Oakland, Berkeley, And East Bay News, Events, Restaurants, Music, & Arts
As was pointed out above, the old bridge is a home and roosting area for hundreds of cormorants and other waterfowl who will be displaced, if not killed outright, by the imminent demolition of the old bridge. There's really no comparable place for them to go once it's gone - land sites on Treasure or Yerba Buena islands are unsuitable and vulnerable to predators.
Why not use some of the remaining pieces of the old bridge, specifically those H-shaped structures with firm foundations in the bay floor that supported the old bridge, to support an artificial island for the birds? It could be the world's biggest birdhouse, an apartment building for birds. With input from ornithologists, architects and artists, it would be both suitable for the various species, structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing.
It could be sited just off the new park that's supposed to go in, and provide bird-watching opportunities for its visitors. Something like this would probably cost billions to build from scratch, but all the essential structure is there already. The money that would otherwise be spent to tear these structures down could be re-routed towards the construction of this project.
As the owner of a much-tagged building in a neglected corner of Oakland, I can only marvel at the wrong-headedness of an approach to the problem of graffiti that forces its victims into the Sisyphean chore of obliterating marks that inevitably reappear in a matter of days, if not hours, or face punitive fines from the City. Involuntary servitude is unconstitutional, and additional punishment for crime victims is unconscionable. Is this really a solution to the problem, or just a novel way to pay for law enforcement efforts? What should we expect next - hefty fines for reporting crimes? That would make Oakland's crime statistics go down more than anything else that's been tried, although, like this misguided statute, it wouldn't do anything about the underlying problems.
After struggling with near-daily tagging on my building, which seemed to have a magnetic attraction for ugly spray-painted scrawls, I spoke with Ulysses, a local aerosol artist, and arranged to have the problematic areas of the building covered with a mural, clearing the idea with the City beforehand. I wondered if it would be immediately attacked, but to my surprise, it has been immune from tagging for 5 months, except for a couple of incidents, which were both instructive in their way. One tagger did vandalize the mural to a minor extent, but Ulysses and his crew quickly restored it, painting out the damage artistically. And when a rather pictorial bit of graffiti was painted adjacent but not over the mural, they extended the mural with some extra painting that echoed the additional input. The mural seems popular with the neighbors, and while, like all art, it may not be to everyone's taste, it is a considerable improvement over the swatches of paint and intermittent tags that covered the space before.
Desi from the Community Rejuvenation Project made an interesting point in his letter. While anecdotes like the above abound, there has been no systematic study of the issue of "abatement" versus murals. But that doesn't seem like a very difficult thing to do, if there's really any interest in the question on the part of the powers that be. Why don't we identify 100 graffiti hotspots around the city, and assign local muralists to paint art on 50 of them, while pursuing the usual paint-out strategy on the rest, and keeping track of the results? Periodic documentation would keep the issue fair, so that a last-minute paint-out wouldn't win it for the abatement team. I'd bet that despite what that LA official opined, the money spent on painting out the tags will have been wasted, while the money dedicated to murals will have been well-spent.
I was disappointed by the subtly slanted story your reporter Rachel Swan recently published about the Thai Temple's Sunday gatherings. She implies that "neighbors" are opposed to the smell of their food, the people that gather there, and the fact that some of them park in the neighborhood, while only "devotees", mostly from far away, approve of and defend them. In fact, many near neighbors, few of them Buddhists, support their activities and have gone on record to confirm this, while only a small but vocal minority are opposed. I've lived 2 blocks from there for more than 30 years, and I've been delighted with this wonderful addition to our neighborhood. Sure, every once in a while the odors of exotic spices waft my way - their food smells great! I don't understand why diesel trucks can idle for hours in front of my house spewing toxic fumes with no consequences whatever, but if I can smell food cooking once a week it's a big issue.
In such a supposedly tolerant city, we should show a little more openness to other people's customs. I've travelled in Thailand, and restaurants as such don't exist, except in big cities. Instead, people gather outdoors and small food stands provide various things for them to eat, cooking them on the spot. The social space provided this way performs a vital function in Thai society, where families gather, friends meet, children play, and the life of the community is renewed. The Thai Temple, as the cultural as well as religious nexus of the local Thai community, attempts to recreate this important zone of communication on a weekly basis, and also provides an opening to the rest of us to join in. In this it has been fairly successful, despite a lack of encouragement from Berkeley officialdom and open hostility from a few xenophobes.
I hope that our municipal rulers can somehow be made to understand that regulations intended to supress illegal business operations should not be applied to a nonprofit group that makes such an outstanding contribution to our city. The donations given for the food support a range of activities like dance classes, language lessons, music, and other cultural benefits that far outweigh any putative harm caused. There's little likelihood that the City will step in with funding to replace this donation stream, so stopping the Sunday brunch would likely result in their elimination. After all, even in the depths of Prohibition, churches were still allowed to serve wine to their congregants. It doesn't seem like nearly as big a deal to allow the Thai Temple to continue providing delicious and healthy food to people without harassment from officialdom. And while we're at it, we should let them build their spire - I'm sure it will be beautiful, like their front entrance, which amazes me every time I pass by.
Andrew Werby, Berkeley
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