- updated as of 02-26-07
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A compendium of politically incorrect polemics and other writings

Closer To Home

* What ever happened to California?
* Time to get rational about Measure A
* The real Bay Bridge tragedy
* Resurrect Alameda Theatre? Pie in the sky!



When I was young, the mantra urged: "Go West, young man! Go West!" And so I did.

With only 10 million people, California was then truly the Golden State in a Golden Age. Breathable air, drinkable water, elbow-room on the beaches, uncongested roads, good schools, responsible governance, and civilized electorate.

Corruption and greed were in abeyance. Terminal goofiness had not yet reared its head.

San Francisco was not yet Baghdad by the Bay. Berkeley was still a coolbed of rationality. Honest prosperity was rife. Proposition 13 hadn't as yet hamstrung our ability to tax rationally and thereby to pay our own way or devastated our educational systems. Great innovations in Silicon Valley lay ahead, and so did absurdities like the dot-com and day-trading crazes.

Now all of that has changed, and not for the better. In Pennsylvania recently, I was embarrassed to be a Californian. Our state is now a global laughingstock. What power crisis? Where's the surplus? Why the deficit? Arnold Schwarzenneger? Get serious!

Governor Hiram Johnson's well intentioned but inherently flawed 1911 legacy haunts us bigtime now that our policies are largely determined by celebrity, special interests, campaign funding, sensation-seeking media, and black-and-white choices of our inexorably unsophisticated, misled, and misinformed electorate, now chronically subverted with deluges of beguiling video-bytes.

People once lived elsewhere because they hadn't found out about California. But now it's been discovered. The Bay Area has as many people today, and the state as many foreign born, as the whole state had when I arrived. Overcrowding, disillusion, and despair evoke rage, greed, irresponsibility, desperation, and incivility.

Now with almost 40 million people, California is no longer the Golden State, and its Golden Age is now terminally tarnished.

A new age has dawned and with it a new mantra: "Go East, old man! Go East!" And perhaps I will.



Measure A looms critically large in next Tuesday's City Council election. A major responsibility in the upcoming term will be recommending what to do about Measure A. It's vitally important to elect people ready, willing, and able to address that issue thoughtfully rather than emotionally.

Fueled by fear at the time rather than vision, Measure A, like most initiatives, was a simplistic attempt to solve a complex problem. As it stands, Measure A is not a rational solution for Alameda's problems of today -- and tomorrow.

When passed a generation ago, Measure A aimed to stop replacement of Victorian homes with multiple unit dwellings, an activity that threatened to aggravate traffic congestion, on-street parking, population density, absentee ownership, and loss of Alameda's architectural heritage. It was then inconceivable that Alameda Naval Air Station and commercial properties along our north shore would ever require redevelopment. Thus, Measure A didn't even contemplate such eventualities which are now our new reality.

Victorian homes are not an issue for Alameda Point or the north shore. Optimum use of those resources isn't likely to be confined to single family dwellings and duplexes. Zoning and planning can deal effectively with congestion, parking, open space, and access provided official hands aren't tied by a requirement that Measure A be doggedly applied in ways never intended.

Among the candidates for City Council, one stands out that should NOT be elected. Pat Bail has made clear her conviction that Measure A is sacrosanct and should not be modified in any way. That unrealistic bias would hamper rather than facilitate the efforts of the Council to develop and propose an alternative to Measure A that would serve Alameda's future best.

Lamentably, Ms. Bail has been able to outspend the other Council candidates as evidenced by the plethora of her visual sound bites that clutter lawns throughout the community and other lavish promotional activities. Hopefully, Alameda voters will see past this egregious attempt to buy a Council seat and elect others who are equipped to give Alameda what it, rather than they personally, actually needs.



The real tragedy of the Bay Bridge is the current horrendous mess could have been avoided completely if rational heads had prevailed during the last 15 years.

If the existing bridge were really likely to fall down in another earthquake, the rational solution would have been a low level quasi-causeway like the Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges with a spiral around Yerba Buena island to reach the level of the Western Span. No need for the Eastern Span to accommodate shipping redundantly with the Western Span.

Better yet, a floating bridge would be even less likely to collapse.

And a whole additional bridge somewhere between the Bay and San Mateo bridges would have better insured continued connection between the East Bay and the Peninsula in the face of any kind of catastrophe while ameliorating congestion in the meantime.

What's really to blame for this multi-billion dollar debacle? The politicians - the people who make our decisions for us - permitted the Bay Bridge issue to become politicized rather than insisting it be dealt with in strictly functional and economic terms. And, of course, CalTrans. It's cost estimates appear to be governed routinely by political expediency rather than reality until it's too late to turn back.

Suppose there were a great earthquake tomorrow and the Bay Bridge didn't fall down. Would there then be enough egg to go around for all the deserving faces? It could happen.



Long involved with all aspects of theater and also a professional business planner, I am puzzled by efforts to revive the Alameda Theatre. As usual in such matters, the "numbers" are carefully withheld from public view, presumably to preclude obvious and embarrassing questions. But here are some of them, anyway:

1 - To truly break even, what would be the total cost of operating a twelve screen theater in Alameda (including film rentals, labor, utilities, debt service, et al) per week?

2 - How many patrons per week would need to attend each of twelve different shows paying how much each for admission and spending how much each at concessions in order to generate the total revenue required to recover that total cost?

3 - Where might such a number of theater goers come from?

4 - How might they be persuaded to become patrons?

5 - Considering historical precedents and the ongoing trend away from theater attendance, is that required level of attendance even possible, much less likely? If yes, please explain.

We are talking about spending over $4 million of precious economic re-development money on a project that may well rival our vaunted bicycle bridge for number one position among Alameda's many egregious development follies over the years.

Thanks to Prop 13, all local governments are in extremis and must lust for tax revenues in bizarre places and ways. But resurrecting the Alameda Theatre isn't likely to help. Indeed, it's very likely to cost the city far more than its worth in the longer run, and the property would likely become an even more monumental white elephant than it already is.

A major flaw in the whole project is the proposed multi-level parking structure which would put most of Park Street's parking eggs in a single basket - a bonanza for merchants located within a block or two but little benefit to those further distant. Have we forgotten a large segment of Alameda's population is geriatric, and the non-ambulatory sector, old and young, seems destined to continue to grow as time goes on.

If we really want to revitalize Park Street, we need to look to Mountain View for a highly successful model. Before Mountain View even began to redevelop its main street, it acquired all of the real estate on the rear halves of all the blocks bordering that main street and turned all of that real estate into free parking lots.

The counterpart in Alameda would be to turn everything on the east side of Oak street from Blanding to San Jose into free parking lots and to then do something similar on the west side of Park Avenue and its extensions. Then, at least, the infrastructure would be in place to attract vibrant mercantile activity all along Park Street. A single parking structure, no matter how large, would not be a viable substitute, and the existence of a theater would be utterly irrelevant.

Mountain View correctly perceived a movie theater would be the last thing needed to effectuate revitalization of its downtown. If we're determined to spend $4 million to try to build mercantile traffic on Park Street that will generate enough incremental sales tax revenues to more than pay its own way, then let's spend it in a sensible, plausible way.

Not so incidentally, some incremental sales tax from Park Street would be at the expense of tax from South Shore Center. And, oh yes, if a Park Street revitalization project were actually to succeed, just think of how much incremental traffic from out of town we would have to live with on our already overly congested streets and bridges.

There's an old doctrine that's relevant here: the law of unintended consequences. Before we spend more civic money to help line the pockets of more greedy developers, and their upscale clienteles, let's this time really make a serious effort to think things all the way through.