Monkey Wrenches Foul up Monkey Business

You can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave of public trust finally broke and rolled back into a sea of betrayal.

Jeffrey R. Smith Without the right kind of vision, it is hard to tell whether Alamedans are being duped, betrayed or swindled.

Or, to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson: "Now, less than five years since approving a bond issue to extend Crab Cove, you can go up on a steep hill in Washington Park and look West to McKay Avenue. With the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave of public trust finally broke and rolled back into a sea of betrayal."

Strange that a seemingly manageable island of only 10 square miles, wherein 43 percent of its denizens enjoy a bachelor's degree or higher, can keep staffing municipal government with what the impolitic might insensitively call carpetbaggers.

With ovine trust, in 2008 voters approved a porcine $6.5 million regional park bond measure to purchase additional property for the expansion of Crab Cove.

Now, the Planning Board is attempting to renege on the sales pitch for the bond issue and turn the targeted land over to a developer who could conceivably nestle "as many as 95 new homes" on what might have been an airy, festive expansion of Crab Cove.

Imagine: As we blithely chortle through evening sitcoms, wine and popcorn in hand, city staffers are slavering in anticipation of this successful breach of public trust. Astonishingly, they are reportedly worried that this mega sting might get derailed.

One has to wonder, what happens to seemingly ordinary citizens once they get catapulted into Kafka's Castle or the Alameda Puzzle Palace.

Do they too begin to believe in what columnist Jon Carroll called the public's naïve "presumption of competence" in elected officials? Do they buy into their own officious personas? Are these apparatchiks, like Anakin Skywalker, drawn over the dark side by byzantine intrigues, seductive politics, stuffed envelopes and rational self-interest?

The local media reported that the mere mention of of a lawsuit that could interfere with the Crab Cove housing scam provoked frustration among city leaders. They fear the suit could undo a stateapproved housing plan that was two decades in the making.

Wait a minute; these planners set a collision course two decades ago yet failed to blow the fog horn when the 2008 regional park bond measure was being huckstered to a trusting constituency?

Who is at the helm of this Juggernaut? Joe Hazelwood or Edward Smith? Does city government actually act on behalf of Alameda residents? Let's examine the record.

• In 1995, without a sound study, it decided to mothball and under-utilize, in perpetuity, the two most valuable pieces of infrastructure on the island: the Naval Air Station runways and the environmentally friendly aircraft paint hangar.

• In 1998 the city dove recklessly into an ill-conceived Telecom venture, with a cash-hemorrhaging porous firewall; this vampiric albatross was sold in 2008 at a colossal loss; saddling Alameda with $85 million in long-term debt.

• In 2007 a prescient Planning Board coerced Safeway to scale back its gas station from 16 pumps to 12 pumps so that Alameda residents could spend more quality time riding their brakes while awaiting their turn at a pump; thanks, Rebecca.

• The following year the City Council seriously entertained SunCal's proposal to build 6,200 residential units on the former Navy base. So seriously in fact, that they exposed the city to a lawsuit filed by the rapacious developer.

• Three years later, firefighters' salaries bubbled up to record highs, each costing the city somewhere between $170,000 per year and $220,000 depending on whether you believe Barbara Thomas or more conservative estimates; as they aver in Chapter 9 Detroit, "fiscal mismanagement and unaffordable labor agreements."

• In 2012 the Planning Board cleared the way for a Target store in the West End provided Target agreed to "cap the amount of space dedicated inside the store to groceries and other nontaxable items to 10 percent" so that Alamedans would not gain too much access to cheap groceries — thanks, we were so worried that our food bills were going to plummet.

• We also watched an earthquake fence corset Historic Alameda High to the tune of $240,000. Close inspection reveals it's installed backwards and strung up with wiring the same gauge as an ordinary coat hanger.

Recently the city used scare tactics to convince fatuous locals that if we did not cram houses into every nook and cranny of Alameda, then Seal Team Sacramento would rappel down from choppers, fine the bejesus out of us and leave us as destitute as Detroit or Stockton. As my Uncle Cusper was fond of saying, "Ab falso quod libet" or "From false premises one can prove anything." Such scare tactics allow the city to share the duvet with friendly developers until we are finally building houses out on abandoned Navy piers.

Every housing decision invariably paves the way for over-crowding, meltdowns in city parking lots and stultifying traffic snarls. One wonders, when the city will stop approving new housing. When the streets are gridlocked? Or when traffic is deadlocked?

Presently I am tied up teaching math at Encinal High School, but if I retire or if the district finally cashiers me, I will run for a sinecure on the Planning Board with the pledge to do absolutely nothing in the name of progress and to throw lots of monkey wrenches into the monkey business.

Jeffrey R Smith lives in Alameda.


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