7 Days  

You can see Oakland federal building in the latest version of The Matrix, but one thing you won't ever see is a thank you to the city film office.

Oakland to Matrix, "Bogus": It was opening night for The Matrix: Reloaded at the Grand Lake Theater, and amongst the employees of the Oakland Film Office -- packed into their own cheering section and proudly wearing their Matrix support staff T-shirts -- there was a sense that they were rooting for the home team. After all, the blockbuster film had shot for five days in downtown Oakland, plus another day in the Webster tube, before production moved to Alameda for three months of shooting on soundstages and an elaborate, specially constructed freeway set. (The film then moved on to Australia for the remainder of the process.) Since Alameda has no film office of its own, the Oakland staff smoothed the way for much of the film's Bay Area production. All told, film office coordinator Ami Zins and her staff had worked on the project for more than a year. But as the final credits rolled, the film office group was in for a nasty surprise. Alameda got thanked. Australia got thanked. But Oakland didn't. You could practically see their jaws dropping in bullet-time.

A line in the credits may seem like a small thing to those outside of the filmmaking industry, but to a film office, it's huge. Film offices work on a city's behalf to bring new productions to the area and they provide their services for free. Oakland's staff helped The Matrix's producers by arranging for the Oakland Police Department to give location scouts helicopter tours, figuring out how to displace eight hundred monthly parkers from downtown lots to make room for the crew's vehicles, negotiating with all of the traffic and law-enforcement agencies involved in filming a guns-blazing chase scene on city streets during weekday hours, and doing outreach to local arts companies to recruit the racially diverse cast of dancers for the Zion rave scene. The Oakland staff even saved Warner Bros. $300,000 by helping it take advantage of fee waivers for filming on state-owned property. Zins says the city would have offered even larger rebates if 50 percent of the shooting had been done in Alameda and Oakland, but the Australian government's own incentive programs and the favorable exchange rate resulted in production being completed there.

Some of the Matrix-prep tasks turned out to be decidedly weird. Since the colors red and blue are never supposed to appear in the movie, the film office convinced members of Oakland's Public Works department to paint over red and blue curbs. The movie is also supposed to be devoid of living greenery, so Zins found herself (after some tutoring from the Parks and Recreation Department) doing daily palpations of the bare-branched trees along the downtown corridor to make sure they weren't about to bud. (If they had, she would have had them removed and later replaced with new trees.)

So after all the curb-retouching and tree exams, it would have been nice if someone had said thank you. "Generally, film companies are generous with their thanks for much less help," Zins says diplomatically. It's not just that the city employees want their work acknowledged, but also that the filming spots of popular movies have a way of turning into tourist sites. (The farmer who owned the original Field of Dreams, for example, got rich by running a memorabilia concession stand, Zins says.) "We were hoping that this would make Oakland famous, make tourists say 'Wow, when I'm in San Francisco, I want to go see where they filmed The Matrix,'" she says.

Zins' boss, City Manager Robert Bobb, contacted the now-apologetic Warner Bros. to express the city's displeasure, but there isn't much anyone can do about it now -- the next installment of the Matrix series wasn't shot in Oakland, so the city won't get a mention in those credits, either. Nevertheless, says Zins, the city and the movie studio remain on good terms, and Warner Bros. recently sent location scouts up to vet Oakland as a possible setting for a new superhero feature called Flyboy. -- Kara Platoni

Back to the drawing board: When we last checked in on the Leona Quarry, the city had just approved a proposal by the DeSilva Group of Dublin to build 477 housing units there ("Gravel, Grit, and Gravy," December 18, 2002). But last week, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw dealt a serious blow to these plans when she ruled in favor of the Burkhalter Neighbors, a coalition of local homeowners who have long opposed the plan. The neighbors say DeSilva's proposal doesn't protect the surrounding area from landslides, floods, or other disasters that might be triggered by building homes on an allegedly unstable hillside adjacent to an active earthquake fault. Specifically, the neighbors questioned project details such as the size of the runoff water detention pond. The neighbors have good reason to worry about floods -- they remember the one in 1996 that swamped nearby Interstate 580 when the quarry's holding pond overflowed. Although a would-be neighborhood referendum this spring failed to get enough signatures to make the ballot, opponents had more luck with the suit they filed in January challenging the DeSilva plan on several hydrologic and geologic issues.

Sabraw's ruling says the environmental impact report performed by the DeSilva Group is inadequate and does not comply with California Environmental Quality Act standards. This decision voids the EIR and suspends the city's approval of plans based on the report. Sabraw ruled that DeSilva must redraft the EIR, and that the city must circulate copies of the new version. Claudia Cappio, Oakland's deputy director of planning, says her department was surprised by the judge's ruling, saying the city had considered the proposal carefully before approving the project. "This was a very, very considered and complicated decision. We spent a lot of time preparing the work, supplementing the analysis, especially on hydrology," she says. "Apparently, it wasn't good enough." Cappio says it will probably take three to six months to comply with the judge's order: after that, winter weather could delay construction even further.

Meanwhile, the Burkhalter Neighbors are not resting on their laurels -- they're also challenging the city's attempt to gain legal oversight of Leona Quarry. Because the city does not currently have a mining ordinance, ultimate authority over the quarry currently defaults to the state's Mining and Geology Board. But last month the Oakland City Council passed a proposed ordinance which will be submitted to the state for approval this summer; if the state gives its blessing, control over the quarry will fall to the city, and DeSilva will have to submit all future plans to the city, rather than the state. Cappio says that having local control will benefit the neighbors, because it will allow Oakland to regulate construction issues such as noise restrictions, air quality regulations, and hours of operation. "We would like these to be as controlled as possible, and to minimize the impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods," she says. "To do that, you have to have your own personnel out there."

But neighborhood activists such as Sparky Carranza are lobbying the state to nix the city's bid for control. They say that Oakland has been known to cave in to pressure from the DeSilva Group -- after all, the city council approved the developer's plans despite the flaws in the original EIR, and despite the crowd of neighbors eager to point those flaws out to them. "We don't want them to have oversight of the mine," Carranza says. "We're afraid it will just be another political football for them where the politics will override any safety concerns about anything that occurs on that site, like it has in the past." -- Kara Platoni

This just in: Two Express staff writers received awards from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies at this year's industry convention in Pittsburgh. Chris Thompson's two-part series "Blood & Money: The Sinister Side of Yusuf Bey's Empire," about the local Black Muslim leader, received a third-place award in the investigative reporting category. And Justin Berton's article "Drugstore Cowboys," about several deaths related to errors made at a Walnut Creek pharmacy, received third place in the news feature category. -- Stephen Buel

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