Home » Eve Pearlman

Eve Pearlman: How do you solve a problem like the Point?

Submitted by on 1, January 8, 2010 – 6:00 am26 Comments
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Photo by Jan Watten

Updated 1:33 p.m. Friday, January 8

First of two parts (Part two)

On February 2nd – or earlier, for absentee voters – Alamedans will be asked to vote on Measure B, the 280+ page plan for the development of Alameda Point.

If you’ve received pro-B fliers, you’ve been told that the Point will be a happy, happy place with lots of green space and smiling, healthy families riding bicycles and picnicking. If you’ve gotten the anti-B materials, you’ve been told the plan spells financial doom for the city and, if passed, it is possible that Satan himself will be shacking up down on Alameda’s western shore.

Clear now?

I thought not.

I am generally a curious person, but I do confess a weakness: I become almost immediately snoozy when I turn my attention to the nitty-gritty of Point development: ARRA, density bonuses, redevelopment bonds, and CEQA mitigations. Perhaps this is because the Point discussion has been on rhetorical high for more than a decade? But outside the narrow sphere of the scrappy political dialogue, most Alamedans ask a basic question: “What’s happening with the Base?”

“They’re working on it!” I have said. “I think they’re on the third development partner.”

“When will it be developed?” people want to know. “I don’t know,” I say.

Generally speaking, what I hear from your run-of-the-mill, trying-to-live-a-good-life-in-Alameda folks, is that people are ready for base development – and that they like the mixed-use vision of Measure B. People want the site cleaned up and used for parks, fields, homes and businesses. But few have the time or inclination to become experts on traffic analysis zones or disposition and development agreements. That is what professionals and civic leaders are supposed to do, no?

To boot, Alameda has a vocal, strident, dogmatic and fierce NIMBY contingent that seems to rise to oppose any and all change to the Island. In their hyperactive imaginations it seems a Target will destroy life as we know it, an Orchard Supply Hardware will cause local businesses to spontaneously melt, a theater will cause the rat population to quadruple, and a new library will precipitate premature death for all who enter. “You would think that we were talking about putting a nuclear waste dump in Alameda,” said Mayor Beverly Johnson of the tenor of opposition to the library before it was built.

Johnson, who supported both the theater and the library and once supported Measure B, now says no to the initiative. “SunCal put me on the side of some of the people I am never on the same side with,” said Johnson. “It makes me angry.”

And so we have a divided city leadership: Council members Lena Tam and Marie Gilmore support B; Doug deHaan, predictably, opposes; and Frank Matarrese, with Johnson, switched in the tail of 2009 from yes to no. (UPDATE: Gilmore told The Island this and this.  She has not yet returned calls for comment. I apologize if I mischaracterized her view of B, and I eagerly wait a return to my phone calls so I can better clarify her position.)

City staff’s “impartial” analysis – how can an analysis conducted by a party to an agreement be impartial? – highlights apparent flaws in the terms of the initiative: public amenities will cost more than SunCal has allotted, Measure B grants SunCal rights to sell development rights without city approval, a 2 percent cap on property taxes might not be enough to fund needed services, etc.

How are we regular folk to know whether or not, as the city manager seems not to know, the more detailed agreement that would need to be negotiated between the city and SunCal if B passes would supersede the initiative itself? “This is untested,” Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant said on this point of law. Great, that helps.

So are the terms governing sale of development rights a deal breaker? Should the 2 percent tax cap trigger our ‘no’? Will the public amenities cost $371 million, a figure the city is advancing, or about $170 million, SunCal’s estimate?

We’ve gotten in this mess of uncertainty in part because a fiscally viable Point development plan requires amendment of the hotter than hot button Measure A – which caps multi-unit dwellings at two. Instead of putting a plain-as-day modification of A on the ballot  – who had the political will to advance that? – we got Measure B, which asks you and me to know, for example, if things not explicitly spelled out in B – the number and locations of schools, for example – can later be successfully negotiated in the interest of our community.

Frankly, as a citizen, I resent being asked to cast a vote on this. I want a city leadership that can say, “We negotiated aggressively, we protected your interests, we got a good deal, and this is right for Alameda.” Instead I have staff telling us how the agreement is weak and the mayor taking a hard “No!”  And I can’t help but wonder if we will be left with a decade more of answering, “What’s happening down at the Point?” and a victory for the NIMBYs.

More next week.

26 Comments »

  • Neal_J says:

    "[the] theater will cause the rat population to quadruple…"

    Very funny line.

  • Frances says:

    Hi Eve,

    Your article was very helpful for me in capturing my feelings about this. I too find discussions of the issue eye-glazingly boring, which contrasts sharply with the level of hyperbole brought to bear by both sides. How can I not have an opinion about an issue that is obviously vital to the fate of Life As We Know It in our idyllic Island City? The key issue is Measure A, which some people are irrationally treating as the New New Testament, delivered by God himself and perfect in every word. Yes it was an architectural tragedy that so many beautiful Victorians were destroyed for ugly apt buildings, but why does that mean we can't have sensible mixed-use development on the Point? I really think this whole Measure B is a red herring.

  • Steve says:

    “What’s happening down at the Point?”

    ____________________________________

    Why do we feel that SOMETHING must happen at the Point? Sure, I suppose we could go ahead and let a private developer have a go at it while we watch in awe at how clever they are at raking in the profits. But, as an Alameda homeowner, I keep asking "Well, what's in it for me?" More crowded city thoroughfares? Probably. Longer morning and evening commutes through the tube? Very likely. Needed increases in city taxes because these types of developments rarely pay for themselves? No doubt. Then, why do anything, at least for the time being. Yeah, the point does look kind of funky. But, it's a great place to have a hike, ride a bike, etc.

  • Tom Schweich says:

    Years ago, when I worked for a nameless large organization that made and sold business machines internationally, I worked in a project office, and had one duty of writing contracts for our services that we presented to our customer for signature. One day while working diligently on a particularly complex contract, I whined, "Why do we always write the contracts? Why doesn't the customer write one now and then?" A senior executive smiled knowingly and said, "If we write the contracts, the contracts say what we want."

    I suspect Suncal is aware of this strategy, and that was in part their motivation of writing a ballot measure and getting it placed on the ballot. They're on the offensive, and our city leadership is on the defensive. Especially after the majority of city councilpersons supporting Measure B evaporated in a fit of … … something.

    My hat is off to Lena Tam and Marie Gilmore in having courage in their convictions.

    I wish we had a better deal in Measure B. I wish we could construct the zoning so that a community got built out there that might minimize auto trips outside.

    I'm afraid though that our third developer Suncal has seized the upper hand, has the momentum on their side, and we're facing a lot of very hard work to regain the momentum and build something good for Alameda on the former navy base.

  • Allan Mann says:

    I think there are four questions underlying this whole confusing issue:

    1. What kind of development do we want to have on Alameda Point?

    2. Does SunCal's plan meet those standards?

    3. Is SunCal the right company to implement the plan?

    4. Is a ballot initiative the right way to answer these questions?

    So far, most of the debate has been about questions 1 to 3, with compelling arguments on both sides. However, I've recently concluded that question 4 is the essential one. I agree with Eve that this is no way to create a development agreement. These kinds of agreements need to be carefully negotiated by professionals on city staff and vetted by our elected officials to whom we've given this responsibility. Putting it on the ballot has created more heat than light, generating more self-serving and emotional opinions than logical arguments. I'm inclined to vote "no" and force city government and SunCal to either come to some kind of agreement or find a new master developer. This has dragged on a long time, but that's not a reason to compromise.

  • Scott says:

    98% of Alameda citizens would like to know when bull dozers will be pulling up to the point and getting rid of the toxic dump that is there now, and creating an area the rest of the bay area and country could only dream about. The views are amazing, the amount of space is amazing, and the potential is amazing. Look forward in the next couple of months of when construction will begin and as well as the progress going on at the point. For those of this with young children the Suncal vision at the point is tears of joy. The sports recreation complex is going to be world class.

  • bob says:

    @ steve…. the city loses about 2 million dollars annually on the base. that's your money going to nothing. additionally, if someone gets injured or one of those buildings burns down, it could cost the city millions. Think about what happened when that ONE building outside of the base burned down. Costs were enormous- fiscally as well as the health costs for those living in that area. say 3 more buildings burn down in a similar way, this city is screwed.

    additionally, everyone on the No on B side becomes positively tumescent at the idea of long term leases. However, this is folly. the navy could pick up and sell the land as soon as its clean. Regardless of the lease. The navy just wants it off their books, and instead will likely sell it piecemeal to whoever wants it. wouldn't THAT mess up the city more. Imagine 10 bayports out there, rather than one community.

  • Betty says:

    Bob, the city does not loose 2 million dollars a year from the base. There are business paying rent to the city that helps cover the cost for the base.

    If SunCal takes over the base that's when the city will be losing money…not only permit fees (around 51 millon)and rent (around 10 million), but when they bulldoze everything and leave us with a toxic mess it will cost the city millions. If I had kids there's no way they would play at a sport complex built in toxic earth.

    Bob, I feel really sorry for you and everyone else that believes Suncal is a good thing. I am a baby boomer with no kids and probably won't live to see Suncal do anything at the base. Scott, if you think houses, parks etc are going to be under construction in a few months you live in a dream world. The land is toxic..it is completely irresponsible to build houses on this land.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Eve: Unfortunate point of view. You ask how can an analysis by a party to one side be impartial? That is the whole point. This is SUNCAL’s Inititiave created from, for and by SUNCAL. Now when faced with very real articulate researched facts, SUNCAL claims it will work with, negotiate, and do all those things our City and School District staffs should have been able to do, before this Initiative was placed on the Ballot. Please remember that under the law, it is that an agreement to agree has absolutely no binding effect.

    The only item that needed to be on the ballot, was for an exception to Measure A. You conclude that development of the Point requires amendment of Measure A.
    I think it is the consensus of all persons who work, travel to jobs or employment off the island, that development (such as light industry) that create a reverse flow of traffic is all that our existing infrastructure – access off the island- can support. And we can never add infrastructure that expands this egress/ingress. So the equilibrium of traffic saturation will adversely impact any developer who blindly thinks that after building 6000 homes at the Point, it will be able to sell those homes. No one is going to drive on a regular basis the 25 minutes plus 10 minutes to get through the tubes that has to go to work. Each way.

    I was born in Alameda many decades ago. I served on the City Council and numerous other boards. I have watched many developers take every thing they can from our City under the rules as they exist – which is to be expected. I have watched them try and try to change Measure A. And fail. Over and over again. Because Measure A is a simple device for circumventing all the money, and time and resources that developers have avaiable in their quests to make millions off our city, while leaving the citizens with a degraded quality of life. Only the young and naive would really believe the stuff that developers spew forth in the quest for gold. I have never seen a developer act with such dishonesty, greed, and ill founded motives and practices as SUNCAL.

    I resent having to vote too. But don’t place the blame for that on our elected officials and staff. The 288 page Initiative was dumped on them after a single citizen agreed (for whatever reason??) to be the front person for SUNCAL. This does not have to be done today. Humans are a very arrogant species and your article displays that arrogance. Our time on earth is just a moment. Why should we screw up our City for the rest of civilation’s time just because SUNCAL wants to make milions by being a broker of the profits available at the cost of our City? SUNCAL should stand up and take the credit for writing a disturbing piece of legislation, that if passed will only guarantee years of litigation; which at the same time is the most divisive thing that has happened to Alameda in the 50 plus years I have lived here.

    Your article was not helpful.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    One of my dearest friend's mother was a resistance worker at Warsaw. Imprisoned at Auschwitz, and Birkenau. Be thankful you can vote after all they gave. And that people attempt to resolve their differences by voting. Resentful????? You should be ashamed.

  • Charles Howell says:

    Eve,
    Where do I start….

    Unlike many who state their opinions for, or against, measure B, I have only lived in Alameda for the last 3, almost 4 years, although My wife’s family goes back to when there was a Skippy Plant, a Penny’s, a drive in theater, one tube and NO Southshore. I have spent the majority of all Holidays, Anniversaries, Birthdays and such “commuting” to the Island from the City since the late 60’s and now live in that little Bungalow that was our destination for so long.

    We obviously “Hang” with a different group of run-of the-mill Alameda folks, possibly because we have no kids and little or no interest in sports facilities, soccer fields, skate board parks or even PTA meetings. These are the things that make us snoozy.

    I actually only know 2 people who are for B, one a realtor who mistakenly believes there will be many new properties to sell, and a Mom who thinks that there will be an over abundance of soccer fields for her kids while they are still young enough to play.

    We do care about schools, Libraries, and the development of the Point and as such we must be part of that dogmatic NIMBY contingent because we care about what happens to This Island and that may be the critical factor, it IS an Island, check your masthead, and what happens to the Point affects the whole Island in many ways.

    High on our list of dogmatic NOMCS (Not on My City Streets) objections is traffic, which has a direct correlation to measure A, more homes, more traffic, and back to the same old saw, we’re an Island and the only way on and off the point is through the tube or across the Island and over a bridge. There is the Ferry which is great and quick, if your going to San Francisco or Pac Bell at $7.50 a trip and a Muni fare if You don’t work downtown, but not very practical if your destination is Berkeley, Hayward, or Castro Valley.

    AC transit buses, another option. You can have all the dedicated lanes and right of way signals you can build on the Island but those vehicles still have to go through the tube or over a bridge and come back the same way. Want to sit on Webster and wait through several quick light changes while Buses with the right of way head to the tube, if AC actually has the busses and the routes. The folks in Oakland’s’ China Town have expressed some concern about more traffic.

    One of the first public meetings I attended was on the Hornet and at that time Mr Calthorpe showed us his vision of Jetson type monorail personal Pod transporters that would be waiting at our door to zip us around Island but not off the Island.

    As My Mother in Law, and Mr Predictable, Doug de Haan who worked at the Base, say….. back in the day when the base was in operation you didn’t even think about going near the tube during the commute hours, it’s even very congested now if there is any kind of problem, imagine several thousand more vehicles and add an accident, or rain or even consider no tube, it’s old and needs work by Caltrans. My wife, riding the 51 or O to work, has on many occasions been detoured back across the Island and over a bridge because of a problem in, or with the tube. Double whammy… not only is she late, but all the other vehicles head back across the Island.

    As a concerned, dogmatic, NIMBY, member of this Islands’ electorate I too resent having to vote on this so called “peoples initiative” , which it is not… it is a 280+ page document written by SunCal & DE Shaw’s slick, high paid Lawyers, made very complicated with
    many “hidden agendas” so as to confuse us common folk and placed on the ballot by an East Coast professional signature gathering organization who were paid by the signature, lied about the initiative, and even physically attacked a member of the local press who was trying to document their operation. There were several thousand common folk who, when they actually learned what the initiative was really about opted to have their signatures removed by writing to City Hall. Wonder if the signature gathers had to pay back SunCal for ones removed?

    Haven’t even touch on… Toxic Remediation, Adaptive Reuse, Historical Preservation, Global Warming, Ecological Preservation SunCal’s history and record, and the $380,000+ this unnecessary special election is costing us, to mention a few other items.

    Next Week ?

    Time is an important factor in what happens to the Point but not so important as to rush into bad agreement that can only be amended by “The Developer” if they so choose !!

    My NO on B absentee ballot will go in the mail today.

  • bob says:

    the city DOES lose 2 million dollars. we spend 14. we take in 12. 12-14=2.

  • Betty says:

    Bob, you are incorrect.

  • Ben McGrath says:

    overall, since the base closed, there has been more money coming in in lease revenue from the tenants than has been spent. something like $100 million – $80 million = $20 million in income. the $2 million last year came from reserves that accumulated. taxpayers aren't being made to pay for expenses at alameda point, its being paid for by tenants. i hear the forecast from city hall is for over $130 million in lease revenue over the next 8 to 10 years.

  • Michele K says:

    Eve-I sincerely appreciate the points you make in this article. You can be a concerned, involved citizen who cares about the future of our city and still resent being asked to vote on whether this is a bad deal for the city. Personally I am thrilled with the strides we've made to improve and develop Alameda during the Bev Johnson years. I am grateful that enough people had the foresight to finally vote for construction of our beautiful new library and support a movie theater project which has revitalized the downtown area. Webster St. and South Shore (Okay…Towne Centre) are looking really good as well.

    I listened to my neighbors and read the letters to the editor ranting and raving about how these same projects would ruin Alameda as we know it. As far as I and a lot of other people walking around spending their money in Alameda seem to be concerned, they didn't.

    I am conflicted on how to vote on Measure B. It's difficult not to be when you are bombarded with so many "facts" from both sides which are contradictory . At this point, I've come to the conclusion that a lot of people are just making stuff up to suit their purposes. I also recognize the voices among the No on B crowd of that same group which, if they were really being honest, would call themselves Alamedans Afraid of Change.

    Reality: I have to vote on whether or not this is a good plan for Alameda. I also believe that, though this is not a perfect deal, it goes in the right direction on cleaning up and developing the land as an urban community. How many years has it taken us to get to this point? If we say no to the developers who are willing to make it happen, we are back to square one and it will be even harder and more expensive to find someone to come in and wage another of Alameda's version of a holy war.

    Can't wait to read your next piece of common sense.

  • RM says:

    The superintendent of schools, Kirsten Vital wrote this in her letter to Alameda Families:

    "As written, the initiative does not guarantee that any schools will be built as part of the development."

    Why would anyone in Alameda agree to this?

    The people who wrote the 283 pages certainly knew that future residents out there would need schools.

    AND they do not guarantee them in the initiative.

    The only way to possibly maintain or improve what we have in Alameda is to say NO on B.

  • DLM says:

    If nothing else, could we put a lid on the whole "those people" argument? For one thing, it doesn't make any sense — if "those people" were opposed to blowing up city hall, would that make it a good idea?

    For another, there are plenty of opponents to Measure B — those who signed the ballot arguments against it — who aren't remotely opposed to development, such as the Chamber of Commerce, a group which haa the expertise and resources to analyze the business terms of Measure B, did so at length, and came out strongly against it. Or the City Treasurer and the City Auditor, who certainly have the expertise in municipal finances to recognize the risks inherent in Measure B, and also came out against it, as well as the Mayor, who is not well known for objecting to development.

    With this as with many complicated initiatives on the ballot, it makes sense to look at the ballot arguments for and against, and consider the likely bias and expertise of those on either side.

    Measure B is generally comparable to a 10-page document with 250 pages of fine print attached. The question is whether it makes sense to sign that document without having any real idea of what's in the fine print. Consider what minimal information anyone might want to know with certainty upfront, such as the environemental impacts; the real extent of the development; and the real cost to the city — none of this is known with any certainty under Measure B.

  • DLM says:

    Eve: If this discussion needs anything, it's commentary that is free of any stereotypes, on either side of the issue.

  • DLM says:

    Somehow, this sound oddly familiar…

    ACT NOW!!

    THIS A ONE-TIME OFFER!!

    DON'T MISS OUT ON THIS GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY!!

    SUPPLIES ARE LIMITED!!

    If this were the sales pitch for a Veg-Matic no one would take it seriously, but if it's for a billion dollar development, then of course, it's all we need to hear. I guess we're all bumpkins (in the eyes of some people…)

  • Richard Bangert says:

    The same old people? The Vote No on B campaign held a fundraiser at the former Crosstown Café in Alameda. The Yes on B campaign held a “fundraiser” on Wall Street.

    Many of the “same old people” who were in favor of the theater and the library are not in favor of Measure B. Now I’m confused. I don’t know which old people to follow.

    “Alameda Point is costing us dearly.” It is costing us dearly in lost time because $400 million in environmental cleanup by the Navy requires an exhaustive approval process. Routine city public services have not undergone budget cuts due to the balance sheet for Alameda Point leasing and maintenance, nor because of environmental cleanup costs.

    And Councilmember Lena Tam should know better than to write a “Dear Fellow Alamedans” letter in SunCal’s mailer that says “Alameda taxpayers will continue to pay for the cleanup….” The Navy has paid for all cleanup work at Alameda Point through a program administered through the Base Realignment and Closure – Program Management Office http://www.bracpmo.navy.mil/basepage.aspx?baseid=42 . Sorry, but the City of Alameda has not been “chipping in” on the environmental cleanup. The only thing we “chip in” is comments on technical aspects of the cleanup.

    So far, Alameda Point has cost the Navy dearly. We are at roughly breakeven.

    “If Measure B fails, it could be another fifteen years before anything starts happening.” It took the city exactly 30 days to issue another Request for Qualifications after Alameda Point Community Partners quit in 2006. If you plan on voting Yes on B because you think the people in city hall are bumpkins, then we have a much bigger problem on our hands than a flawed initiative.

    “Doing nothing is not an option.” Failure of Measure B does not represent the “End Times” for Alameda Point. Congress is about to change the fair market value rule for selling decommissioned military bases. This will be the beginning of NEW options. Why would anyone want to preclude the discussion of better options by locking in a flawed 25-year agreement with SunCal on Feb. 2? Other communities have been at it longer than we have trying to agree on a viable reuse business plan for their closed military base.

    “SunCal wrote the initiative because city council was weak, therefore we should be appreciative of SunCal taking the initiative (as it were).” SunCal took advantage of the situation. Lesson learned.

    “The initiative is the result of countless hours of community meetings.” No community meetings, much less city staff meetings, were held to discuss the inclusion of a development agreement in the initiative.

  • Scott says:

    The base has been closed for 13 years. So we are not rushing into anything. This project should have been started 10 years ago. So we are way behind schedule. If the city was making a ton of money off the rents of the bladium and other companies in the hangers there would be no need to do anything to the point. The city is losing millions of dollars every year and we the people of alameda are missing out on the beautiful views, parks, trails, restaurants, sports facilities, retail, new ferry terminal, new companies, new way of life. I can not wait for the cleanup and construction to start.

  • DLM says:

    The city is NOT (N-O-T) "losing" millions of dollars every year on Alameda Point. If you believe that it is, then please post something to back up your opinion.

    In reality, the city has a ending balance every year from the ARRA lease revenues, which might be called a "profit". In practical terms, that "profit" is a reserve fund towards future repairs, and when the lease revenue falls short of the expenditures, the city dips into that reserve fund to make up the difference. That's all.

    I have a statement from Leslie Little indicating that Alameda Point does NOT any money from the General Fund, not for police or fire or repairs or anything else. The ARRA lease revenue pays for everything.

    You know, if Measure B were really such a good idea, then people wouldn't have to stretch the truth so much to defend i — which is why you should —

    Vote NO on Measure B.

  • Betty says:

    Scott, The base has been closed for 13 years and the Navy is still cleaning. Let me put it as simply as I can you cannot build housing on ground that is toxic that will make people sick. Unless you want to put down the orange plastic cover it with top soil and tell your kids not to dig deeper then the plastic. There are still underground toxic plumes that have to be taken care of. I suggest you attend a monthly RAD meeting, so you can be better informed.

    Also, you must be retired. Lucky you not having to commute through the tube which is bad enough now.

    Hopefully the people of Alameda realize what a mistake B would be and will vote No. And if it does pass your quick contruction isn't going to happen because the city of Oakland already has the lawsuits ready to go.

  • Scott says:

    If the city of Alameda is making more than enough money off the tenants currently on the point why would they want to hire a company like Suncal to develop the point? Why wouldn't they just want to keep making money and not worry about anything else. It seems a lot easier to just keep collecting money? The answear is they are not making enough money off the tenants.

    As for Betty I commute every morning monday though Friday to San Francisco. Sometimes I take the ferry, sometimes I take the bus, and sometimes I go by carpool. Either way I go it usually takes about 20-25 minutes. No one in the bay area has an easier commute to downtown san francisco than the people of alameda. I leave my house around 7:45am right in the heart of the rush hour traffic. Please stop with your threats of the tube having 30 minute delays. The majority of the people that will be living on the point will be taking the ferry from its new location which will be minutes from their homes. It has been too long this is the year that progress is finally made on the point please prepare to embrace the beautiful changes that will be occuring on the point.

  • Keith Nealy says:

    Well, I rather hesitate to add my voice after all these comments, but I would just like to thank Eve for her column. I think it's very reasonable and I wish people would leave out personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric which only persuades me not to support them.

    I'm inclined to vote against B because it looks to me to be an end-run around the normal process whereby our city government safeguards our city plans and financial well-being. I'm also uncomfortable voting for a plan with no environmental report and no solution to traffic or schools. I VERY MUCH want the Point developed and am disappointed that it has taken so long. At some point, regardless of who develops the Point, we're going to have to provide better vehicle access on and off the West End.

  • Richard Bangert says:

    Groucho Marx says Yes on Measure B.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCluyRJnldo&feature=related

    The Cocoanuts Part 7

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