Thursday, September 2, 2004


Has it really been a month? Well, Salsa (my very mellow Benji look-alike) and I are back in California after a pleasant time in Oregon and Washington where we enjoyed the sunny mountains and cooling coastal fog. It’s time to catch up on what’s happening in the Golden State and our little corner of the Bay. A lot’s been going on. Here’s but a small sample for a hot weekend.

Talk About Traffic Jams!

Just last November Bay Area voters approved increasing area bridge tolls from $2 to $3. Solano voters, who have to pay two bridge tolls to drive to The City, voted “No.” Be that as it may, we were all assured that a “Yes” vote would mean more money for local transportation improvements, including a new Vallejo ferry, the Vallejo Transit Center, and I-80 improvements in Solano.

But this summer we learned about an unbelievable $3.2 billion – yes, billion - cost overrun on Bay Area bridges generated by a terminally incompetent Caltrans and that hardy band of aestheticians in Oakland and San Francisco. Not only will all the money generated by the just approved toll hike be shoveled into the Caltrans sink hole, but, the Governator and his Southern California allies insist, Bay Area drivers will have to cough up another dollar per bridge crossing. That’s $16 for each roundtrip to The City for Vallejoans. And, poof, the promised monies for local Vallejo transportation improvements are up in the Governator’s cigar smoke.

Not content with even these outrages, we’re now asked to go back to the well again to approve the half-cent Solano sales tax we turned down two years ago to pay for transportation “improvements” we thought were already paid for. And these guys really know how to rub salt in fresh wounds. Putting this Measure A on the ballot had to be approved by the county’s cities. No problem, not in Vallejo. Unanimous! Go for it! Stick it to us again.

And then there’s that road builders’ friend, the Solano Transportation Authority (STIA), sending out multi-colored, glossy, four-page brochures at taxpayer expense urging us to vote for its Measure A. STIA says the brochures are “informational” and don’t call explicitly for a “Yes” vote, and the eunuchs in the Fair Political Practices Commission agree. How dumb do they think we are? What does the Solano Grand Jury do?

What can you do? Join County Supervisor Barbara Kondylis and vote No on A.

Las Vegas on the Bay

The Governator’s plan for balancing the state budget? Blanket the East Bay with Vegas-sized casinos and rake in a quarter of the take. The biggest such outrage is, of course, the monster casino Ahnuld would shove down our throats in San Pablo…astride our I-80 commute route…thus ensuring that Vallejoans’ commutes will not only be more costly but more infuriatingly slow.

Then, there’s Richmond’s Point Molate, which had been scheduled to be a regional park. Just last week the Richmond City Council voted unanimously in the face of heated opposition to sell Point Molate to Emeryville’s Upstream Development which would build a casino complex “recreat[ing] turn-of-the century San Francisco … Ghiradelli Square times ten.” This Disneyland North, which would be accessible by ferry to other parts of the Bay Area (Marin?), would be operated by Harrah’s ostensibly on behalf of the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians. Strangely enough, the project is being opposed by Chevron which insists that the city must first offer to sell the land to a public agency for a park. It has obtained a temporary restraining order.

Here it gets even murkier…and more infuriating. Remember how Ahnuld made an issue during the recall campaign of Indian gaming contributions. Well, just after that election, as reported in the T-H, gambling king-pins Gavin and Joe Maloof organized a $1 million fund-raiser for the governator. And, - Surprise! - in mid-August, the Maloofs emerged as key players in the San Pablo venture…the same week Ahnuld announced his support for 5,000 slots in that tiny town. Now Ahnuld, using money funneled from the Maloof fund-raiser, is actively opposing Propositions 68 and 70 which would wildly expand gambling throughout the state. Why? Because he’s anti-gambling? No, because they would undermine the Maloof’s plans for San Pablo. If approved the San Pablo deal would allow the Maloof’s to skim 20 percent of the profits from an operation projected to take in $540 million a year. Not a bad return on a $1 million investment.

What’s an honest citizen to do? Vote “No” on 68 and 70. Then find other ways to express your outrage at what’s going down in Contra Costa and to ensure that it doesn’t happen in Solano. You might start by supporting Solano County Supervisor Duane Kromm (Fairfield) who’s fighting to keep a casino out of Suisun Valley and asking Supervisors Barbara Kondylis (Vallejo) and John Silva (Benicia) where they stand on casinos in Solano.

And, above all, don’t feel guilty about the Indians, at least on this issue. There are more dignified, honest ways to right the wrongs visited upon them by the United States government. This is not about helping the Indians. It’s about helping the Maloofs of the world.

What’s Good for Chevron, Is Good for California

Remember that old saw from the “I Like Ike” era “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA?” Well, Ahnuld’s cribbed shamelessly from the concept, “re-inventing” California government to fit the needs of ChevronTexaco.

As AP has reported, he larded his California Performance Review board with a bevy of corporate lobbyists, chief among them a team from Chevron that “enjoyed immense success in influencing the report” of the board. The operative word in all such rip-offs is “streamlining.” Included among the stuff being “streamlined” are the permit process for construction and expansion of refineries, the environmental oversight of San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and the regulatory process for siting new refineries, tank farms, and – Get this! – LNG facilities.

How much did Chevron have to pay for these goodies? A mere pittance for this giant which reaped windfall profits in the wake of the Iraq war - $200,000 to the Governator’s committees, $500,000 to the state GOP, and another $100,000 to a Schwarzenegger-controlled political fund three weeks after the release of the report. Isn’t there a section of the law that covers quid pro quos? Anybody out there good at connecting dots?

Mr. Schwarzenegger Goes to New York

So Ahnuld goes to New York, dusts off his oafish “girlie men” act, mangles the facts of Austrian history, and wows a crowd of Republicans and an ever-credulous national press corps now ready to amend the Constitution to prepare the path to the presidency for a third-rate actor. Oh, if they only knew his record of incompetence in California. That joke he cracked about being as good a politician as he is an actor is unfortunately all too true and – at least to Californians – no laughing matter

Neither is the fact that Chevron was one of some 20 companies that paid for the trip to New York for Ahnuld and his retinue. Quid pro quos? How about the closed door meeting last Wednesday at which Chevron executives and other corporate big wigs enjoyed Ahnuld’s undivided attention?

What’s Up with George Miller?

George Miller is an otherwise progressive representative in Congress for whom I urge you to vote. One has to wonder, however, why he supports that casino in San Pablo and the up-county commuter relief act otherwise known as Measure A. I look forward to his defining what a “modest” casino is, spelling out his “concerns about the new compact,” and explaining to Vallejo voters how we got into our Bay Area-wide traffic jam and why they should subsidize the descent of more commuters to and through our town.

Earth to Wal-Mars: “Go Away!!!”

One has to wonder how much money Wal-Mart will toss about to ensure approval of its plans to pave over Contra Costa and Solano with big boxes and even bigger parking lots.

In Solano, they started by waving their big bucks in front of the city council of a tiny village of 12,000 – American Canyon. Talk about David and Goliath. But they misjudged. The citizens of American Canyon may be few in number, but they are smart, smarter than their city council, and, now, energized. That abortive Am Can Planning Commission meeting last week was indicative of the growing opposition to this ill-conceived project.

The Planning Commission meeting has been rescheduled for Thursday, September 9. I hope the place will be packed with Am Can residents and, yes, “outsiders” like Vallejoans concerned about the effect of the proposed big box on our traffic, wages, and business viability. Wal-Mart and its few supporters would have you believe that the only legitimate “outsiders” are the beneficent blue suits from Bentonville and that the only discussable issue at this point is the design of their monstrosity. Not so! It may come as a surprise to the Wal-Mart execs and the Am Can council, but votes can be changed and council members can be replaced. The only laws written in stone are the ones carried down a mountainside by Moses.

In the midst of all this, there is still humor to be found. Witness, Tony Nijem’s letter to the T-H on Saturday. Tony waxes poetic about building a “central local gathering place,” a “downtown” consisting of “a three-story hotel…a “beautiful ‘town green’ – and, of course, the Wal-Mart Supercenter.” What a vision! What’s the hotel for? The tourists who will flock to gaze in awe at the Supercenter? The “town green?” Would that be the Wal-Mart parking lot where kids can gather after hours…for God knows what? Emmanuel D’Herrera, leader of the opposition to Wal-Mart’s plans for a Supercenter on the edge of Teotihuacan’s Temple of the Moon in suburban Mexico City, has an idea what they might use it for. Mexican “teenagers,” he reports, “want to go skateboarding in the parking lot, like in the United States.” Ah, that American Way of Life Wal-Mart so ably represents overseas. It’s enough to make one teary-eyed

You’ve Gotta Read the Small Print

Fortunately for us Joyce Scharf does. She spotted that August 20 notice in the T-H classifieds “City of Vallejo Notice of Public Scoping Session and Notice of Preparation (To Prepare an EIR).” Huh? The notice concerns a Planning Commission meeting at 7:00 p.m., Monday, September 20 application number SPL04-0001 on behalf of the City of Vallejo and Triad Communities, Inc. The purpose of said meeting is to “obtain public comments on the scope of study for preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR)” on the downtown area bounded by Capitol Street, Sonoma Boulevard, Napa Street, Curtola Parkway, Santa Clara Street and Mare Island Way and, in particular, Triad’s plans for multi-story mixed use building on Virginia Street.

While Marina Towers sits smack dab in the middle of this area, I doubt that its many residents will have been individually notified of this meeting. I hope that they and all of you will read the appropriate documents at the Planning Division in City Hall and attend this important meeting.