Comedy siblings the Wayans brothers have traveled to Oakland a couple of times over the past few months to meet with city officials and scope out sites for a Universal Studios-style development, but with a more urban flava. The brothers, led by In Living Color mastermind Keenen Ivory Wayans, are eyeing seventy-some acres at the defunct Oakland Army Base.
“Their plan would certainly put Oakland on the map,” says Councilman Larry Reid, who has been working with the brothers and their business rep. Reid says that the brothers envision a theme park and a movie studio where they and other filmmakers could shoot future flicks. Reid also noted that the brothers haven’t asked the city for anything like a subsidy or free land.
The Wayans brothers have shopped around the idea to other cities with large African-American populations, such as Atlanta. Even though groundbreaking in any city is probably years away — certainly before White Chicks 2 goes into production — Reid says Oakland needs to put this on a fast track so other cities don’t lure the brothers away. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he says. “If we lose this opportunity it’s going to be some other city’s gain.”
Over the past six years, various development ideas have been floated for the army base but have gone nowhere, such as an eco-friendly industrial park and an Indian casino. Reid and others are hopeful that the Wayans brothers’ idea doesn’t suffer the same fate as those earlier proposals. But there are obstacles to getting a deal done in Oakland.
The Wayans’ reps want Oakland to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with them — but City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente points out that Opus West of Arizona has “first right of refusal” over any development proposals at the army base. That basically means the builder can put together its own offer to counter anything the brothers propose.
Kay Carney, a spokeswoman for the Wayans family, says the brothers have been impressed during their visits to Oakland. “They liked the cultural diversity,” she says. “They liked the fact the fact this is a city that could really benefit from this.” She says they want to bring the film industry to Oakland, a kind of Hollywood North where urban youth could join apprenticeship programs: “They’ve really developed an affection for the city.”
Reid and De La Fuente said the Wayans theme studio will be aimed toward people of color, but Carney insisted that the development wouldn’t just be a black thang. Because the proposal is in its embryonic stage, she didn’t know what kind of attractions the family have planned. Feeder, however, has a couple of suggestions: Patrons could play Where’s Chappelle? instead of Where’s Waldo? Look, Chappelle’s in the nuthouse. Wait, no, he’s in rehab. No, no — he’s in South Africa! Okay, bad idea. Next item, please.
The Moonlighting Man
Oakland City Council generalissimo Ignacio De La Fuente is one busy dude — he has his council gig, he’s running for mayor, and he’s international vice president for the Glass, Molders, Pottery, and Blah Blah Blah Workers International Union, AFL-CIO.
But apparently Nacho is not too busy to be entertaining a lucrative post to a state board. De La Fuente confirms that his name is being tossed around as a possible appointee for two well-paying state boards, the Workers Compensation Appeals Board and the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Both posts pay board members $114,000 a year. The latter seems to be De La Fuente’s best shot. For one thing, the Republican governor makes all the appointments to the workers’ comp board. Meanwhile, a seat is about to open up on the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Spokesman Ralph Hilton says board member Don Novey, the former prison guards’ union president, is quitting at the end of this month. And guess who gets to appoint his replacement? The state Senate Rules Committee, chaired by De La Fuente’s friend and mentor, Don Perata.
The unemployment insurance board, which meets once a month, is a poster child for political cronyism, a place where former lawmakers (like ex-Assemblygal Virginia Strom-Martin) and campaign donors (Novey via his old union) can enjoy short hours and a fat paycheck. Nacho doesn’t exactly fit the profile, which begs the question as to why he’s in line for it. One theory is that as the 2006 election draws closer he’ll have to quit his union job to focus more on his mayoral campaign. With a juicy state appointment, he could still maintain his standard of living if he quit his union gig.
De La Fuente, however, says he has no plans to quit his union job. Asked how he could handle a state job on top of all his other obligations, he candidly explained, “My understanding is that these are not very demanding positions.”
Attacking KPFA’s Sacred Cows
After Feeder’s deadline last week, more details emerged about the sudden departure of Solange Echeverria from KPFA after her confrontation with former colleague Dennis Bernstein. In a letter Echeverria sent to members of KPFA’s Local Station Board, she paints Bernstein as an unaccountable megalomaniac. The final straw came when she confronted Bernstein about his mean behavior: “I was met with the vilest of screams, curses, and out-of-control behavior.” She claimed she found no immediate sympathy from management, telling the board that general manager Roy Campanella initially refused to punish Bernstein because the radio host raises too much money for the station. Campanella even purportedly told her to look for another job. “The bottom line is that I should not have lost my job, Dennis should have,” she wrote the board.
Bernstein hosts the popular afternoon public-affairs show Flashpoints. He has a reputation as a top-notch fund-raiser — an important attribute for a listener-supported station — and also as a temperamental prima donna, if you believe his critics. He has previously refused to comment on his spat with Echeverria. But he has plenty of defenders out there in listener-land, such as lefty agitator Jeffrey Blankfort. In a posting on IndyBay.org, Blankfort argued that the latest allegation against Bernstein were being exploited by his rivals “to continue an ugly, long-term vendetta against one the few journalists still practicing the craft at the station.”
A listener usually simpatico with Bernstein but concerned by the complaints about him by former co-workers sounded unsurprised by Blankfort’s defense of Bernstein. “Those of us on the left are reluctant to criticize Dennis,” the listener said.