Thursday, March 24, 2011

Because of the monsoon

My visit to the east coast last week was welcomed by a surge of temperate weather in the region, and even warm sunshine on several days. When I arrived in Manhattan that Friday afternoon, I was actually sweating through my t-shirt as I dragged my [excessive] luggage from Penn station to Grand Central. I had the particular feeling that there were small mammals frolicking in a warm green field somewhere nearby, and indeed there were! Yappy purse dogs and grey squirrels chased each other through Central Park as I explored the glorious open-space.

This morning I walked 300 feet from a bus stop to the front door of my building, and my shoes were gushing water everywhere across the landing.

There's this funny thing that I have realized about government agencies and internal practical problem solving; it is an estranged relationship. Just as I walked into my office and greeted Elisa, every single power outlet on my side of the office despairingly resigned. Maybe it is just their way of striking in response to low maintenance, to wait until the official start of hours and then bail.
"Wait for it... wait for it!.... HE'S ALMOST HERE!....(off)!!"
I dunno. Point is, the computers don't work. And it's really just the computers, the lights and microwave and phones are golden. (if you did not know, land lines have an independent power supply through the phone wires. Cool stuff.) Unfortunately, all of our directories are on the Cloud. So phones are useless. I'm also writing this from my cell phone, cuz it's my only access to the www.

"Why Luke, why don't you just use your one coworker's computer that still works? She had the foresight to take a vacation day, she doesn't need it!" Good call, Common Citizen. How sensible of you! Unfortunately, thats not how we role.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why good evening, Madam! "9 Fellows Walk into a Bar... (Pt. 4)"

Ryan and Elaine love Corgis. Of course corgis are basically chubby foxes with tiny little legs and a forever-happy demeanor, so it’s easy to understand. But I mean they LOVE corgis, as in they send videos to us of baby corgis slipping on hardwood floors, and with their political slant they obviously share a particular fondness of the Governor’s own corgi named Sutter – who has an inexplicable cult following in San Francisco and a regular column in the Chronicle. Odd perhaps, but we really enjoy our up-to-date news on anything.

And so the story continues. On our late night stroll back to the hostel from Spin – which is a burger joint bar with street bikes wired to a computer and projector for the purpose of digital wind-sprint races – several of the Fellows and I suddenly stumbled upon an enormous, fanciful building (like a splice of museum, synagogue and 1780 colonial brick architecture) that we slowed down to inspect out of curiosity. It was incredible, but unexpectedly large buildings often seem incredible after 3 open-bar receptions and a night out with politicos.
As Chance would have it, a woman in a fine coat was taking a corgi out for a late-night walk along this building at the same time, and Ryan and Elaine noticed. “Oh my god a corgiiiiiiiieeeeeeiiieeiee!!” they screamed as we all pounced on the dog. The flurry of shouting and baby talk was actually met with a happy invitation to play with the excited dog. Of course we did, and the pup just ate it up.

“Oh look at you, you’re so cute! And such a little attention whore, aren’t you!” Ryan exclaimed at the corgi rolled around on its back, pretentiously.

“Oh, he is such an attention whore!” the woman laughed. “He does this all the time.”
Meg eventually looked to Elaine, smirking. “Wouldn’t it just be great if this were Sutter?” she said not-quite-quietly and everyone laughed. This was Elaine’s dream, of course. “He is so adorable. So what’s his name?” She asked.


“Wait…… like the governor’s dog Sutter?”

“Well, he IS the governor’s dog Sutter.”
"... ... ... OMG YOU’RE SUTTER!!!!!” Everyone went crazy, and I’m absolutely certain we looked nothing less than crazy to this poor woman standing next to us. It took a few moments for someone to ask the obvious question. “So why are you out this late walking the dog? Like, how do you know Jerry Brown?”

“Oh, I’m his wife.”

We stared at her. And then suddenly, a photo clipping of her face from an article I once read popped into my mind. Yep, it was her.

This was very exciting and all, but when you recognize the First Dog before the First Lady, and the First Lady is also effectively the Governor’s Chief of Staff, and it’s very late at night and you’re trying to get home, there’s not a lot you can do to recover a sense of professionalism. But fortunately, she thought our resulting shock and fumbling of gracious words were hilarious.

"So lemme guess, you're out here this late to avoid the paparazzi that love your dog?" Dani laughed.

"Well, yes. That was the idea."

"And then you ran in to us? Lucky you!"

"Oh, so it would seem...".

The Realignment, or "9 Fellows Walk Into a Bar... (Pt. 3)"

“Yes, you’re right to think this is a bunch of bullshit.”
Such was the political sentiment in Sacramento, a town that only exists because of indecisive planners, cheap land and shady 19th century business deals.

The rest of our afternoon was filled by meetings with various bureaucrats and politicos including Assemblymembers Ma and Ammiano, Senator Leno and Senator Leland Yee’s Chief of Staff. As is often the case, our time with the staff was the most educational, as they were more familiar with the technical challenges of legislation and the Sacramento political process. Nonetheless, all of the reps were engaging and outspoken about otherwise sensitive political issues. Fiona Ma shared her perspectives on transitioning from San Francisco politics to Sacramento, which mostly boiled down to “omg there are real Republicans here” and that old adversaries from the City are now political allies. It turns out that outside of San Francisco our representatives don’t actually differ that much on wider issues, and indeed agree on 95% of all matters addressed by the state. Relativity. Huge surprise.

Perhaps the most interesting bunch that we met with on our trip to the capitol was a budget consultant group called Lynn Suter & Associates. Their relatively few staff members are experts on a plethora of state issues with no particular partisan alliances and no interest in running for office, and they're mostly from San Francisco. They are California’s technocrats.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

League of Cities! or "9 Fellows... (Pt. 2)"

The bus was delayed. BART rail to Walnut Creek was delayed. The ride from Walnut to Creek to Sacramento SHOULD have been delayed, but somehow Marielle, Eliot, Whitney and I made it through any traffic and across the Central Valley in an hour 0_O thanks Rocco!

All of the fellows were booked for one room in a huge 1880’s Victorian home-turned-to-hostel just a few blocks from the Capital building. Way back in the day it was owned by a wealthy family making bank on the industries sprouting up around the Gold Rush, but it was later purchased by a hostel company and moved a few blocks down the road (yeah, that’s right. The whole thing.), perhaps because buying another building and simply keeping it on its foundation would have cost too much. Our check-in lasted about 5 minutes – hardly enough time for a superfast suit-up – and then we were off to the California League of Cities.

The League stands up to state government tyranny!
Defends the Integrity of Redevelopment Agencies!

Protects the way of the public sector lobbying institutions!
And fights for the good of all Cities! (except for Vernon. They actually want to dis-incorporate Vernon.) *(1)
The League today is essentially a government PAC. Ideally it consolidates the interests of over 480 member cities in California, and affects issues that impact those members through the state's legislative process and rule-making bodies. LoCAC also offers consultation and expertise to these institutions on matters affecting local government, as well as to each other. In reality Los Angeles, San Francisco and - oh, let's say El Cerrito - differ on a lot of issues. The 10 largest cities are permanent members of the Board, but each municipality gets one vote in their general Assembly. This makes for some good arguments about state priorities.

Our speaker laid out 3 critical areas of an effective organization in their field:

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Heretic, or "9 Fellows Walk Into a Bar... (Pt.1)"

The air was crisp, and dark, and it bit at my fingers.

My fingers, as it happens, were decisively wrapped about the handle of a wheelie-bag filled with expensive clothing, while the rest of me just waited for a bus. My mind was sloshing around some part of my brain trying to avoid the idea of “morning”. It was succeeding splendidly, as there was certainly no sunlight to argue otherwise. And everything was damp.

And so, I sat at my favorite bus stop on a Tuesday morning with a valuable suitcase, slowly collecting dew, staring at a spot of coffee I had spilled on the bag and trying to avoid eye contact with the homeless man next to me as the digital display informing passengers how soon the bus would arrive counted upwards. I was concerned because the bag wasn’t really mine, per se, and because the generic, scruffy San Franciscan homeless man seemed more interested in the bag than anything else.

The bus eventually came 15 minutes late. I stepped through the doorway and thought of my poor little breakfast sandwich sitting on a plate in my apartment, all alone with no one to eat it, forgotten and abandoned by its creator. I frowned.

I swiped my MUNI card and trundled toward the back of the bus, and only then did I realize – despite the fact I had sneaked in just 3 hours of sleep before my alarm went off (thus denoting, obviously, that it was very, very early) – that this bus was inexplicably packed to the brim with strangers.

This seemed nothing short of an insurmountable challenge as my eyes still squinted from the brightness of the lights. I turned back in the off-chance that a new seat had just appeared in the doorway behind me by some impossible magical means, but my eyes fell only upon the scruffy man, who had mysteriously produced an enormous orange in his hands. His eyes met mine and he gestured toward me with a piece of the orange, palm up, as though an offering. I waived my own hand passively and shook my head at the fruit. Scruffy was suddenly very upset, his eyes widening and disbelief filling his gaze. He had not been offering me the orange at all, I would shortly learn, but was gesturing for me to move forward; and yet I can only reason that my denial of this treat that he was not even offering to begin with was so audacious to this man that it was an affront to his very being. He exited the bus two stops later, shouting and cursing and glaring at me the whole while with shifty, focused eyes fit for a confrontation with heresy.

Thus began my journey to Sacramento. . . .