The importance of getting things right

So in last week’s East Bay Express, Robert Gammon had a story about the redevelopment agency buying some property out in East Oakland for more than they should have (I mentioned the sale last Monday). What could have been an opportunity to highlight some of the ineptness of Oakland’s bureaucracy instead devolves into a bizarre (and unclear) conspiracy theory involving Ignacio De La Fuente. I haven’t looked into the details of the ownership changes on this piece of property or the history of the City’s acquisition plans, nor do I plan to. But when I read the story, one line in particular made my eyebrows jump:

The city’s plans were supposedly a secret at the time he bought the land. In fact, they weren’t made public until Fanelli told Full Disclosure about them last week.

Ugh. Ridiculous! This property purchase was introduced to the City Council in a public meeting at Rules Committee (PDF!) on May 1st! On June 10th, more than a week before Gammon’s article was published, the Council’s Finance & Management Committee discussed the purchase in a public meeting at City Hall where anyone was free to come and speak on it. The City had a report (PDF!) on the sale available to anyone who had an internet connection (or walked into the clerk’s office and asked for it) since May 29th! In what way is this not being “made public”?

Gross errors like this are infuriating. You know, from Gammon’s story, the whole thing really does sound like a waste of money. But when I’m just casually reading the article and I see a major assertion that I happen to know is simply not true at all, it really makes me wonder why should I believe anything else in the whole article. I mean, the entire premise of the story is that the City’s intent to acquire the land was a secret. And according to Gammon, it was still a secret until he uncovered it after it had been discussed in public hearings! If he’s wrong about something fundamental to the premise of the story, why should we assume he’s right about the rest of it? Careless factual errors like this are not acceptable in the media! I’ve complained at length before about how irresponsible it is for Ron Dellums to go out of his way to try and foster distrust of the press among Oakland’s residents. And I still think it’s irresponsible. But when I read things like this, I find it very difficult not to sympathize.

19 thoughts on “The importance of getting things right

  1. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    I guess the only thing you’ve written above that I would question is when Gammon went to print. He may not have had the info before going to print. I can only sympathize with that one issue because it’s one I faced many times when I printed the Jack London News. I would do everything I could to wait to the last minute to go to print in trying to get some piece of info. And to be fair, hundreds of times I would go online to get a staff report and either it wasn’t there, the wrong one was there, or it was incomplete. I do believe that this particular problem has drastically improved in the last few years, but the first year I did the paper I’d call and beg and plead for the staff report since it was supposed to be up by a certain date. Most of the time I was told that they were still working on it. Even though there’s some legal issue (unknown to me, but as I was told) that it had to be available X days before the meeting.

    In any case, I’m not a huge fan of the East Bay Express. I’ve been misquoted or had the meaning of what I said twisted vagrantly several times. And yeah, they do print retractions, but it doesn’t hold the same weight. So I stopped letting them quote me.

    Even the blurb they had about my robbery was wrong now that I think about it. Not a big deal, but I hate sensationalism.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Since the purchase was publicly noticed in front of the City Council’s Rules Committee on May 1st, and the story, including the claim that the purchase was “secret” until “last week,” was printed well over a month later, on June 18th, I can’t see filing deadlines as any sort of excuse in this particular instance.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    I have neither the time nor the inclination to investigate the entire history of the City’s intentions for this particular piece of property. The point of the post is that since Gammon was so completely wrong about one major point in the story, the credibility of every other statement in the article is thrown into question.

  4. Max Allstadt

    With the advent of wiki systems, why don’t reporters source their stuff as exhaustively as possible? It seems so easy.

  5. Ethan

    Be careful V. If the property was bought in October and public hearings didn’t occur until a half a year later, then the horses were well out the barn before the door was shut. If you continue to turn a blind eye to those kinds of wheelings and dealings, your readership my turn a blind eye to your analysis on ANY issue.

    Just a word of caution.

  6. V Smoothe Post author

    Ethan –

    You should probably read the story in question or maybe follow some of the links before leaping to conclusions like that. Someone else bought the property a year and a half ago. Obviously, the City did not purchase it until after the public hearings. I have seen no evidence of any “wheelings and dealings” in this case, but if you have some you’d like to share, please pass it on to me.

  7. Deckin

    I guess Smoothe is still out of town and unable to post much, but I think this Edgerly thing is light years more important than land deals, zoning restrictions and mass transit policy. Without hijacking a thread, what’s the general sense out there? Matier and Ross are reporting an FBI investigation–could this be our deliverance?

  8. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    Sigh. I spoke too soon on the East Bay Express, because of course Chris Thompson quoted my blog, but again put words into my mouth that I did NOT say.

    No where in the article did I say “worst kind of bureaucrat” or “sucking up to her bosses” – it’s unfortunate that he has to sensationalize everything. Grr.

    It’s too bad he can’t just the direct quote and be done.

    There was a group called the Oakland Newsletter Network that I was a part of for a while. PANIL, MacArthur Metro, and a few other neighborhood news types showed up to chat about story ideas. I was always shocked that my neighborhood newsletter did okay in print because I honestly thought it would only get read online. The bizarre thing is that people are still coming in to ask for it six months later. There is a new JLDA Call that is in print each month. It’s just different.

    People are thirsty for local news. (imho) They just like to have it hand delivered. ;)

  9. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    V – tell us the story of your latest photo. Enquiring minds want to know. (it’s lovely, by the way)

  10. avis

    I agree with Deckin, the Edgerly story is very important and may end up helping Oakland if an FBI investigation is conducted. My husband and I have both phoned the FBI office in San Francisco this morning to ask them to initiate an investigation into corruption at City Hall. The phone # is 415-553-7400 if anyone else wants to call. I am looking forward to reading what Smoothe has to say about the Edgerly situation.

  11. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    I used to have print issues each month, but stopped in December. I couldn’t keep running my business and the paper. Too many hours and just enough bounced checks for ads for me to feel some pain. Plus, I was getting trapped in my store (still am getting trapped despite not doing the paper) from people wanting to complain about the neighborhood. If people have solutions, I don’t mind listening and trying to point them in the right direction, but some wanted me to solve problems like the trash strike when it happened; they wanted me to work towards getting barriers along Embarcadero when a woman was hit and killed by a train; and then there are the constant emails that I still get asking me to do something about the train horns. Hello? You moved to an urban area that includes trains, a freeway, a produce district (which I personally love despite all the trash) & the port. I was trying to report on the news, not become the “unofficial mayor”, as I have been called. I am NOT cut out for politics. I’m way too willing to say what I think!

    But at least I researched what I wrote (or write since I’ve started posting on the blog). If I sell the business, I may go back to printing the paper…maybe. It’s a lot of work. And I’m not a great writer.

  12. Andy


    Loved the Jack London News. Your writing was prefect. Can understand your reasons for stopping it though.

    The East Bay Express…well it is what it is. With blogs like this, who needs that rag for “news.”

    The Edgerly story is the story in Oakland now. If the Mayor is back peddling (shocking..not), then it might be time for the Council to step up, though honestly I don’t know what they can do. I’m not holding my breath. Someone needs to do something.

  13. V Smoothe Post author

    Everyone should read The Jack London News It’s really good.

    The new photo was taken at Glen Echo Creek. On Richmond Boulevard, shortly below 580, around the 3300 block I think, there’s this cool little stone…I don’t know the right word…pavilion, maybe? And then there’s some pretty steps that lead down onto this bridge that goes over the creek. It’s beautiful. I find it incredibly peaceful there, and like to take a book and sit on the steps and read.

  14. Andrew

    Ah, that stone bridge is at the foot of Croxton Avenue. On the east side, it continues as a stairway up to Kempton Avenue, on the ridgetop facing Pill Hill. Built in the thirties, I believe, like so much other Oakland stonework.

  15. Chris Kidd

    That spot is awesome; I randomly came across it while bike riding up to Piedmont Ave. I grew up here and had no idea it was there. The somewhat dilapidated-yet-elegant air of the area around it really reminded me of Oakland from the 80′s. Or maybe that’s just my childhood imaginings…

    I also got to rescue a cat who was stuck in the collonnaded section right next to the stairs, which let me pretend I was a superhero for the afternoon.