Oakland City Council returns from summer break

Wow. I can’t believe how fast summer went by! It feels like recess just started a week ago.

Alas, in reality, it’s been quite a bit more than one week. Recess is over, and starting today, the Oakland City Council is back to their normal business of infuriating any resident misguided enough to watch them in action.

So I hope everybody had lots of fun this summer! I had a great time. I rode the BRT in Cleveland, hiked beautiful mountains in Colorado, and relaxed along the shore of Lake Champlain in Vermont. I was actually kind of sad last week to have to come back to Oakland. It didn’t help that my regular weekend morning coffee-and-a-good-book park has been ruined by a horrifying monument to the inflated egos over at the Chamber of Commerce.

Remember Them

I did try visiting the other morning, hoping I’d be able to tune out the statue and just concentrate on my book. No dice. My poor neighborhood park is just totally ruined. But hey, it’s going to bring us tourism, right?

There were a handful other people in the park with me the other morning. A couple of the faces were familiar. As smokers living in non-smoking buildings, they’re in the park a lot. I noticed they were all sitting kind of towards the far edge of the park, whereas normally people tend to be pretty evenly distributed. I rarely talk to them, since they’re obviously not going to the park for socializing, and well, neither am I.

Photo of Remember Them monument

But I couldn’t help but wonder how they felt about the “largest cast bronze representational sculpture West of the Mississippi” (hint: if you need that many modifiers to make something sound special, that means it isn’t that special). So I asked. I was met with grimaces and exaggerated eye rolls. I suppose that’s to be expected, though, since the monument isn’t there for residents.

I haven’t seen any droves of tourists around the monument yet, although there were a few visitors when I was there the other morning. Two older gentlemen spent a long time standing in front of the monument and talking about it. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they seemed enthusiastic, so I’m guessing they didn’t find it anywhere near as off-putting as I do.

Photo of Remember Them Monument

And then there was a couple with two small children. It was one of those moments, like riding on an airplane with a screaming child, that makes you never want kids. This poor couple was clearly trying to impress their children with the monument, maybe use it as an education opportunity, which I think is sweet, even if I personally do not like the sculpture. But the kids of course were having none of it.

The little boy had somehow procured a handful of small rocks and kept throwing them at the statues every time his parents took their eyes off him for even a moment. This happened quite a few times, since the little girl kept crying and wailing hysterically. I couldn’t help but think she was crying because she was terrified of the sculptures (I think they’re scary), but of course maybe she was upset because her parents had refused to buy her ice cream for breakfast or whatever it is that kids flip out about it. Who knows. In any case, it didn’t seem like a particularly successful outing.

It’s not all bad news in my neighborhood, though. At least we have the long awaited sculpture garden at 19th and Telegraph to look forward to!

Photo of coming soon sign for Uptown Art Space

Just think. It could have been a parking lot!

Council Committee Meetings

I had actually been planning on using my return from summer post to write a little roundup of the items coming up at today’s Committee meetings. Unfortunately, the agendas are kind of a snoozefest.

The issues of selling golf courses (PDF) and municipal IDs (PDF) are back at Finance & Management Committee (which starts at noon), for what seems like the five thousandth time in the past three years. I’m sure the actual number is probably in the single digits, but these discussions always just seem to be a repeat of what happened the last time around, and never go anywhere. If it turns out it’s more interesting this time, I’ll write about it later in the week.

The big item at the Community and Economic Development Committee (2pm) is a report on the City’s follow-up to the Grand Jury report (PDF) blasting Oakland’s Building Services division, which was released back in June. That one isn’t actually boring, but frankly, I am reluctant to write about it in spite of its importance because of the bad behavior the subject seems to prompt in the comments. Still, I’m sure that’s going to be an interesting discussion. So if you’re interested, you can either head over to City Hall this afternoon or catch it on KTOP — Comcast Channel 10, Uverse Channel 99 (I think, someone correct me if that’s wrong), or of course, streaming online.

41 thoughts on “Oakland City Council returns from summer break

  1. Tonya

    You are correct about the Uverse channel.

    AWWW… I was hoping to be able to gush about the monument with pride. I hadn’t expected it to be so.. big and intimidating. But I shall reserve judgement until I see it face to face.

  2. Jim T

    I also would like to welcome you back, V. I look forward to your writing.

    Also, I completely agree about the sculpture. Why would they put such a beast in a quaint park? How out of touch. This quote from the Chronicle captured my sentiment exactly:
    …said Courtney Fink, executive director of Southern Exposure in San Francisco, which commissions public art.

    “The art community in Oakland is really thriving right now,” she said “It’s an up and coming part of the arts scene. I’m struck by how out of tune this seems. … It’s not an of-the-moment piece.”

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    I think the biggest problem with Remember Them is the location. I mean, that kind of “art” is not to my taste at all, so I would not be into it not matter where it was placed. But there are certainly locations where I think it would be less objectionable – someplace more open maybe. It’s just really inappropriate for that particular context.

  4. Rebecca Saltzman (Becks)

    Yay – you’re back! (I came back from my blogging hiatus today too.)

    I visited the Uptown park a few weeks ago, to eat a grilled cheese sandwich from Fivetenburger and to enjoy the park one last time. There were lots of people there that evening – reading, chatting, eating… a few kids were playing… and a few adults were doing yoga.

    I haven’t been back yet because I’m scared of how big and overwhelming the sculpture is and I imagine the park might not be as active as it was the last evening I went there.

    Oh well – I’m guessing it won’t be as bad once the lot becomes an art space with art that towers over Remember Them.

  5. Patrick M. Mitchell

    Welcome back!

    My partner and I went to see “Remember Them” last weekend, just before sundown. As we rounded the corner and the park came into full view, he burst out laughing. Truly dreadful.

    We stayed and walked around, checking out the names, etc. As the sun went down, we both admitted to an eerie, disquieting feeling…like someone was watching us or worse…someone was hiding behind one of the sculptures and was about to jump out and mug/murder us. Needless to say we left quickly.

    Until now, Cupid’s Span (the giant bow and arrow) in San Francisco got my vote for lamest public art largesse – but Oakland is #1 yet again!

  6. Matt C

    Yay! Welcome back! I’m very much looking forward to your future posts.

    So Remember Them… I walk by ”Them” about once a day (about to right now) and I usually see at least one person reading the plaques or taking a picture. They are pretty creepy statues… Maya Angelou is unfortunately the creepiest of the lot. One thing I enjoy is it’s a lot quieter now without the skateboarders. Less happy knowing they recently lost one skate park and are about to lose another thanks to our dysfunctional city government and some hardliners at Caltrans.

  7. livegreen

    I think there are a couple observations to make about the statue:
    -Just because an artist (or anybody) has a good idea, doesn’t mean it will work in reality;
    -Sometimes a good idea can be just too much: too big, incorporating too many people, etc.
    -It takes really good artists to make really prominent monumental pieces. I’m just not so sure Chiodo is at that level;
    -Often a competition is held to select a concept or piece among a variety of artists. This doesn’t always lead to the right decision, but it stands a better chance than awarding it based on connections (like this one);

    -The whole space needs to be considered when location is chosen. Especially for such a large piece dominating/overshadowing a small park. (& impacting some raison d’etres of parks, namely to view greenery, promote relaxation, etc.).

    How was that process done in this case? (Separate from the statue itself). Did the public or the arts community have any input?

  8. charlie s

    Livegreen’s response to this sculpture is judicious, and really kind of sweet, but I think that with his politesse he avoids a hard truth: the whole glued-in-iron thing monstrously dominates the space it occupies, drives out those of us who’d like to lounge, picnic, or just talk, and — don’t you think — ought to be regarded as a colonial intrusion into the 19th/Telegraph neighborhood? What’s more, it’s a hideous, Balzacian anachronism, a relic, a piece of monumentalist propaganda that no one who’s sensitive to art could in their wildest dreams take seriously.

  9. Naomi Schiff

    Welcome back, V. I am so sorry about the previously pleasant park. The Thing is hideous. It’s of a moment alright, approx. mid-Josef Stalin regime in some unheralded suburb of Moscow. Worse than I’d imagined possible. I am still planning to make some funny hats for it.

  10. Matt C

    Naomi, and perhaps we can get Knit One One to come over and put some sweaters on the them. I think Maya would be more approachable with a sweater on :-)

  11. Andrew

    Nice to have ABO alive again!

    About the big bronze thing, the people will make their judgment known. The hard part will be folks confusing the statue with the people depicted in it.

  12. Dax

    A past controversial work of art displayed in a Oakland park.

    Installed in 1974, I am uncertain how many years it remained in place.


    Here is where it ended up.


    BTW, is there a limit on what you can put in a park setting without a environmental impact report?

    Especially if the size of the object and the size of the park may not be proportionate.
    I must say though, I am only going by photos and have not been to the park since its installation.

    Earlier SF–Oakland controversy over the Benny Bufano statue of St. Francis



  13. len raphael

    The response of the Oakland community to the Chiodo Creature is classic “kings new clothes”.

    I took my my two dogs there later in the evening after the public unveiling. A young african american boy and a 30 something asian woman who was either his mom or his teacher were there. She kept telling him what a wonderful, inspiring monument this was. He kept insisting it was scary.

    This is the first time I have ever wished for some of the more talented local graffiti artists to go to work. Luckily there are no cops around at night to stop them on what would be an act of mercy.

    But what bothers me more than the waste of public space, money, and oxygen on smelting that many tons of bronze, is that many of the politicians, educators, community leaders, and sane residents love the CC.

    I was the only person who posted a critical comment on one of local online websites. Last time i looked there was no comment on the trib site in response to their gushing coverage.

    A town where it’s civic, business, govt, and educational leaders don’t know enough history to see the irony in putting Ghandi and Winston Churchill in the same public monument, or rates Maya Angelou higher than Abraham Lincoln is doomed to politically correct mediocrity.

    -len raphael, temescal

  14. len raphael

    as long as we’re being politically correct, anyone do a head count on african americans vs latinos vs asians? how pc is it to have out of 25 total champions 10 blacks but only 2 hispanics, and 2 asian/SE asians?

    I may claim jew, but I don’t think Schindler or Weizel are or should be remembered 20 years from now with or without the CC.

    I don’t know much about Harvey Milk to say for example whether he should have been enshrined rather than the unknown participant from the Stonewall Riots. Any opinions on that?

    I am grateful that Che and Arafat didn’t make the final casting.

    -len raphael, temescal

  15. ralph

    If Council wants to understand why people are fed up with them, they only need to look at Ms. Brooks’ grandstanding at the Public Safety Committee. It was disrespectful to the Committee and the Chair. I was in the back of the room and could see Ms Brooks was gloating as she left the room.

    This is the first and I hope last time I see such disrespectful actions from Councilmembers. I have come to expect such behavior from SH (If the CIA needs to upgrade their torture techiques, they will do well to contact Mr. Handa. Ms. Nadel is correct, his constant berating amts to abuse.) But when councilmembers start demonstrating such crass and boorish behavior, it is time to re-think who best represents our values as people.

  16. len raphael

    1. Are the titles of the ballot measures from the city council, set by the council or by the City Attorney or the City Clerk?

    Measure J, the amendment to kick the radioactive PFRS pension liability down the road so all of you younger residents can pay for it, is titled “…allows the City … to change the deadline for fully funding … to a new financially responsible deadline”


    2. At last week’s metropolitan greater oakland democratic club session, did anyone speak against Measure J

    3. borenstein’s take on Measure J


    -len raphael, temescal
    No on I Parcel Tax

  17. MarleenLee

    Len – good point. The City doesn’t want anybody rejecting “financial responsibility,” for God’s sake! No, nobody spoke out against the PFRS ballot measure at MGO. Some guy from the budget committee spoke in favor. Pat Kernighan then piped in and said, “It’s really not that controversial,” implying that there really was no opposition, which of course, is not true. Not sure if MGO tried to ensure an opposition speaker was invited.

  18. Rust Belt Refugee

    Ai ya. Between the Chiodo Creature and the towering horn’ed beast projected on the windows of the lakeside cathedral, Uptown is not a good place to bring kids predisposed to nightmares.

  19. len raphael

    any tourist buses at the Chiodo Creature yet?

    should start a pool on how long people will remember remember them. winner gets to sleep overnight on JQ’s deck.

  20. Hypocrisy sucks

    Civic champions condone vandalism!
    How do you like that headline? You’d raise holy hell if someone tagged one of your properties, Len. And Naomi has a career of protecting so-called historic eyesores.
    Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you should encourage others to make it worse! Grow up.

  21. len raphael

    HS, unlike you, I’ve come to appreciate a big chunk of Oakland’s graffiti. Some of it is a vast improvement over the uugly buildings and some it is just dumb tagging.

    But don’t worry about the Chodo Creature, most taggers and graffiti artists don’t read abo.

    If i remember them correctly, several of the champions could appreciate a bit of civic disobedience in a good cause.

    -len raphael, temescal

  22. len raphael

    One neighbor who viewed the CC said he hoped one of our many scavenger people would haul it away for food money. I thought that was extreme, because after all, paint and magic marker can always be removed from untreated metal surfaces.

  23. Andrew

    I’m not sure statuary bronze is that valuable. The sculpture at the MacArthur BART station is still there even though it’s looked abandoned for at least a year.

  24. Naomi Schiff

    HS–I am very proud of my volunteer efforts toward protecting Oakland’s great architectural heritage, and don’t consider City Hall, the Fox Oakland, Lake Merritt Boathouse, 16th Street Station, and the Floral Depot (Flora) eyesores. You’ll do me the favor of noting that the improvements I suggest for the Chiodocritters are all reversible and nondamaging, i.e., giving them sun protective eyeglasses, hats, or a cloth cover–I strongly oppose any permanent alteration short of total removal of the Thing. By the way, the Mother Teresa poster showing a detail photo of the artwork, put up on the bus stop near my office, frightens small children.

  25. len raphael

    The artist, Mario Chiodo, donated his labor for the Creature but the CC Foundation is short a few mill to finish the finish his work.

    Mario’s commercial monster masks are really nifty.

    All he has to do is design a line of Remember Them Halloween Masks for Oaklandish to distribute nationally and give a cut to the CC Foundation. Ok, maybe it will have to that other East Bay business, Spirit.

    If the Foundation waits for Clorox or the Redevelopment Agency money, it could be a while.