Critical Mass

So, the Advocate had a whiny op-ed last week about how if citizens would only read the paper, they would have known about the excrescence of pastiche which was descending upon downtown. I would love to link you to it, but unfortunately it was only published in the hard copy edition, not the online version. For those of us citizens who prefer to read the online edition…there are a lot of things that we tend to miss, since the paper obstinately refuses to publish such news online. At any rate, Advocate, I do in fact read the paper, I was aware of the plans for downtown, and I did write to protest them, to no avail.

It’s kind of a pity, really, that the efforts of the downtown improvement committee have become a running joke among the residents, when we aren’t seething with anger. Every single time I walk down Franklin Street, a complete stranger makes a scathing comment about the situation, and we both chuckle for a moment. I do agree that downtown needed to be spruced up a bit, but the way in which it has been done is truly awful. Several downtown business are on the brink on bankruptcy, the citizens are furious, and the tourists (bread and butter, unfortunately, for so many) are afraid to walk down the street. The fact that most of the sidewalk is finally in has not fixed the matter at all.

Personally, my problems lie more with aesthetics than the downtown improvement itself. The “improvements” are meant to echo an era of bygone Fort Bragg, which I happen to think is disgusting, and foul. Fort Bragg does not need to be turned into a quaint echo of its former self, and…what has been done is just ugly, and not at all historically respectful. The fake wood at the street corners is laughable, the fake cast iron lamp posts are expensive and ugly (and the ones that are up now are temporary, wait until you see the real ones!), and the streets, which of a historically accurate narrowness, are impassable. Yes, it is important to recognize the City’s past, but we do not need to live in it. I for one am stoked that female residents have the vote, for example, which was not the case for much of the time when Fort Bragg had wooden sidewalks. (Ladies beware, perhaps this is next stage in the “turn the clock back” campaign!)

So, rather than complaining endlessly, I thought I would point out the most serious problems. It’s a bit too late to fix them, but it’s nice to point to something concrete to complain about. Fellow citizens, I welcome your comments.

1. The streets. While widening the sidewalks made them more accessible and pleasant to walk on (well, the bits that are actually sidewalk, not dirt), it made the streets really, really narrow. Since people expect to be able to park on Franklin (and continue to do so), traffic is passing dangerously close to parked cars and vehicles in the other lane. The other day I saw two monstrously ugly SUVs and I was afraid that I was going to witness an accident. The continued blockage of some corners with netting, forcing pedestrians into the street, is also dangerous: I was almost hit the other day by a mindless bimbo in a fancy Lexus. I don’t know how they are going to address this problem…and I fear that they are going to remove parking on one side of Franklin to make room for the cars. Or, God forbid, make it one way. Both terrible ideas.

2. The hideous, ugly as a celeriac bulb sidewalks with their monstrous fake wood. They should be pointing out into Franklin Street so that pedestrians can see around the giant cars parked next to them to determine whether or not they can safely cross the street. Once again, I was almost hit by a car which I didn’t see coming, and to their credit, they couldn’t see me because I was hidden behind…a giant SUV. The moment was heartstopping for both of us. Having the bulbs point into the cross streets is just insane, and really does not make sense from a safety standpoint, which was the reason they were allegedly installed.

3. The fake wood. It’s really, really ugly. And I really feel like it should be torn up. Especially at the corners, where there’s red anti-slip knobbly stuff, regular concrete, and fake wood…it looks like shit. It really does. It does not look olde timey, or even mildly bearable, like the fake brick along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It…just…looks…bad. And several of my anonymous informants on the Planning Commission agree with me. (They also claim that they were not involved in the selection of the fake wood.) I understand that real wood could not be used, and that’s fine. But the fake wood…needs to go. Please.

Hey guys, the intent was good. I think that even the bitchers and moaners can agree. Right now, though, I think that downtown looks worse than it did before. We don’t have enough money to look like Healdsburg, and I wouldn’t want to, personally. Why couldn’t we have spent less to design something simple, graceful, and modern, that would age well with the City, and used some of those funds to repair decrepit alleys and to continue offering grants to homeowners and businesses who want to invest in making their buildings look better? These community development grants are awesome, and a great way to reward people for taking care of their community. This…hideous construction downtown is going to be an object of shame and derision until it gets fixed.

While we’re at it, it certainly would be nice to address other pressing issues, such as rising crime and, yes, Advocate, police unresponsiveness. Responding to every call, dear Editor, is not the same thing as doing something about crime, and I know a number of Fort Bragg residents, including myself, who can give some examples of police bungling. This is something which will require the entire community if we want to do something, but it would be nice to know that the cops had our backs.

In a sense, the Advocate is right. People do need to be more active in the community if they don’t want to see bad things happen, and we need to be active as a group. As a group, collective residents can form a critical mass to oppose the harebrained decisions of a few. Clearly my words as a single citizen had no impact on the development of downtown…but if we band together, maybe we can prevent things like this from happening in the future. Better yet, perhaps we can try to salvage downtown before it gets any worse.

As part of this, I would really love it if my local readers would tip me off to important stuff that is going on, so that I can pass the word on. At some point, perhaps we can organize a reader meetup to see what we can do. One of the reasons I moved back is because Fort Bragg is my home, and I value it too much to be lazy about making it a better place. How about you?

Tips can be emailed to meloukhia at gmail dot com, as always.

[Fort Bragg]