Saturday, April 22, 2023

#112 / Two Stories From Yesterday's Papers


I read four newspapers every morning - in their hard copy versions. I read a lot of online news, as well. Sometimes - and in fact quite often - the various newspapers I read cover the same stories. Sometimes, and yesterday provided an example, different newspapers, in completely different stories, provide a similar lesson and illustrate a similar point. 

Friday (yesterday), the San Francisco Chronicle had a commanding front-page story by Michael Cabanatuan. Cabanatuan reported on the decision by the owners of the Oakland A's to relocate the team from Oakland to Las Vegas. A big, bold headline (and a striking photo) proclaimed:
'Brutal' decision by A's

As everyone knows who has been following the story, the City of Oakland, and the owners of the team, have been in a long negotiation, as the owners have said that they wanted to build a new coliseum on the Oakland waterfront, which development would, allegedly, provide lots of community benefits, though it would also, undoubtedly, result in a massive subsidy by city taxpayers. While working with Oakland, the owners of the A's have, simultaneously, been negotiating with the City of Las Vegas - and again have been looking for a public subsidy for their private business. 
Recently-elected Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao stated that she was "blindsided" by the brief phone call she received from the team, on Wednesday evening, telling her that the team has now struck a deal with Las Vegas, thus terminating the possibility that the A's will pursue their purported plan to build a $1 billion, privately financed 35,000-seat waterfront ballpark in Oakland, with an associated commercial development nearby. In a separate story on the Chronicle's sports page, Mayor Thao was quoted as follows: "it is clear to me that the A's have no intention of staying in Oakland and have simply been using this process to try to extract a better deal out of Las Vegas." Private profits, not community concern, have led to the decision. 

My hometown newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, had another story, also on Friday (yesterday), about the Food Bin and Herb Room, a local business located at the corner of Mission and Laurel Streets, and much beloved by local residents. The owners, who bought the business in 2019, are planning to tear down the stores located on the site, and then to build a five-story, mixed-use building (without any parking for residents), which development would include 3,200 square feet of commercial space. The concept is illustrated below. Essentially, the proposal is for an off-campus "dorm" for UCSC students. 

When the current owners bought the business, here's what they told the community, by way of an article in the Good Times newspaper published in Santa Cruz: 
The couple has thrown themselves into making improvements to the Food Bin while striving to preserve its quirky character. Customer service is their No. 1 priority, and Ewlensen says that overall the community has been very supportive. In the future, they’d like to continue to offer more local products, remove the bulky vapor extraction behemoth from the front of the Herb Room, and refurbish the side garden to forge a community gathering space where they could host First Friday-type vendor events. “We always want to keep its vibe,” says Ewlensen. “It’s not your standard grocery store. It’s unique, and we want to keep it that way.”
The latest plan doesn't really seem to carry forward this thought. Tearing down the structures that have housed the business would seem to move in exactly the opposite direction - and, of course, the proposed replacement development will massively impact the adjacent residential neighborhood. In that Sentinel article on Friday, the owners, and the company that has helped the owners design this proposed development, stated that the purpose of the project was “to thoughtfully develop their parcel and breathe some new life into the beloved stores,” and to "create an enduring home for the Food Bin and Herb Room (emphasis added)."
For what it's worth, I will state my personal preference for developers who will "tell it like it is," and not pretend that community concerns are driving development decisions when private profit is the actual motive. At least as I see it, that's what is going on in both Oakland and Santa Cruz - and that is, of course, fully consistent with what are, or at least ought to be, our expectations. Private property owners are interested in private profit. Development decisions are driven by money - not "community spirit" - as these two different stories both make clear.

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