Remember This: Champions for wasting money

This afternoon, the Oakland City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee will be asked to grant $182,000 of redevelopment funds (PDF) to the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Foundation to help them pay the costs of building a house-sized monstrosity and plopping in on top of downtown Oakland’s newest park.

I know what you’re thinking – why does the City need to give the Chamber of Commerce’s Foundation any money for anything? Isn’t the point of them having a Foundation is that they can go out and raise money from the private sector that they can then use to do some kind of civic good? Isn’t the Chamber of Commerce begging for tax money from the City, like, the opposite of how these things are supposed to work? The answer, of course, would be yes if we were in any other City. But this is Oakland.

Anyway, let’s ignore for a moment just how aggressively pathetic the whole who’s giving who money scenario is. What is this thing they want to put in the park?

Sigh. It’s a “monument” by local artist Mario Chiodo called Remember Them: Champions for Humanity.

More specifically, it is a 52 foot long and 21 foot high bronze sculpture (actually, 4 sculptures) of the following people: Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King, Elie Wiesel, Chief Joseph, Harvey Milk, Frederick Douglass, Franklin Roosevelt, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi, the unknown rebel of Tiananmen Square, Ralph Abernathy, Oskar Schindler, Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, Susan B. Anthony, Shirin Ebadi, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hanh, Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, Ruby Bridges, and Abraham Lincoln. It will be the largest bronze monument in the whole West Coast and people are going to travel to Oakland from all over the world to look at it and reflect on their lives. There will be plaques in the ground beneath the image of each person with an inspirational quote from them.

I know what you’re thinking now, too – give me a freaking break, she’s obviously making this up, is it April Fools again? NO. I swear to God, this is what they are planning on doing to my poor little park. Why anyone ever thought this was a good idea is completely beyond my comprehension.

But someone (actually, a lot of people) did, and in September of 2006, the City Council agreed to accept the monument as a gift (PDF) and put it in Fox Park. (Insane, I know.) Of course, at the time, since it was, you know, a gift, and all, the monument was not supposed to cost the City any money. In fact, the Chamber Foundation was not only going to pay for all the costs to build and install the monument, they were also going to set up an endowment that would cover the cost of maintenance and repair for the monument, and I suppose pay for the inevitable constant graffiti removal that will obviously be necessary. From the 2006 resolution (PDF):

WHEREAS, the gift will be made at no cost to the City of Oakland, as all funding for creation, installation and maintenance of the monument, and all supporting activities, will be provided by the project donors;

Anyway, big surprise, the Chamber Foundation has not managed in the last three years to raise the seven million dollars they need to build this ridiculous thing. In fact, they’re still like, $2.8 million short. I guess with the City’s contribution they’ll only be, like, $2.6 million short, which they think they can raise in the next year and a half. Um, yeah. Good luck with that. The staff report doesn’t seem to think that prospect is any more realistic than I do (PDF):

The delay in reaching full funding raises concerns regarding the achievement of a reasonable timeline for completion of the monument. Chamber Foundation representatives state that they can raise all remaining funding in 18 months. The fact that the Chamber Foundation has not been able to secure full project funding over the last three years in a continuously challenging economic environment raises doubt about their ability to complete this effort in the next 18 months.

But alas, the Council wants to give this hideous thing money. Why? I don’t know. I really, really don’t. It’s just, like, beyond me. Building it is going to create local jobs? Oh! And tourism! People into the monument are like, all completely convinced that it’s going to become this big tourist attraction and all these people are going to come to Oakland from all over the place to see it. Every time someone tells me that, I want to scream at them to put down the crack pipe, like now. I usually manage to hold my tongue. But come on. You think that? Really?

People might come to Oakland to go to a show at the Fox. They might visit Oakland and take in a concert, or an old movie, at the Paramount. They might come to Oakland to eat at one of the many fancy new restaurants that have opened up downtown over the last couple years. Hopefully, when the Oakland Museum’s renovations are finished, people will come to Oakland to check out their awesome new galleries. Some people, I learned recently when I was stopped by a disappointed looking tourist asking for directions, even come to Oakland just so they can see this “Oaksterdam” they’ve heard so much about.

But I promise you, nobody is ever going to come to Oakland so they can go look at a sculpture of Winston Churchill.

Seriously, I just do not get people’s thing with this monument. If you were on vacation, visiting some neat City with all sorts of activities available to you (I’m just going to assume for the purposes of this little scenario that all potential tourists coming to view the monument are already on vacation in San Francisco. I know that some Remember Them advocates are laboring under the extreme delusion that people are actually going to take vacations to Oakland so they can look at this thing, but that idea is so ridiculous I can barely type it out without collapsing into a fit of half giggles/half sobs, so we’re just going to ignore it for now.)

Where were we? Oh yeah. Close your eyes. Imagine you’re on vacation somewhere far away. You are overwhelmed with cool things to do – museums to visit and scenery to enjoy and cheap tchotchkes to buy. You checked out all the travel books about your destination that they had at your local public library, and they are all chock full of post-it notes about cool places to visit, and you just know there is no way you’ll have time for everything. And then someone is all “Hey, you know what you really should do? Go ride that train for like 20 minutes, and when you get out, you can go look at a big statue of Susan B. Anthony.” How would you respond? Would you spend your vacation doing that? OMG.

Anyway, the Community and Economic Development Committee meets at 2:30 this afternoon, and the grant is Item number 10 on the agenda (PDF). Catch the action live in City Hall Hearing Room 1 or watch it from the comfort of your home or office on KTOP – Comcast Channel 10 and also available streaming online. Damn it! No, you can’t! For now, apparently, there is no streaming video. KTOP’s website simply says “Due to severe technical issues the Streaming Video Service is halted until further notice.” Disaster!

95 thoughts on “Remember This: Champions for wasting money

  1. 94610BizMan

    “…that idea is so ridiculous I can barely type it out without collapsing into a fit of half giggles/half sobs,”

    The problem is that anyone with a “progressive” or “multi-cultural” or “human needs” pitch combined with the right connections, can get a handout from the City Council, no matter how ridiculous. This needs to be stopped, PERIOD, as part of getting spending under control.

  2. Ken O

    So I suppose there is a public comment period? Because I’d love to give some.

    We aren’t Phoenix which had money at the time to pay for their first public art installation.

  3. Patrick

    If they’ve go so much money to throw around, why not apply it towards the ad valorem tax increase? It may only reduce my increase by a buck but hey – that’s halfway to an hour’s worth of parking.

    And that sculpture is H I D E O U S ! It outdoes the crap Berkeley put up on the bridge and the bow and arrow thing in SF combined. And the scale is completely wrong. Graffiti will probably improve it.

  4. Karen Smulevitz

    I am scratching my head, thinking, is there no end to the city’s perfunctoriness in managing its finances? Why not just put the council on a flatbed truck, give them buckets of money to fling at the snatching fists of the populace as they drive around selected districts. Some people will benefit from the gravy train, others will lose out, but the whole event can be called performance art, and Oakland will be culturally enriched and world famous.
    As for the Champions, two of them are my personal Facebook friends, and all are wonderful, but I can read their exploits in a book, and prefer a little open space, which is scarce enough downtown, to a disproportionate and overworked sculpture.
    Then. of course, there is the inconvenience of the city being proscribed by law to actually PAY for an art gift. City policy requires the DONOR to assume all installation costs and to PUT UP sufficient money to endow a maintenance fund.
    It is not nice for the donor to ask for money, and it would be illegal for the council to grant any.
    So, I have a suggestion for Mr. Scott Peterson and his Chamber friends. Since he so eloquently endorsed the airport connector to be erected in East Oakland, he must really want the best for DeepEast. We’ve got more than a few empty spaces on MacArthur Blvd. crying out for beautification, alongside empty storefronts in old, decrepit buildings. May I suggest the corner lot at 76th and Mac to erect the Chiodo sculpture? It would pack a lot of WOW factor into the hood, and would do wonders to increase the retail potential of the corridor. From the airport, tourists and world travelers could zip directly up Hegenberger/73rd to see this famous installation, and then linger to patronize the merchants and fine dining establishments that will blossom in the area. Win/win for everyone. Isn’t that what the Chamber wants? To promote Oakland?

  5. M. Perry

    Who the hell is running this city? Oh, we are. The consent of the governed does not appear feasible in Oakland. Time to look at the divine right of kings (or queens).

  6. V Smoothe Post author

    The grant for the monument is technically allowed, even though it clearly violates the spirit of the City’s gift policy, because the money is coming from the Redevelopment Agency, not the City.

    People often complain about redevelopment spending in the face of General Fund cuts to basic services, but the pots of money are not interchangeable. It is true that there are many restrictions on how redevelopment funds can be spent. Still, it’s very frustrating to see the City constantly complaining about money, and often complaining about how there are no funds available, even redevelopment funds, to pay for this or that important thing. Yet at the same time, redevelopment money seems to get passed around like candy on Halloween.

    For example, this morning, the Public Works Committee will be discussing the scope and goals of the Citywide parking study (PDF) that the Council requested earlier this fall. The staff report says that money to fund the parking study has not yet been identified. It seems like there should be a way for the City to cough up some redevelopment money for that. After all, despite the constant crying poor and complaining about the State stealing it, they have enough of it to give nearly $200,000 to this ridiculous monument. Also enough that at the same meeting, the Committee will approve giving $25,000 of redevelopment money to the OMLF (PDF) to build and promote a website and $100,000 of redevelopment money to someone as yet unspecified (PDF) to do a marketing campaign and make the redevelopment newsletters.

    So even granting that there are severe restrictions on what redevelopment funds can be used for, it does not make the City look good to pass it out so freely for things like this. I can think of plenty of better ways to spend $200k for redevelopment purposes in this neighborhood.

  7. SF2OAK

    You are right nobody will ever come to Oakland to look at a statue of winny- but if people did want to come where would they stay? good thing they aren’t coming. As for the bow and arrow- I owuld guess that the late, great but much maligned Don Fisher paid for that. Where is our Don?

  8. bennett

    I just reviewed the website on the project and my take away was “one word” that seems to encapsulate this project and one quote (from a booster) that brings this project into focus.

    The Word: Hubris

    The Quote: ( from website)

    “The Remember Them monument will become as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge”
    -Ken McNeely, President, AT&T California

    Could this be why ATT service is so spotty? Really….as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge. Wow.

    Perhaps it should include spot lights that illuminate the night sky coming out of the heads of the humanitarians and motion sensitive speakers in 20 languages while we are at it.

  9. Robert

    Is anybody concerned that half the “Champions of Humanity” represent the US? Do we really think that we are that important compared to the rest of the world?
    As a piece of art, it seems to fall into the same category as much else that that passes for art in Oakland, i.e. not so much.

  10. Russell Spitzer

    But think of all of the Guiness Book of World Records we will hold:

    # Largest cast bronze representational sculpture west of the Mississippi
    # First grouping in the United States of international humanitarian portraits
    # First representational monument in the United States that honors diversity
    # Largest sculpture of Maya Angelou in the world
    # Largest sculpture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the world
    # Largest sculpture of Mother Teresa in the world
    # Largest sculpture of Thich Nhat Hanh in the world
    # First depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King in a sculpture together
    # First time that “March on Selma” figures, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Ralph Abernathy have been sculpted and placed in a public setting

    Even more interesting is that this won’t be the largest statue of Helen Keller in existence …

  11. John Klein

    Parks are parks; art is art – they are not the same. Parks don’t need art to make them better. Large sculptured pieces simply aren’t needed in parks. This effort is simply a way of making public park land into quasi-public land or converting it to some other use, ie., a display space. It is unfortunate and unnecessary.

    Do not fund this piece of art or place it in this park.

    Aside from the funding problem, regardling the sculpture itself, I simply can’t understand why Tenzin Gyasto, the 14th Dalai Lama, is not included.

  12. Russell Spitzer

    I just do the copy-pasting not the research :)

    Rushmore’s just a Face, no neck even! Who would go see a statue with no neck when you could see one with a neck!

  13. Dave C.

    FDR isn’t on Mt Rushmore. That’s cousin Teddy. But hey, let’s add Teddy to this sculpture too. Why the hell not? Speaking of Teddy, let’s add Teddy Kennedy too. And Ted Williams! And Venus and Serena Williams. And…

  14. Naomi Schiff

    We already have John Williams at 12th St. BART, and the street over there is William Street, so I see a theme building.Williams and Williamses of the World.

  15. Dave C.

    William Makepeace Thackeray is sure to draw big crowds if they add him too. We could have nightly dramatic readings of selections from Vanity Fair in front of the sculpture. We won’t know what to do with all the tourist dollars this could bring in…

  16. bennett

    It seems to me that it would be more appropriate to have this piece be an expression of the local community and its heritage; a montage that started by respecting the Ohlones who were originally here, then the Californios/era of land grants that gave way to gold rush and ensuing development; gradually working through the area history, the arrival of the transcontinental railroad, Jack London, Chabot, Maybeck, even include how some of the largest Redwoods on earth used to grace our hills, until we cut them all down of course.

    Somehow this project just seems out of place, and like anything of its nature, it also begs the question of “who made the selection” and what was the criteria and who was included in the process. Anyone know?

  17. Born in Oakland

    Yikes! Let’s start a weird statue tour of Oakland, Let’s see, begin with the aforementioned bust of John Williams and move to lonely CP Dellums at the Oakland Train Station. Note how both would look equally good if placed in the former East German Democratic Republic next to busts of Marx and Stalin. Now to the proposed “humanitarian” statues . See how they would be kinder to the eye in Moscow’s Red Square, next to some big tanks and missiles. And for raw excitement and eye-popping strange, let’s go to Union Point Park on Embarcadero. Who is he, she, it? (Bring your own comic book art for reference) .And what does all this metal work mean? Are these thousand year monuments to the progressive Oakland political oligarchy?

  18. V Smoothe Post author

    As terrifying and hideous as the Frankenwoman in Union Point Park is, at least she’s made up of people who are actually from Oakland.

  19. Becks

    For those who can’t make it down to City Hall, I’ll be covering the committee hearing on Twitter and I’m guessing others will join me. You can follow #oakmtg.

  20. fakchek

    It’s important to remind readers that it was City Council that suggested giving funding to the Remember Them monument instead of repaying Forest City for the cost over-runs on the park construction.

  21. Naomi Schiff

    You forgot the head of Frank Ogawa on the above-mentioned tour. I have always been amused the scale contrast of the diminutive Ogawa bust as compared to the gigantic head of John Williams.

    Yes there was much discussion of the proposed sculpture some time ago and a number of people objected then, to no avail. The chamber was all over it. I don’t think that Forest City necessarily demanded it.

  22. OP

    I think people are getting too hung up on whether the sculpture will bring tourists to Oakland. Yeah, it probably won’t bring a significant number, but I think it is important for cities to have public art, it’s part of what makes a place enjoyable to live in. I would have preferred a sculpture about Oaklanders, but in a multicultural city like Oakland a tribute to international leaders still makes sense. To each his own taste-wise, but I think the photos of the sculpture look pretty cool:

    For me the inexplicable aspect of this, left out of this post (and the staff report), is why is the money needed now? As V pointed out, this money is not all that is needed to make the project happen (a few million more are needed) so why does the project need a sudden $200k injection? There could be reasons that would compel me to spend the money, for instance:
    1) if there is a risk of the project moving elsewhere without the financial support;
    2) if the contribution will allow construction to start;
    3) if the contribution will be part of some pledge match which will secure more funding, etc.

    I think there should be agreement that we want the project, what is confusing is why the city would give money to the Chamber when it won’t yet accomplish anything. If we’re going to have to wait a year and a half longer for the chamber to get its funding together then I don’t yet understand why we don’t wait that year and a half before deciding on whether to give them funding.

  23. Ralph

    Bring tourist to Oakland? Did they honestly use that argument? Heck one of my chief complaints is this tribute seems to be far removed and isolated from the people, places, and events to whom it gves tribute.

    If I want to see a tribute to King, am i going to go Atlanta or am I going to say hey honey, why don’t we go to Oakland and see their monument. You don’t walk away with a deeper understanding but you get a cursory look at King and a few other greats. From what I hear, it really isn’t much different than the methods OUSD uses to teach h.s. history.

  24. Kevin Cook

    Not sure if this right post for my comment, but I’m thankful that the City Council continues to provide moments of inadvertent hilarity as they repeatedly cast inexplicable votes. Thanks Pat Kernighan for giving me one more reason not to vote for you again.

    Dave C. , I’ll join you for public readings of Vanity Fair in front this statue when it goes up.

  25. John Klein

    If you don’t like $182,000 going to the sculpture, you probably won’t like the $2 million CEDA staff requested for past due obligations at the Fox. The money is for contractors that haven’t been paid yet ($1.5 mil) and $450,000 for taxes. This itme came later in the meeting.

    The CED committe, clearly displeased, continued the item so staff can provide more information. There’s sure to be more about this over the next few weeks.

  26. livegreen

    JK and V, I’m curious why the FOX funds would come up for discussion AFTER this hideous sculpture? Though I’m not sure if the FOX funds are coming out of Redevelopment money or not, IF it is, and IF there’s a limited amount of such funds, wouldn’t they want to discuss and appropriate funds for the most important projects FIRST?

    On the other hand if there are Unlimited Redevelopment funds (or the Fox project doesn’t come out of the same pot) then it doesn’t matter.

    I’ve noticed this about City meetings before: Less important issues come first and then the City Council is bored and/or tired by the time really important issues are brought up. This is a very practical matter but, if regular practice, can have real negative impact on how they make decisions…

  27. len raphael

    Look on the bright side: no busts of ho chi minh; gerry adams, or ron dellums.

    from the photo op site, looks like Don Perata was a big fan of this.

    unanimously approved?. i prefer to believe there was some kind of cigar smoking backroom conspiracy going on, then just sheer bad judgement and bad taste.

    -len raphael

  28. bennett

    the horse has left this barn on this new “bow and arrow” on the Waterfront, that seems clear…so be it.

    However, I can also envision another approach. Plant a new grove of Redwoods instead, add a water garden, and commemorate the beginning of a thousand year process of renewal for the Redwoods that were cut down by our ancestors, the ones who pushed out the Ohlones to make their fortune selling wood to build San Francisco in the frenzy of what was then a gleeful boomtown in the first half of the 1800′s.

    In this forest, there is a simple bronze likeness. Instead of these various notable contemporaries, there are two Ohlones, holding hands. They are, with a tear on their cheeks, looking upward, denoting the coming lost of the land and their culture.

    The water garden with LED lighting could be included with a geyser feature to draw tourists if need be.

  29. KentLew

    Though I like the spirit of the piece, and understand why the City commissioned it in the first place (after all it was supposed to be free), it seems the visionaries went overboard in terms of what they were trying to accomplish. A much simpler, smaller and cheaper monument would have been fine. I like for instance the sculpture of White Fang (I am assuming that’s who the dog is) next to the Jack London cabin at the waterfront. Small, elegant and significant. Sadly, it seems that folks who design anything for the City of Oakland always have this habit of going overboard… just look at the BART Airport Connector.

  30. Ralph

    KentLew, White Fang is an excellent example of something tasteful and appropriate. Heck, I would have been happy with George and Lennie. Jack Soo would have been a better pick; a tribute to the Ohlones would be cool. But this feel good piece lacking any context is the biggest waste of money. But what do I know, last i checked my application for grand poobah of art had been denied, but i know what i like, and i don’t like the champions.

  31. oakie

    Redevelopment funds are extortion. It’s yet another way to spend Other People’s Money. This fiasco clearly demonstrates the city has way too much money available for them to spend. The only real solution is for the city government to go bankrupt (which it already is, morally). Then we can cancel all the union contracts. The one thing we ought to do is put the city on a diet. Amend the city charter to set a retroactive budget limitation starting with, say, the 1990 budget as a baseline and allow upward adjustments only for population changes and inflation. Period. Then let those who wield the power to divide up the spoils from that. Otherwise, this city is not sustainable, at least as a livable place. Unless, of course, you think being the 3rd most dangerous city in America is livable. At this point I think it’s fair to say that 50% of the city’s territory is not safe to be in.

  32. Chris Kidd

    aaaaaaaaalright folks, I enjoy the hyperbole rollercoaster just as much as the next guy, but let’s try to reign this thing back in a bit.

    People lately seem to be conflating concepts (say, the mechanism/funding of redevelopment districts. Or liberal politics) with implementation (very, very poor implementation). Just because our current liberal politicians happen to be doing a terrible job spending redevelopment funds doesn’t condemn either institution.

    The solution isn’t Libertarian Apocalypse, the solution is to *do a better job with what we have and demand better performance from those who serve us*. That’s all.

  33. Karen Smulevitz

    Thanks for the correction on Rushmore. One Roosevelt is as good as another – how about Roosevelt Grier?

  34. Born in Oakland

    I totally agree with Chris Kidd’s comments but let me just add the “libertarian apocalypse” or “liberal ” orthodoxy allusions on these posts are usually designed to see who “bites or “jumps” to the defense. I disagree with too much hyperbole, I believe a 60,000 lb bronze altar to political correctness could translate to 60,000 lbs of concrete for pothole repair in our fair City. Weighing those two facts is true hyperbole!

  35. MarleenLee

    I think sometimes we become immune to numbers with so many zeros. But $7,000,000? For a hideous bronze sculpture? Try to think about this number in real terms. This is only $4 million less than what they are claiming the entire Kaiser Convention Center would sell for!! Think about how many mansions you could build for this price! The cost is ludicrous! And why do the statues have to be all bronze? I’m sure bronze is expensive. Can’t they do most of the shape out of some cheaper material and just coat it in bronze? Or would that defeat the purpose? To me this is a monument to waste, and nothing else.

  36. Livegreen

    Maybe people are more likely to travel from far & wide to see a monument to waste?At least the subtitle would attract the humerous and conservatives, two populations which otherwise would not show up here. (Of course the Chamber would say it’s the statue that’s drawing then but that’s besides the point :) .

  37. Livegreen

    Seriously, where does this unlimited Redevelopment money come from? Like PAC money comes from local Redev. taxes and fees. Is this the same? I assume not since CEDA is involved. So IF it’s different what’s the bottomless revenue source in this case?

  38. Naomi Schiff

    A) I very much dislike the proposed sculpture and think it a ridiculous project. But B) I will once again, and neutrally, I hope, explain below how Redevelopment Funds are generated and C) It’s way more complicated than all good or all bad, left or right. Slinging around labels such as liberals and political correctness and making wide ideological claims about good or bad government are not all that helpful. And, the categories often don’t sort the way people assume they do. I’m a proud liberal but I don’t approve of the abominable sculpture at all, and I have a long record of being sometimes in favor of and sometimes critical of redevelopment expenditures. Things just aren’t that simple, folks.

    When an area is designated a redevelopment area, about 80% of the increase in property taxes after the base year (the year the area is designated) go into the redevelopment budget, not to the general fund. These are sometimes called “tax increment” funds. Redevelopment may also receive certain kinds of federal funds. I don’t know what the current proportion is without looking, but it used to be that about 1.4 million in federal Block Grant Funds was advised by the redevelopment advisory boards for use in the 7 CD districts, compared with 8-10 million controlled by staff and city council. Additional tax increment amounts in some districts are advised by PACs (Project Area Committees). However, I believe these are advisory—all really gets voted upon by the city council sitting as the Redevelopment Agency. For good or ill, the power of redevelopment financing is that the city may bond against future tax increment receipts. That is, we borrow money against future taxes, sometimes decades’ worth. The main institutional loser in all this is the County of Alameda and any other entity that receives property tax. There are some controls on this: the assessments do have to rise for the city to expend tax increment money.

    The thinking is that as an area is improved, the assessments will go up, and eventually everyone will prosper. When you have a redevelopment area that lies fallow, of course this doesn’t work as well (how long will it take to develop the army base?). Because so much of Oakland is in Redevelopment districts, our general budget really reflects only a portion of what the city council is working with. And Redevelopment funds can only be used for certain things, notably capital improvements and “economic development” activities.

    On the other hand, the governor is attempting to swoop in and grab large sums from the redevelopment funds of all California cities for the state. I don’t know if it will help Oakland’s solvency to spend down its redevelopment fund quick before Arnold “borrows” it, but this might be an interesting question to ask. Is that why we are willing to pay the Chamber for giant hunks o’ bronze?

  39. Naomi Schiff

    Oh. One more thing: And there is a housing section within the Redevelopment Agency, and often a set percentage of the tax increment from some endeavor must go towards housing. There are federal guidelines for various types of affordability.

  40. Born in Oakland

    I do make the claim Oakland has some “bad” leadership and whether that impacts our municipal government as a whole could be an interesting discussion. I don’t think blaming all our woes on the Governor is “helpful” either. Maybe Oakland should have JUST SAID NO the endless stream of Community Development Block Grant funds we have became dependent on now and cannot live without. We have not developed a sustainable base in Oakland and the wretched economy is hitting us particularly hard. More housing going up for sale here in the flats: foreclosures, probates and the elderly owners moving on. Prices keep dropping and no one is buying. Frustration abounds and the repercussions will be political, something like, “What did Oakland do with our money?”

  41. livegreen

    Thanks Naomi. Given the amount of Redevelopment money Oakland has to play with, how the City Council is spending it, and the meager results, it appears at first glance to be yet one more area that our Political Leadership is lacking.

    I’ll look at Redevelopment’s Annual Report (thanks Ralph) when I have a chance, and am open to considering other opinions after a second glance. In the meantime I’m concerned that the term “economic development” can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) rather broadly, that extended bonding against funds, lack of attention of this budget by the media, and the resulting lack of awareness of the public might all encourage unlimited, careless, and/or irresponsible spending by our “City Leaders”.

    I’m also concerned that Oakland doesn’t have a coherent Redevelopment plan to spend this money AND achieve it’s objectives. (Of course it might, but if it does, first glance appears to show it’s either not a very good one or it’s not being successfully implemented).

  42. Naomi Schiff

    I agree with this in some cases. Different parts of Redevelopment (a big agency) are more and less effective. My own feeling is that Oakland’s business attraction and retention efforts are dismal. I also believe many large redevelopment projects have been too large and thus have taken way too long, and/or required much too much subsidy. But they vary. Some of them have worked out alright. In hindsight, though, I think there is lots of evidence that the eminent domain, master plan, and subsidy progression has often not worked particularly well for us. It tends to be the case that the econ. dev. staff is pressured to think really big, even though incremental development by smaller entities might actually be faster, more effective, and keep more money in the city rather than turning over profits to national corporations. One reason for the pressure is that in order to get large financing for large projects, you have to do business with the big boys. On the other hand, national companies make national decisions. So we have sometimes been on the losing end when outfits like Federated Dept. Stores or Gap or Safeway decide to make a big strategic decision and pull locations out of our city. This has sometimes occurred even when the local branch is making a profit. I haven’t looked at the current Redevelopment Ann. Report but it is certainly worthy of scrutiny.

  43. Patrick

    So, the incremental tax increase to benefit a specific area is to be spent (partially) on a “monument” of monumentally disastrous proportions? Seriously. Can you think of at least 3847497583403 other things that might be more beneficial? I despise our city government – I will do whatever it takes to rid our city of their obnoxious stupidity and waste.

  44. Naomi Schiff

    It is the beholdenness to some parts of the business community that I don’t understand. Why are we enriching the Chamber and Mr. Chiodo, a fine businessman and excellent designer of displays, but not exactly a cutting-edge contemporary artist, when there are highly respected artists in Oakland who are doing worthwhile work? Why this end-run around the arts commission? And indeed how is it that we are putting public money into the Chamber?

  45. livegreen

    Naomi, I believe Mr. Chiodo is a member of the Chamber, so that explains their relationship. They might be making decisions by “group think” “inside the box” that, without outside input, can result in pretty poor decisions.

    I agree with your question. Even though the Chamber members pay campaign donations, they’ve been turned down by the CC before. That’s why I’m concerned the CC approves the spending of most Redevelopment funds? and are unconcern-ed about the consequences of “free money” outside the General Fund.

    It’s hard enough to limit their spending inside the General Fund.

  46. Max Allstadt

    Chiodo is on the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

    Further, the Chamber of Commerce controls a separate entity which is entirely devoted to raising money in order to build Chiodo’s sculpture.

    Last year the council cut the Cultural Arts budget by 500k. They cut parade funding and events funding and one full time employee. Maybe, instead of funding a well connected artist’s personal glory project, they should take that $182,000 and put it back in our arts budget.

    This is horrendous.

    The sculpture has absolutely nothing to do with Oakland. If we have to spend $182,000 on representational bronze sculptures, I say we spend it on sculptures of non-politician Oaklanders. Feng Ru, life size on a corner in Chinatown. Chauncey Bailey, life size, smiling and writing in his notebook on the spot where he gave his life in service of the truth. Mother Wright, life size, with a basket of food in St. Anthony’s plaza, where so many people who benefited from her generosity still spent their days.

    But no. What do we get? We get Winston Churchill, who never even set foot here. Winston Churchill who advocated for the use of chemical weapons in Kurdistan when the people he called “uncivilized tribes” rebelled against British Hegemony. That’s right, check your history, Saddam Hussein may have gassed the Kurds, but Churchill wanted to do it in the WWI era, he just didn’t follow through.

    And for that matter, has anybody asked Maya Angelou how she feels about having a 10 foot high sculpture of her head erected in the middle of a public park? How does she feel about the fact that the whole piece is going to look like Darth Vader took a bunch of famous political figures and froze them all in carbonite?

    I for one don’t want 25 death masks in the middle of Fox Park, particularly if they’re going to be there because the guy who’s building them is “drinking with the right people”.

    This is a travesty. I will rail against it and mock it now. I will rail against it an mock it if it gets build. It’s anti-Oakland. It’s cronyism. It’s bullshit.

  47. len raphael

    Max, welcome back. I vote for Chauncey Bailey also. But lighten up Winston, youthful mistake from which he more than redeemed himself. A little of the better aspects of Churchillian leadership would do wonders in this town.

  48. Max Allstadt

    Len, Winston also authorized indiscriminate firebombing of civilian populations in WWII.

    As for Feng Ru, while we’re at it, can we name the airport after him?

    Anybody else have any Oakland heroes that would be better in bronze than this batch of out of towners?

  49. bennett

    In no particular order – from our research on the history of Alameda County for an exhibit program we are creating…

    Oakland heritage heroes and stories include

    1) the Ohlones – in general
    2) Californios – the land grants – Peralta was deed the entire area at the time
    3) Jack London, the ultimate bohemenian, write call of the wild in Piedmond, notable Oyster Pirate, colorful past to say the least
    4) Bernard Maybeck
    5) Julian Morgan
    6) Dr. Samuel Merritt, donated land that became Lake Merritt
    7) Chabot, created the initial water system, Lake Temescal Res. late the Observatory
    8) Fageol Bus Co produced first motor coach from ground up in Oakland 1922, launched 1916, went BK during depression, became Peterbuilt in 1938
    9) Ky Ebright – led three crews of Olympic Rowers from the Esturary
    10) Hiram Thorn built logging road, now Thornhill, provided lumber to build San Francisco
    11) BTW: a Dynamite brand called hercules from the California Powder words helped save SF in 1906 by creating firebreaks ( not Oakland)
    12) Rodman Gibbons: Oakland to SF rail system, ferry to pier, then on to Lake Merrit, opened by Rodman Gibbons who lost control as the system expanded in the 1880′s
    13) City Hall’s cornerstone laid by President Taft was tallest building west of Mississippi when completed in 1914 – does he matter or just a politician?
    14) Paramount, by Timothy Pflueger, one of the last cinema “castles” to be built in America
    15) Idora Park, 1903 to 1929, operated by RE syndicate from the Key Line, 1st Magnavox sound system – do they matter?
    16) Edson Adams, responsible for laying out the original City of Oakland
    17) Joaquin Miller Abbey, noted poet, purchased 70 acres as artists’ sanctuary to nurture the creative spirit
    18) Kaiser Permanente opens first hospital in Oakland, first developed preventive care by Dr Garfield on the Grand Coulee Dam project
    19) Chinese arrived to help build the transcontinental railroad
    20) the auto industry in Oakland in general – we used to make care here!
    21) Emperor Norton’s vision, construction process, connection to San Francisco
    22) Eddie Rickenbocker landed at Durant field in 1st Transcontinental Airmail
    23) Capt of admiral Dewey proclaimed it the finest port he eve berthed at, was the first to use newly built port 1915

    I ponder which of these I should exclude from my exhibit program

  50. Max Allstadt

    I look at a list like that I want to see modest scale sculptures all over town instead of one giant one in an awkward place. I’d suggest that we add some of our local civil rights leaders too. Not a single one on that list, and this town has a legacy in that area that can’t be denied…

    If you walk around NYC or Chicago, there are statues of local heros. Some are even placed at street level so they can be appreciated on a human scale. There’s a statue of Fiorello de La Guardia in New York in Tribeca, standing on the sidewalk and grining ear to ear. La Guardia was a little round guy, so it’s even cooler to have him there looking up at you when you walk by.

    Celebrating local character helps build local identity. It also helps those who come here to visit remember Oakland for Oakland. Chiodo’s sculpture does not do that in any way.

  51. Robert

    Most of the antagonism here seems to be directed towards this as a piece of art. I suspect that many folks complaining here would not be upset if it was for an installation that they approved of. Since almost every piece of meaningful (in the not banal sense) has lots of detractors, I really can’t see getting worked up on that account. Now if the complaints actually seemed to be focused more on whether redevelopment money should every be used for public art, I might be more inclined to listen.

    It does seem to me that it can be a legitimate use of redevelopment money to fund public art, because it can be used to beautify the city and attract tourism. And while everyone is certainly entitled to voice their opinions about the artistic merits, I see no reason to listen to you more that the council members. Personally, I don’t find it all that attractive or inspirational, either, but I can say that about much public art. And whether it is attractive or inspirational is up to the beholder. And this seems like an awful lot of vehemence for the amount of public money involved.

  52. Naomi Schiff

    OH, there are so many (I think we do already have a Jack London sculpture, right?) I second all of the above excellent ideas.

    We have had so many illustrious citizens, both well and not so well-known: Gertrude Stein, Calvin Simmons, Clint Eastwood, the fabulous librarian Lee White, Borax Smith probably as or more important than Edson Adams; architect Maury Diggs, Henry J. Kaiser (though there is a bust already at the Kaiser Building on Lakeside), Governor Pardee, Senator Perkins, endless real estate magnates, August Schilling, Bob and Nancy Maynard, Milton Shoong. William F. Knowland if you want a soupçon of ardent Republicanism, Elaine Brown, Ericka Huggins, Bobbie Seale, Huey Newton for that BPP je ne sais quoi — Horace Carpentier, our founding scoundrel, Lionel Wilson, Lew Hing, well I could go on. A lot of great blues musicians, heaps of writers, labor leaders, ministers, artists, intellectuals, and worthy citizens.

    You know, I would think one might be embarrassed to think that a nonprofit of which one was on the board would be raising funds for one’s project and asking for public money to support it. If a lot of money were involved, one most properly would step out of the board position, as it would appear to present a conflict.

  53. Naomi Schiff

    But this piece of art, Robert, did not go through the usual public art process, which at least provides some kind of formal evaluation structure. Rather, it was sold to the powers that be as a lovely DONATION. Which as Max has pointed out above, is costing the city more money than they have cut from arts programs, which are underfunded as it is.

  54. Max Allstadt

    Not more money than was cut from the arts, Naomi, but a significant chunk.

    I don’t object to it solely because of the aesthetics or my Oaklanders-first ethos.

    I object to the cronyism.

    I object to the imposition of a work upon a public space without asking the neighbors how they feel about it.

    I object to the scale (this is aesthetic, but anything of that scale is inappropriate for Fox Park, even if it was by a sculptor I adore.)

  55. Naomi Schiff

    Sometime, take a look at the modest bust of Abraham Lincoln at the lake side of the Alameda County Courthouse.

  56. Max Allstadt

    Len, here’s a quote from Winston Churchill, ca 1937…

    “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race, has come in and taken their place.”

    There is no way that Churchill has any business on the same monument as Gandhi and MLK. This guy was a master of war, not a master of humanity.

  57. Karen Smulevitz

    So, is this a done deal, or can we still appeal to the council’s better judgement? All the usual gluttons for punishment can line up to protest, ala the OAC debacle.
    Like farting in a windstorm.

  58. Karen Smulevitz

    The bust of Lincoln is also one of my favorites. For the pasr thirty years, whenever I ride the bus past the courthouse, I’ve looked over to make sure it’s still there, because it seems so vulnerable.

  59. Naomi Schiff

    Nothing happens at meetings, remember. If you want to change this, speak with individual coucilmembers BEFORE the meeting. It is for sure a done deal unless folks make a big racket right now. While meetings are entertaining theater, the votes are generally not in question by that time.

    Once in a while somebody musters a big and well-enough-organized protest to change something at a hearing, but I’d recommend if you feel strongly about keeping the city from donating this money, that it needs to start immediately by speaking with councilmembers and assembling the needed votes.

  60. Livegreen

    Naomi mentioned earlier that Redevelopment and CEDA are pressured to think really big and not on local, incramental projects. This is a VERY important constructive critique. Especially with higher crime rates Oakland has, a big negative in competition for large, nationwide programs, Oakland needs to have a dual track system that also encourages local small business to b created or move hear.

    I forget where I read that there’s movement in the Federal level to help broaden investment in small businesses, that not only employ most Americans, but also are creating most of the new jobs during this recession.

    Oakland officials (Redevelopment, CEDA & the City Council!) need to wake up to this, pursue an aggressive dual track (big AND small) business recruitment program, incentives that go with this, and Redevelopment money that supports and strengthens this area.

  61. bennett

    Actually, I have spoke with many in the City’s economic development depart and are convinced that they offer a wide variety of incentives to relocate our business from San Francisco over here. SF has some especially onerous programs that hurt small business, not to mention I am not found of the S curve. I was impressed with some of the options the City is providing.

    The crux of the problem I believe is the combination of the sudden collapse of the economy/”death of the consumer” and near universal move by local banks to not loan period to small business (except their A list), and shutter what credit lines that they have and call them due with balloon payments. In the case of the former, people stopped buying in mass for a variety of often good reasons, and what buyers are left, expect you to sell to them for 50% off or more, often below cost or with the Sales Tax being the biggest winner in the transaction. As a merchant, it is very painful to listen to, and often they just use your sales consulting to then make an Amazon buy tax free.

    In our case, we are suffering the bank melt down presently (balloon payments or less threat of litigation) and it is intolerable – a local Oakland Business bank. It translates to two simple results for us: 1) no capital to relocate to Oakland (despite having a great project with the US Gov) and, 2) not hiring new employees. There is little we can do but spend our energy fighting this. I think our case is similar to that of hundreds of thousands of “mom and pop” / main street/start-ups right now.

    Many Americans could go back to work if this was fixed.

    It is really easy to blame what appears to be a bloated, overpaid, inefficient government. However, I wonder where are the protesters outside the banks that have taken millions of homes, left them empty, and triggered the collapse of so many small businesses – this after taking and speculating themselves rich with TARP funds.

  62. Ralph

    Small business is good, but a small business working in isolation is not good for the small business. The high cost of advertising limits the owners advertising efforts to spread the word. Small businesses need the advertising and foot traffic of big business. And please for the love of dog no more ghetto fab small businesses.

    In this environment, we also have a demand problem. There were a few high end (not SF high end but high end for Oakland) that closed earlier this year. If we can stimulate demand then small business will be happier.

  63. Livegreen

    Re banks, have u tried either of the Community banks in Oakland? I heard at least one of them has abt $30 million to lend (though I don’t know their terms). The City also has the OBDC, which gives out loans to small business.

    As Naomi said CEDA and Redevelopment is used to working on big projects. If they have small business (SB) incentives then they’re not marketing them, they’re waiting for people to come on and ask. That is not effective EITHER for bringing SB here OR for helping homegrown SB.

    But that’s not all I was talking about. Redevelopment should also b using their money to create infrastructure for and fill spaces with SB. Not just hit or miss large business recruitment that we have to compete nationally for (re-read my post above and Naomi’s earlier for the reasons this is important). Or only Residential Real Estate (RRE) developments. They’re playing a hit or miss game with big business and RRE, either being only part of the game.

    And yes, Ralph, u are spot on, this type of SB development I mention would help bring in and encourage SB together, not just one-offs. That’s more effective for the City to create demand AND better for the SBs.

    In fact, are Redevelopment funds used at all for small or medium business or more for RRE conversion and developments? As a job source other businesses should b. I’ll try to find it in the annual report(AR) but if anybody knows this would b helpful…

  64. Frankie D

    Naomi and Karen since you referenced the bust of Lincoln over by the court house, do either of you remember that very controversial piece of public art that stood behind it?

  65. Karen Smulevitz

    Frankie – yes, there was quite an uproar from knee-jerk art critics. Was that early 80′s or so? I think it got dismantled and shipped back East somewhere. Some people thought it was too distracting for the speeders on Freeway 12th Street. Poor Abe had to look at it. Oakland should not try so hard. Good art will surface when it has the environment and support to develop organically. Money should not be spent to forcefeed some committee’s notions on the public.

  66. Naomi Schiff

    That was part of an ambitious large sculpture show and outdoor installation connected with the museum and associated with installations in parks, at the museum, and along the Channel Park edges. 1974, and I still have somewhere an article about this big effort from when I worked as art director of a small long-defunct-now alternative newspaper. The sculptor was Mark DiSuvero who has become very illustrious. The sculpture was moved back east and still exists. He is highly regarded. A County judge hated the sculpture, which was quite challenging for its time, a very contemporary piece.

    It might be noteworthy that the installations were not planned to necessarily be permanent; some of them stayed for a long time, but many were removed after a time, as intended. The DiSuvero piece was very large, and some hoped it would remain.

    I enjoyed reading William Gaddis: A Frolic of One’s Own, which among other topics addresses controversy over public art. It was published to some degree in response to the Tilted Arc fuss in Manhattan.

  67. annalee allen

    regarding the DiSuvero piece in front of the courthouse, in researching that issue for an OHA walking tour of the south end of the lake, a few years back, I found lots of info in the OHR about it. The judge didn’t like looking at it, out his office window. To him, It looked like a gallows, with a peace symbol, and he felt it was too anti war/anti American. There were editorials and everything. It was quite the controversy back in the day. Sounds like another one is brewing…with this latest offering from the Chamber and friends.

  68. livegreen

    Re. the Big-Project view of CEDA & Redevelopment (at the expense of small projects) here’s an example: Mercedes, I heard through word of mouth a few months ago, was considering their new plant right here in Oakland.

    Obviously a good project for Oakland to try and go after, but being at a labor & tax disadvantage here in CA, very challenging to bring to fruition. I’m surprised we were even in the running. The results are now in:

    Daimler moving some C-Class production to Alabama: f=/n/a/2009/12/02/financial/f033834S11.DTL

    (If link doesn’t work, google Daimler or Mercedes at

    This type of competition for big national competition will mostly put Oakland at a disadvantage with the higher costs in CA and safety issues UNLESS Oakland gives big credits (beyond Enterprise Zones). Using Redevelopment Fees would be one way to do so.

    Otherwise we need to build up and attract local SME’s.

  69. Ken

    @bennett: I would protest the banks, homebuilders, loan processors, real estate agents, central bank, but what would it do for me?

    at most I get arrested for chaining myself to the front doors of BOFA, Wells, JPMChase or Citibank. this causes nothing for them and doesn’t help anyone in oakland, much less myself.

    the most effective way to get back at them is to close our accounts with these tapeworm banks. I closed my JPMorgan Chase bank account in November – yipee!

    I maintain my berkeley CU relationship and am slowly casting an eye for an Oakland credit union or bank worthy of my energy (money).

    the “infinite growth consumer economy” is dead in the US and will never come back. never.

    due to being able to buy lots of crap (houses, cars, clothes, vacations) with money we didn’t have — ie borrowing from the future via ‘debt’ cards and helocs and refis and option ARMS — we stole from our future buying to live a better now (1980-2008). and now we’re living in that stolen future of low or NO consumption.

    so to compensate for the last 30 years, we’ll live a ‘worse’ future for the next 20-30 years, which should bring our overall standard of living closer in line to today’s india or china or nigeria.

    since our political system is set up at all levels to promise increasing benefits to people for votes, we’ll never “reform from the inside” like Gorbachev tried doing, and we’ll simply change after it is faced upon us in a general COLLAPSE.

    check out

  70. len raphael

    the scariest thing about this huge structure, is that the Oakland Tribune didn’t bother to mention it, and the Chronical only picked it up last week.

    Funny that no one questioned giving the commission to an artist whose speciality is horror masks.

  71. len raphael

    reminds me of the line from Arsenic and Old Lace, where peter lorrie (the defrocked plastic surgeon) explains why the new face he gave the evil brother makes him look like Boris Karloff.

    “oh Jonny, I’m so sorry. I saw that horror picture just before I operated. I was a little drunk”

    Then there’s scene in Alien, where all the faces are pushing out thru the cocoon, waiting to be eaten.

  72. Livegreen

    Or the emporer who wore no clothes. I only hope it’s the meaning & purpose of the statue that’s concentrated on, and not the poor quality of the statue itself (at least as I’ve seen it so far. Since my viewing has been ltd to the online photos I could b mistaken).

    This is emblematic of Oakland on at least several counts: –Idealism implemented without regards to costs; –Attempting to do something really big (perhaps in a vain attempt to catch up to SF in one leap) when the City has challenge executing smaller projects; –Paying attention only to the Ideal but falling short in execution; –Buying into the project as much or more because of the insider connections of it’s creator than the ideal itself. –Working on secondary goals while ignoring or procrastinating primary needs (the budget, crime, etc.).

    Look at just about any CC meeting Agenda & see the # of non-essential issues that outnumber priorities.

    Any other parallels?

  73. len raphael

    The CC (Chiodo Creature) needs to be fed about 4 mill $ more to grow to his full 60ton, 1/3 football field size according to the sfgate article.

    Question is whether the major donors can be convinced to donate more or whether the project gets quietly scaled down.

    Just a short polite email to each of the public major donors listed at
    just to let them know that the project is controversial would help them make the right decision when they have to decide whether to donate more.

  74. Dave C.

    That sculpture could make a fun climbing structure for young kids. That is, until one of them falls and hurts himself, and the city attorney’s office settles a multi-million dollar lawsuit, and then a fence has to be erected around the whole thing in order to prevent further injury.

  75. KenO

    Len, good idea.

    Not to enter an ad hominem here, but the ChiodoCreature sounds like Frodo Creature, and brings to mind the bankster gnome-like phrase “my preciousss” and other imagery.

    I hope the sculpture is never built. Maybe Parisians thought the same of Eiffel, and San Franciscans of Transamerica Pyramid, but my those were different times: steadily growing resources available to the world, and ever more money created based on them.

  76. len raphael

    send those emails out to the Creature’s larger donors because the unsubstantiated rumor is that the project is running out of money.

    question: is the city obligated to maintain the Creature forever if only stage 1 is completed?

  77. len raphael

    re Oakland icons and monuments: if our ex mayor Elihu Harris got indicted re the Peralta College financial and academic mess, would the state buildng get renamed to the Don Perata Building?

  78. RdwithCypress

    Okay Len,
    Thanks for the link. Letter to OMCCF & CEDA
    Dear Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Greg Hunter & Walter Cohen, let’s make it easier to build live work spaces. Between residential and industrial sites. Let’s provide better venues for Art shows. Let’s allow are Artists to have their gallery parties. Lets allow permits for Art and Wine Festivals in East and West, Like other cities do. Everyone likes these festivals.