Okay, I feel like a jerk. I’m sorry to say that I am not going to have a post up laying out the Mayor’s budget proposal today like I said I would. After last night’s Council meeting, I was so happy about them not approving the parking lot, that I went out to celebrate instead of going home to write today’s blog, and well, a girl’s allowed to have a little fun once in a while, right? Anyway, that will hopefully go up tomorrow.
Back in March, as part of a series of amendments to our agreement with Forest City, the Community and Economic Development Committee was scheduled (PDF) to approve the creation of a new surface parking lot at 19th and Telegraph in Uptown. Awful, I know. Becks and dto510 and I and a bunch of other pedestrian advocates and downtown residents were all worked up about how terrible it was, and they were all like “We have to stop this, it’s so terrible.” And I was like “Don’t bother. Yes, it’s terrible. But the City does terrible things all the damn time, and even though this is more terrible than many of them, you have to pick your battles, and you’re just not going to win this one no matter what, so why waste our time trying.”
But my bad attitude did not dissuade them, and on March 27th, they went down to City Hall and the two of them and Joyce Roy and Naomi Schiff all got up and said how bad a parking lot would be and how they shouldn’t do it, and I sat on my couch fiddling with a spreadsheet and watched them in the corner of my screen, wondering why they possibly thought this was going to accomplish anything. And then they finished speaking, and District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente was like “This almost never happens, but the public speakers changed my mind.” It was amazing, and shocking, and I jumped up and starting screaming with glee to nobody in particular in my empty apartment.
And then District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner said she agreed it shouldn’t be a parking lot, and was even more shocked and screamed and jumped around some more. Then District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan gave one of her increasingly frequent ill-informed and condescending lectures and said we should have the parking lot, so that subdued my excitement a little bit. And then the Committee agreed to direct staff to explore alternatives to the parking lot and come back with a new report.
And then I talked to Becks and dto510 later and Becks was like “We have to come up with our own ideas, because staff wants the parking and totally won’t even try, and if there’s no alternative, they will do the parking lot.” And I was like “They won’t take any alternative, and there’s no good use for it that doesn’t cost money, let’s just get them to build a nice fence and have the School for the Arts kids put art on it.” And Becks is like “They’re not going to go for a fence.” And I was like “They’re not going to go for anything else either, and a good, painted fence like the one they used to have around the park would be really pretty, and it’s the cheapest thing to do.” And Becks was like, “No, we can do better” and put up a blog asking for people to think of alternative uses for the lot.
And then Genie Gratto was all “Stick burning man art on it.” And there were so many comments on her post, all these people totally against the parking lot, and I got so excited, and thought “Wow, maybe we can actually win this one” and then Becks wrote about it again and I wrote about it and dto510 wrote about it and Ken wrote about it and people really seemed to be responding and I felt like we had so much momentum and I was so hopeful and excited going into last week’s Committee meeting that we really could stop it.
But then Ignacio wasn’t there and Jane had changed her mind, and although many alternative suggestions had been made, staff hadn’t actually researched them as directed and just was like “We can’t do this or that for various reasons we would know aren’t true if we had bothered to take any time at all to look into it.” And nine people spoke against it, and then the Ice Rink and Another Planet (both tenants of the Redevelopment Agency) said they wanted it, and Pat Kernighan gave yet another uninformed and condescending lecture, and they all said there was nothing else to do with it, and passed it and I was crushed.
And Becks was like “We can kill it next week at Council” and I was like “Are you kidding? The Council loves parking, they won’t listen to reason, let’s just forget about it and we can try again at the Planning Commission where they’re much more rational when it comes to pedestrian and parking issues.” And Becks was like “No, we’re going to stop it now.” And I was like “Oh, God, don’t even bother. Another Planet and Phil Tagami get everything they want, and it’s just not even worth trying.” But Becks and dto510 refused to give up and Becks was like, “Since staff didn’t actually research the alternatives suggested like they were instructed, we’re just going to have to do it ourselves.” And she wrote about it again and dto510 went to Rules Committee on Thursday and asked for a two week delay so they could have time to pull together their proposal, and the Committee was like “No.”
And I was like “You can’t do it in four days, the Council won’t listen to you no matter what you say, just give up.” But they ignored me and went ahead and found themselves some artists who were not only eager to display their large scale sculptures on the spot, but even had experience doing exactly this in multiple other cities. And Becks wrote about it again and dto510 wrote about it again and Eric wrote about it and there was a great MyWord in the Trib about it, and they were like “Come on, we can win this!” And I was like “Why are you doing so much work on this? You can’t win at the City Council, all this is pointless, and all this time and energy you’ve invested in this just means that it is going to hurt that much more when you inevitably lose on Tuesday.” And they were like “Wev,” and just kept pushing forward and got together with Public Arts staff and figured out how the costs for installation and insurance could be covered by the existing public art program for the area, and they just kept doing all this work and I kept telling them they were wasting their time, and then yesterday, dto510 lays out all the details of this whole plan they had pulled together for me, and I was like “Oh my God, wow, you guys really covered everything, and this is so unimaginably cool, maybe we actually can win. Although probably not. Don’t get your hopes up.”
And then, amazingly, they did. Last night, the Council unanimously passed a motion to “spend the next two weeks confirming a plan to use the subject lot for a temporary public art installation space at no additional cost to the Redevelopment Agency, pursuant to the Council-approved plan and funding for public art in this area.” OMG.
There wasn’t much Council discussion on the item, although Pat Kernighan and Nancy Nadel both couldn’t let it go without getting in some gratuitous comments about how they didn’t think public art would work in the space. (WTF, right?) Pat said there were a lot of questions people hadn’t thought about, like insurance (wrong) and how people would be able to see the art (also wrong), saying that she found it “shocking” that the idea for public art instead of parking came from Ignacio De La Fuente. She then said she was being “the fiscal conservative here” by questioning the reality of using the space for sculpture, saying that she’s concerned the sculpture garden would turn into a “homeless encampment” and offering like, the most modest possible support with “If you guys can work it out, more power to you.” Gee, thanks.
Nancy Nadel said that there were logical flaws in the e-mails she got opposing the parking lot, and that she thought a parking lot would be great because they could have a farmer’s market there once a week, and she’d love that, and that whatever ended up happening couldn’t cost the City money. And then after the public speakers, they passed the motion unanimously and Rebecca Kaplan said that the City really does need to keep the garage open at night every night, not just on nights where there are shows at the Fox, and also that signage and lighting directing people to parking are important.
You know, when you lose over and over and over again, and watch the Council make terrible decisions week after week after week for years, you (well, I, anyway) can become incredibly pessimistic about the City. I mean, most of the time at this point I just feel like it’s not even worth trying, not worth getting crushed again, and the best I can do is just pour all my energy into trying to make people more informed about the City, and just pray that it will pay off somewhere down the road, and that if more people at least know what’s going on, it will mean better decisions like, five years from now or something. I have no idea how some of these people who have been fighting City Hall for decades can keep themselves from just getting so discouraged that the give up completely. They’re amazing.
But Becks and dto510, somehow, still believed they could make a difference, and they ignored all my naysaying and they just fought and fought and fought and did every possible thing that was asked of them and more, and then, unbelievably, they won and unless something terrible and unexpected happens in the next two weeks, we are going to get wicked cool large scale sculptures to look at on 19th and Telegraph instead of a freaking parking lot. If you didn’t want a parking lot, please, go over to Living in the O and Future Oakland and leave a comment to thank them for everything they did. Seriously. Becks and dto510, I cannot thank you two enough for reminding me that sometimes it actually is worth trying to fight City Hall. You inspire me.
And I also want to thank everyone who e-mailed and called the Council on this, thank especially to Dan Das Mann and all the wonderful people who took time out of their day to come down to City Hall and speak on this – Ken O., Joyce Roy, Naomi Schiff, Steve Lowe, Jim T., Chris (I’m sorry, I forgot your last name!), Joanna, Karen Hester, Sean Sullivan, Max, Ralph, and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone, but really, you guys are all totally awesome, and also to Eric and Shannon Bowman for their efforts to raise awareness. You guys are all so great.