Letters for the Week of December 12, 2012

Readers sound off on Blue Bottle Coffee and Andy's Bank Club Cafe.

The Next Peet’s?” News, 12/5

The Coffee and the Kool-Aid

Any founder who relinquishes control of his company to people with a known malign track record and expects things to go any differently with his company is drinking Kool-Aid, not organic coffee. Examples abound.

Mary Eisenhart, Oakland

Like Cheers,” Last Call, 12/5

A Couple of Quibbles

As a frequent non-African-American patron of Andy’s Bank Club Cafe, I have a couple of quibbles about this review.
For instance, it doesn’t mention the photos of R&B legend Johnny Otis (Greek by origin, African-American by culture) on the wall, although they take pride of place with Andy the owner. The review mentions the Greek flag hanging outside, but gives no hint that the reason is the Greek origin of Andy. The author refers to the club as one of the “few remaining authentic black bars” in the East Bay. Well, while it’s true that every time I’ve been there, half or more of the patrons have been black, the jukebox features an eclectic mix including country music, which somewhat belies the purity of the “authenticity.” I have been to “authentic black bars” in various parts of the US over the past fifty years, and country music is not on the jukebox, perhaps with the exception of when Ray Charles sang some country songs years ago. In other words, the music at the Bank Club is designed to appeal to the spectrum of patrons who frequent this gem of a bar.

Al Sargis, Oakland

Going After Graffiti,” News, 11/29

The Abatement-Industrial Complex

The Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP) has addressed all of the issues [brought up in the story] on our blog (CRPBayArea.org) as part of a series of articles on abatement, gang injunctions, and “street art.” But the immediate point that needs to be made is the inherent flaws in current graffiti abatement practices. The abatement industry has grown massive in the past thirty years despite its complete inability to have a lasting impact. Even San Jose, which was the model for broken windows-based abatement until 2007, recently overspent its abatement budget by more than $100,000 (for a total of $800,000 to a private abatement company), just five years after it had supposedly eliminated “graffiti” from its streets.

The point is simple. The abatement industry survives by offering a band-aid approach to vandalism. It literally covers up the problem but does nothing to stop it from coming back. And when vandalism returns, the industry gets paid more money to repeat the process, over and over. At least if these cities would invest a portion of their abatement funds into public murals, they would have something to show for it. But how much improvement, aka beautification, really happens when all you do is return things to the way they were?

CRP has been vigilant in researching the impacts of abatement versus murals, but there is one factor that no city seems to be measuring. Despite the billions of dollars invested in abatement over the years, there has not been a single study on abatement’s impact on the recidivism of vandalism. We searched the US for a meaningful methodology to compare the impact of our murals versus that of the buff and nothing was out there. There are numerous anecdotes but no statistics to back them up. How long does a property have to remain unvandalized for abatement to be considered a success? If abatement has to repeated weekly or even monthly, can it really be considered effective? Wouldn’t the budget for a city abatement program go down year after year if the program was working? If so, how come the cost of clean-up keeps going up? And what is the public getting for this multimillion-dollar investment but a bunch of patchy blank walls?

LA is still barely legalizing murals after a ten-year moratorium. Meanwhile, the commercial billboard industry has thrived. That would mean that LA officials are probably the last people who should be viewed as experts on beautification. LA is leading the way in criminalizing aerosol writers, labeling them as terrorists and issuing the first-ever gang injunction against a group of street artists. The language in Councilwoman Nancy Nadel’s proposed ordinance paves the way for similar injunctions in Oakland, despite the epic failure of the gang injunctions in Fruitvale and North Oakland. LA is also pouring $30 million a year into abatement. Of course, Paul Racs wants to cite the numbers for how much he’s cleaning up. It’s paying his salary. And with strategies like this, he’s gonna be flush for a long time.

Desi W.O.M.E., CRP Staff Artist


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