Becks and dto510, my heroes.

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.

39 thoughts on “Becks and dto510, my heroes.

  1. Jim T

    Yay public art! Boo parking! Go Oakland!


    Big happy congrats around. Sorry I missed the after party.

  2. dto510

    Thanks for your kind words V, and thanks to everyone who came last night or emailed their councilmembers. It was a great team effort.

    I told Rebecca Kaplan this may be the first and last time she hears residents say they don’t want a nearby parking lot.

  3. Cat

    So excellent! A big THANK YOU to all of you who showed up last night (wish I could say that I had made it), and to everyone’s efforts to keep the public informed and push for what you think is right!

  4. Max Allstadt

    I totally thought this was a lost cause, but when I walked in to Council, late, everybody was all smiles!

    Well done.

    And despite some of the things various Councilmembers said and didn’t say, well done to them too. They listened and agreed to a perfectly reasonable compromise: show them art can work at this site, and they’ll do it. Art can work. We’ll show’em, and the result will be awesome.

  5. Eric

    When I first saw dto’s tweet, I scarcely believed it, but how awesome is this! Many thanks to dto, Becks, and everyone who spoke or wrote in.

  6. OnTheGoJo/Joanna

    I didn’t think it was a lost cause or I wouldn’t have shown up last night. Elation! Success at last! (Well, I will admit that I’ll be more comfortable once the art is actually there.)

    In talking to others during the Big Wait, I thought about all the times I’ve banged my head against the wall in trying to make a difference by showing up at various public meetings. I’ve never felt like we “won” the way I felt last night. On the other hand, when I look back I can see that there were some good compromises that have been achieved have in reality been wins, just in keeping something less worse.

    I was tired yesterday after a 10-hour day and my back pain was at level 8. I didn’t make it to celebrate with the rest of those that showed up at Council, but I was there in spirit in my post meeting vicodin haze. ;)

    Kudos to all the ideas that were kicked about. And kudos to blogs like ABO that turned me on to so many other great blogs. Where were you all 5+ years ago?!?! Anyway, glad you’re here now. :)


  7. Patrick

    I am happily eating crow for lunch. Congratulations! I can’t wait to check out the art.

  8. Genie

    This is so freaking awesome. I couldn’t go to the hearing last night, but am so fired up at the result. (And I did send an email, at least…)

    Also, and um, yeah…WHY CAN’T THERE BE A FARMER’S MARKET AMIDST THE PUBLIC ART? Where is it written that farmer’s markets have to be in parking lots?

  9. das88

    Totally cool. Thanks everyone who kept up the pressure especially becks and dto510 who did so much leg work and went to earlier meetings.

    Hopefully there will be some room on the set-back for burrito and beer vendors.

    I also hope we get some of the sculptures with pyrotechnics.

  10. Kevin Cook

    Congratulations to all. Uptown has been saved from what would have been certain failure as an entertainment destination. So where can we read this community generated plan? I don’t understand how the Public Arts Program has enough money sitting around to pay for this, though I’m sure there’s a good answer. Moreover, why isn’t Forest City still on the hook for paying for the art installation? If they don’t build the lot or pay for the art, does the City still have to sell them the property in 2011? Finally, who is going to curate this? All art is not created equal, and now I’m concerned that some mediocre public sculpture is going to blight that block by adding to visitors’ impression that Oakland is an incubator for second tier art.

  11. dto510

    Kevin, the Uptown Public Arts program is funded and approved, I assume from Redevelopment funds which are not part of the General Fund shortfall. Forest City was not asked to contribute, though they were asked to fund the parking lot. The City Council approved the agreement to sell Forest City the lot in 2011 at a previous meeting. Details of the management of the lot are to be determined before the next Council meeting.

  12. V Smoothe Post author

    Public art funding is not discretionary and has nothing to do with the General Fund shortfall. A percentage of all capital improvement spending is required to be reserved to fund public art in the area of the capital improvements.

  13. Justin Horner

    This is freakin’ awesome. Very VERY well done, every one. I know from experience how impossible what you did was. Yes, it was impossible, yet somehow it happened.

    This, I think, is the beginning of something bigger.

  14. dbackman

    Everything going on Telegraph Ave. over the past few years would indicate that Oakland is an incubator for FIRST tier art. Obviously you can’t just put any old sculpture in the middle of the park, but given the extraordinary artistic talent in this town, I don’t see any reason to worry about that. The selection process will be interesting though. Any nominations?

  15. Ken O

    I can’t believe the council didn’t approve another downtown parking lot. Good job everyone, and city council!

    I am very pleased that the council listened to us on this matter. I am hopeful and look forward to putting in hard work to improve Uptown further. I hope there is no “aha” to this decision. Cheers!

  16. Naomi Schiff

    Congratulations, all! We have to keep pushing, now to make sure this good thing really does happen. But I have high hopes because:

    City Hall was fixed up after the eq, instead of knocked down
    The Broadway Building too
    The Fox Oakland is back in action
    The Lake Merritt improvements are really happening
    There’s a farmer’s market at Grand Lake
    Whole Foods kept the old streetcar building as its front area
    Heinold’s First and Last Chance is NOT buried in an atrium

    ALL OF THESE were the result of citizens making noise! Keep making noise!

  17. dto510

    @dbackman @kevincook Actually, the city wants to put a really huge, ugly and mediocre sculpture in the middle of the new Uptown park. Fortunately the sculptor has been unable to raise the money to complete it, but the City Council may use Uptown redevelopment funds. It would take up almost half of the new park. I hope that people who wanted to see a park on the vacant lot will get involved in the completion of the actual park.

  18. dbackman

    Right, DTO. I know the one you’re talking about, but forgot all about that in my rush to defend Oakland’s art scene. Funny to hear you cheering for the artist not having enough funding to complete their project, but it does seem like a pretty ugly sculpture. So do you have any idea how the art for this new park will be chosen?

  19. Max Allstadt

    DTO is right, that sculpture must be stopped. The artist has good and appropriate work in his portfolio. Unfortunately the piece he proposes for Uptown is too big for the park, conceptually awkward, and likely to seem outdated in a short time.

    Keep an eye on this. I posted a comment on this blog months ago explaining why I was against the piece, I may resurrect it when it is agendized for funding.

  20. OnTheGoJo/Joanna

    Um, I think Chemah is available if any park is looking for “art”.

    We didn’t really talk about what art would be used for the Uptown lot. I *hope* it will be “Manu” and “Epiphany” (photos on Becks’ blog)

    I did suggest that perhaps if Council found themselves short on funds that perhaps they could have a fundraiser for the project… but maybe it would be worth it to the artists not to have to pay to have the art stored elsewhere.

  21. Kevin Cook

    I had exactly that proposed sculpture for the Uptown Park in mind when I voiced my concern for what would go into this new venue. Max’s critique from last year was spot on.

    dbackman, everything that has been happening on Telegraph leads me to believe that Oakland is an incubator for several tiers of art–not all of it on the upper ones. Johansson Projects puts on shows that reach that first tier most often I think, but the quality in general has certainly improved in the last year or so. In any case, it’s a far cry from the early 90s when SF was the only nexus of the bay area art scene. I’ll try to think of artists who do large scale public work that I’d like to see in that space. With all due respect to Black Rockers, I really don’t want to see Burning Man type work there. Stuff with fire is simply gimmicky and most of the rest seems a testament to industrial skill rather than compelling artistic ideas. However, I never got over Minimalism.

    I understand the nature of Public Art Funding, I’m simply surprised that the key players here were able to uncover enough money in this kitty that wasn’t already spoken for in order to pay for this project. They just happened to be sitting on untapped but allocated funds?

    DTO, I know that the Council already approved the sale of the lot to Forest City in 2011, but in an earlier post, V indicated that the delay to 2011 was contingent upon them leasing the site and building this parking lot. What’s the status of that agreement now? What I’m getting at is I’d rather see the City get the money for the art on the lot out of Forest City and then use the Public Art funding you all uncovered for even more art elsewhere in Uptown. Essentially, I like to see developers fork over money to the City.

    In any case, even bad sculpture is better than a parking lot, and while the cliche that you can’t fight City Hall has been overturned, the cooperation of Naomi Schiff and DTO proves the one that politics makes strange bedfellows.

  22. ConcernedOakFF

    It’s nice to hear positive things about our city and it’s government, no?

    Hey guys, got a list of other things I want changed too, you want in? ;)

  23. dbackman

    So what do y’all consider to be the good, the bad and the ugly of public art in Oakland or elsewhere. What are you trying to see in this space? Should it be anchored by one large piece or more like a sculpture garden?

  24. das88

    @dbackman, for temporary pieces I think the artists should be given great leeway. IMHO the best pieces would be the ones that half the people loved and half the people hated, but everyone talked about.

    Even if I was in the half that hated it, I wouldn’t mind too much knowing it would go away at some point.

  25. Kent

    Hey congrats everybody. I was like V on this one. I admire the fortitude.
    Naomi, I didn’t know First and Last Chance was going to become an atrium. That’s wild.
    I hope the empty lot gets some nice colorful and modern sculptures. I can see it becoming a landmark and the city making it permanent. Chicago has its modern art sculptures. Why shouldn’t Oakland? (ok, maybe we are working on a tiny budget here in comparison, but you get the point)
    V, nice post. You can be uplifting, in your own way.

  26. Hayden

    Great news!

    What’s this Council obsession with parking, especially in a downtown with such good public transportation (and already-extensive parking)?

    There are probably a couple thousand street, structure, and surface parking spaces within 6-8 blocks of this intersection, and none of them are particularly full at night–heck, they *close* the lots behind City Hall and under 250 Frank Ogawa Plaza at night. “People who drive don’t feel safe walking a few blocks in downtown Oakland” might be an argument, but that’s an argument to fix downtown, not blight it further with additional parking. “I want to be able to park next to my destination” is an argument that plays well in suburbia, but should not in Oakland.

    Maybe I’m still reacting from my recent trip to Manhattan.

  27. Libby Schaaf

    Thank you Oakland citizens for your continuing efforts to educate and inspire your elected officials (and their staff)! I do want to set the record straight that Councilmember Pat Kernighan was actually very supportive of the motion and had me make a key change to the language to actually makes the art more certain to happen. It is fortunate that the City had already approved a $1.2 million public art plan for Uptown that fit pretty perfectly into your proposal; this would not have been uncovered had it not been for your efforts.

  28. Boris Badenov

    Great job everybody!

    It shows what you can do if you care enough.

    Now if you could only care enough about something IMPORTANT?

  29. Frankie D

    Thanks to everyone who participated in this one small step to improve Oakland.

  30. das88

    On the what next question, I am not sure if staff, artists, Council, etc have all the pieces they need and are good to go without further intensive citizen involvement. Hopefully, people more knowledgeable on city processes (or lack thereof) will chime-in.

    However, one thing that I think would be nice is to have a Street Fest to celebrate the sculptures when they are installed. Right now the city has planned a free street fair for June 18 called UpTown Unveiled ( That street fair looks awesome with the one exception that there will not be art on the lot by that time.

    So I think we should have another street fest later. Maybe once ABPE starts understanding that they will benefit much more from the sculptures than the parking lot, they would be willing to get involved with the planning, obtaining sponsors, and overall producing of a fest.

  31. V Smoothe Post author

    If people want to get involved with this, they can send their contact info to Becks and she’ll let you know what you can do.