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Comment: The death of discourse

Submitted by on 1, January 8, 2009 – 11:00 amNo Comment

It was late into the night of September 16 when Iris Watson stepped to the podium. The management at Alameda Towne Centre was planning to bring an Orchard Supply Hardware store to fill the vacant Safeway building, and Watson, who owns Thomsen Garden Center, was concerned the hardware chain’s presence could hurt her business.

For the next few minutes, Watson clearly and respectfully offered her disagreement with Towne Centre’s plan to bring the store to Alameda to the members of the City Council and the audience assembled in the room.

If only we had an Iris Watson right now.

Our Island is facing its biggest issue in a generation, the redevelopment of the former Naval Air Station Alameda. The issues around the redevelopment are complex, and the ramifications of any development or lack thereof are huge. We need to critically examine SunCal’s proposal and any viable alternatives, and we need someone who can honestly and respectfully outline any concerns.

What we have instead is Save Our City! Alameda, which launched an all-out assault on the plan this week based on a conflation of facts and outright misinformation, with the offer of a nice-sounding but largely undeveloped idea to turn the site into another Presidio as an alternative to SunCal’s development plan.

The irony here is that some of the group’s concerns, in this writer’s view, are legitimate. The tradeoff of financing public improvements to the site with future property tax dollars, for example, is highly worthy of scrutiny.

But the group’s campaign of “truthiness” (“The city is going bankrupt!” Not true. “SunCal wants a $700 million bailout!” Also not true) does little to further genuine discussion of those issues, and much to obscure a host of other legitimate concerns with the plan, including whether the rampant contamination at the site can be safely abated and whether SunCal’s transportation plan is doable in an era when funding for transit is being cut, rather than enhanced, and how or if this project can ultimately pencil our for SunCal and the city.

And its spokesman’s approach of attacking anyone who dares question him (“Carpetbaggers!” “Clones!”) halts honest discussion even of his own concerns.

So I call on everyone who has an interest in this important issue to be honest. And civil. And I credit many of the folks who raised their concerns at last night’s public hearing on the plan for doing just that, including some of the signatories to the SOCA cause. The future quality of our life and the lives of those who follow us here will depend a great deal on finding a productive use for Alameda Point, whatever it turns out to be.

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