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?
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!