War on bureaucracy: Readers of the Chronicle have been seeing more than their share of Harry Edwards' mug lately. Back in 1968, the Oakland Parks and Recreation director discovered fame and notoriety after convincing Olympic sprint champions Tommie Smith and John Carlos to do the Black Power salute during their medal ceremony. Lately, though, he's been finding fame and notoriety as the guy who's taking forever to fix a damaged playground at the city's Golden Gate Recreation Center.
Such is the result of "ChronicleWatch," a feature the Chron launched last year, wherein it describes problems about which citizens have complained and shames local officials into fixing them fast -- the shaded box includes a "Who's Responsible" section with the bureaucrat's photo and contact information by which people can pester him. At the outset, the paper promised to rerun each item daily until the problem was fixed, at which point it would triumphantly report the details under the heading "ChronicleWatch Results." 7 Days couldn't help but wonder what would happen if the paper were to publicize a problem that couldn't be easily fixed, or run up against an intransigent bureaucrat who'd be damned if he'd let the media determine his priorities.
The Chronicle appears to have met that match, one way or the other, in Edwards, whose somewhat homicidal mug shot has graced the ChronicleWatch box on and off for more than a hundred days -- compelling the paper to adjust its run-it-daily-till-they-drop formula. Actually, it's been a lot more than a hundred days: The playground equipment was taken out last July by a stolen car. "It's a big problem," says Clarice Benavidez, the recreation center's director. "We've got handicapped kids who used that equipment."
The big delay, Edwards explains, is due to the fact that these tot-lot structures are sold as single units, and you simply can't buy off-the-shelf parts to repair them. Parks and Rec has had to contract with equipment distributor Ross Recreational to commission custom parts from the manufacturer and repair the playground at a cost of around $16,000. Initially, says Jim Ryugo, Parks and Rec's manager of capital improvement projects, the department simply didn't have the spare change in its budget. Post-ChronicleWatch, after the city agreed to kick down some general-fund cash to do the job, the repairs were again delayed by city guidelines that govern expenditures of more than fifteen grand, and yet again by the fact that specialized, custom-made parts were required. "Until they get the part done it still won't be fixed, and all the ChronicleWatch articles in the world won't change that," Edwards says.
So how does he feel about being targeted by the newspaper? Edwards claims it doesn't bother him -- not that we believe him -- but he also admits to questioning the concept of publicity driving departmental policy. "The impact of the ChronicleWatch has been to generate significant negative publicity so that the people downtown have to cave in, rather than listen to the parks professionals."
Those "people downtown" would be City Manager Robert Bobb, who pressured Parks bureaucrats to, as ChronWatch would say "Get It Done." Edwards says he'd intended to request funds in the 2003-2005 budget to replace the structure entirely. Replacement is no longer an option, Edwards adds, now that the city has kicked down sixteen large for repairs. "Owing largely to political pressure from ChronicleWatch, we have to cobble together a repair situation," he laments. "I'm very leery about patching stuff together when we're talking about kids."
Yet if Edwards was serious about replacing the play structure, it was apparently his own little secret. Asked whether there'd been any discussions in the department about replacement, Ryugo says it was never on the table: "I think we were always looking at doing a repair." The tot-lot in question, he points out, is less than five years old. "All the pieces are manufactured to very high specifications," Ryugo says. "Once you replace that piece, it's as good as new." -- Michael Mechanic
Speech therapy: As we channeled Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates' inner vagrant last week, Oakland's mayor was doing his city's own underclass a service by offering the blessing of his august presence. Last Wednesday, Jerry Brown arrived at the Santa Rita county jail and delivered a graduation speech to 150 inmates who had successfully matriculated from their anger-management, drug-rehab, and parenting classes. So moved was 7 Days by the mayor's generosity, his willingness to share the fruits of his considerable intellect with those who have so little, that we couldn't help but wonder what pearls of wisdom he chose to bestow upon the lumpen masses. So herewith is the second installment of our nonexistent mayoral testimonies: Jerry's commencement address to Santa Rita's finest.
"My fellow Californians:
"I salute you on the occasion of your successful effort to cast aside the Dionysian predilections that brought you to this edifice. As the Panopticon looms above us, and the unseen warder may or may not cast his vigilance upon these proceedings, I take in the love you have for your mayor, and the newfound love you have for yourselves, and am reassured.
"We all have the Natural Law imprinted upon us by our creator, in that we employ reason to discover the means to the end to which our nature inclines. Sadly, all too many of you incline toward those little white rocks in plastic bags that Chief Word shows me from time to time. Too many of you incline toward imbibing distilled fruits and contributing to the Broken Window effect. Too few of you incline toward the transformative asceticism that served me so well in Sacramento and in my Jack London Square loft, before I, too, succumbed to the pleasures of the flesh and shacked up with the Gap's corporate counsel.
"But that is in the past, and you have labored heroically to keep it there. You have struggled with the Thesis of criminality and the Antithesis of self-loathing, and sublated them into the Synthesis of citizenship. You have achieved Aufhebung, my friends, and I have no doubt that Aufklürung is just a few more years of incarceration away.
"As I look upon your shining, hopeful, tattooed faces, I am reminded of my good friend Ivan Illich, who passed away some months ago. In the last twenty years of his life, Illich suffered increasingly from a persistent growth on the side of his face, which he never treated, nor had diagnosed. In explaining why he voluntarily suffered, he said simply: nudum Christum sequere -- follow the naked Christ.
"In a way, we all have a growth on our faces. For some, it's the growth of recidivism. For others, drug abuse. And for still others, such as the young man in the second row, it's simply a benign tumor. But my point is that we must all overcome our growths. We must all lance them with resolve, wither them with the chemotherapy of fortitude, endure them with the patience of Job. My friends, we must all follow the naked Christ.
"Go now, and do good work. But don't let me catch any of you motherfuckers in Oakland again." -- Chris Thompson
Histrionics in paradise: And now, topping the list of headlines you'll probably never see: "Terrorists Respond to Iraq War by Hitting Walnut Creek Theater Complex."
So last week, when Scott Denison, general manager of the suburb's Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, launched a preemptive strike against wartime theater doldrums by announcing that the center would beef up security in preparation for war, it was more than a little ironic that he failed to recognize his own farce. The center's press release -- which should have been titled Much Ado About Nothing, yet managed to surreptitiously drop the names of several other plays performing there -- noted that there would be increased camera surveillance around the building and that the center staff would coordinate with Walnut Creek cops to ensure everyone's safety. "Our building will be very full in the coming weeks, and we intend to see that every patron feels safe," Denison said in the statement. "We don't anticipate any issues at all, but we want people to understand that they can continue to support theatre and know that they are well taken care of."
Well, um, there is one issue: Prior to the press release, few, if any, would-be terrorists probably knew Walnut Creek existed, let alone the Lesher Center.
But thanks for the drama, Scott. -- Michael Mechanic
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