridge for the better part of the last decade. Illuminate’s more recent light displays include the laser rainbow installation for Pride and a current installation at Sutro Tower. But the Coit Tower project has met unusual resistance, and city officials have offered different narratives as to why.

A laser light installation at Sutro Tower began on July 2, 2023, to celebrate the tower's 50th anniversary. | Courtesy Illuminate

Last week, Aaron Peskin—the president of the Board of Supervisors who represents North Beach, the neighborhood where “The Candle” is set to take place—told The Standard that he had not received or relayed any complaints from neighbors or residents about the laser show. 

“I have not heard anything for or against from any neighborhood organizations,” Peskin said.

However, Aparton wrote in an email Thursday that Rec and Parks officials met almost a month ago with Peskin and his staff, and issues were raised.

“We briefed Supervisor Peskin and his staff on June 12 and at that time the supervisor told us his constituents had concerns about excess light, crowds and traffic,” Aparton wrote. “He did not specify the number of complaints. His office forwarded us one email from someone who didn’t want the lights. Separately, we received an email from someone concerned about the safety of the murals.”

Peskin declined a follow-up interview request Thursday asking him to explain the different version of events between him and city staff.

“In back to back meetings,” Peskin texted. “Not on my list of priorities.”

“The Candle” will shoot between eight and 10 “laser space cannons” directly up into the sky to create a unique light display that should be visible across much of the city, Davis said.

“We’re learning a lot from the installation at Sutro Tower and the relationship to fog at that level,” Davis said. “One project informs the next, and we keep refining that for beauty.”

As for the dispute with Peskin, he looked at the bright side.

“I’ve not had any direct conversations with Supervisor Peskin, but I’m excited that we’re going to move forward,” Davis said. “I think that’s good for San Francisco.”