Thursday, March 10, 2011

Editorial: Getting Point Richmond on the job creation team

by Jean Womack

Some times it's difficult to marshall my thoughts on a topic about which I have strong feelings. It seems as though I have strong feelings about more and more topics, the older I get, which is not what I expected to happen in my old age.

This happens every July in Berkeley
These are the largest kites in the world.

I started out in life with parents who were distrustful of big business. They also had their minds filled with stereotypes of Jewish businessmen, Nazis and other people, but not the people I found on the west coast like Mexicans, Chinese, and Japanese. So I was spared the burden of that west coast kind of stereotype, and was able to find out for myself what to think of people who came from different cultural backgrounds than myself out here in California. However, the other people also included Californians, who sometimes function as a separate nation from the rest of the United States. There aren't as many fruit and nuts here as there used to be. I guess I fell into the category of newly arrived nut case back in 1965, for taking a toke from a pot pipe in Charlotte, NC, and letting my dad find out about it. So he threw me out of the house as far as he could throw me, and I landed in California. And I was never forgiven for it and it was never mentioned again in the few times I spoke to him after that. What a non-family that was.

Currently the Neighborhood Council is dominated by some of the history association people who are anti-growth and don't want chain stores--what they call formula businesses--coming into Point Richmond. I don't blame them for their opinion, but we have to understand that it's more important for people to have jobs and be able to support themselves than just to keep everything the way it is and nothing ever changes.

The history of the local area is intensely important to native Californians--people who were born here. The Sons of the Golden West club were the people who put the historic plaque in the Baltic Bar in the 1960's, commemorating its existence as a speakeasy, a brothel and a police station/and/or jail, thus beginning the history movement in Point Richmond. History had already been rewritten during World War II, including fake photographs passed off as real. In the 1960s one would think one had stepped into the set of Wild, Wild West television show, complete with wooden sidewalks, and people being thrown out of local bars for being rowdy. Getting 86'd for rowdiness hasn't changed at all. But there are no pool tables in Point Richmond bars at the present time that I am aware of.

While local people give a lot of lip service to local history, I have seen many little buildings on the Triangle completely changed by architects who wanted to keep their right to change the facades of the buildings, who did it right before the historical area designation came in. When they start talking history, I think oh yeah, I know how you feel about it. So there are only a few buildings where the owners cared about restoring the building to historic standards. The architects went, here's what we think about history: rip it out. Note that I write architects in the plural: it wasn't just one architect who did it.

I arrive in the Point in 1965. At that time there were many stores that were built in the 1920's and 1930's, I think. Almost all of them had a recessed entrance. On either side of the front door were windows for display of the goods for sale. The customer was walking on a tiled entry that led to the front door. The patterns of the tiles was unpretentious, perhaps a checkerboard pattern. The buildings that have been changed no longer have that tiled entrance with large windows on either side. Some even had bomb shelters underground, which they called wine cellars. And speaking of architects, I hope Jay Betts is back amongst us soon. He has stood his ground speaking in front of the neighborhood group, defending other people's building projects for years. He finally built his own building on West Richmond Avenue next to the catering service, but it has been vacant on the ground floor since it was built. Arts of Point Richmond had their one day holiday show there last year, thanks to Betts' trusting nature and generosity. I hope he gets a good tenant soon.

And then there are the people who say I'm not going to be here in 50 years so why would I care if some buried oil drums start leaking into the bay in 50 years? So when I write a letter to the city and say the Navy people might have destroyed that ground on their way out of town, that you want to give to the Indian gamblers, saying it was something good, when it was really something terrible, you might think oh, all those things happened long ago, that doesn't mean anything to us now. Nobody would be that mean. But you would be very wrong about that. We're talking about culture, which is deeper and stronger than almost anything you can imagine.

Culture means what kind of job you can get that your family will approve of. It means who you get married to and who isn't suitable for getting married to, so you can be in love with the person but you can't get married to him or her if you want to stay in the family. Romeo and Juliet. Did you think they teach that to every high school English class just to hear themselves talk? You'd be going along happy as a little clam and fall in love with the wrong person and you will hear words come out of your parents' mouth that you did not believe they could say, much less really mean. That's the "over my dead body," school of thought. I wish I had a dime for every time I heard those words. Other people say, I'll meet you on the other side (over my dead body). Then you get to go to that person's memorial service, suspecting that they are still alive.

Culture means the food you eat, the food you will not eat and the people you want to have cooking it for you. Apparently the Subway people don't fit into anyone's cultural lifestyle except everyone else in the world except Point Richmond.

Culture means trust or distrust of business, thinking business people are a bunch of crooks who are out to get your hard-earned money and not give you anything of value in return, or they are people who have the solution to your problem sitting right there on a shelf in their store with a very reasonable price tag on it.

Culture means a lack of understanding of how business works and what happens to the "extra" money called profit. To some people, "profit" means profiting from the labor of exploited and underpaid workers, some in foreign countries. I, myself, ran a small business for ten years, called a newspaper. I never paid myself a salary. I was getting $600 a month from the county on AFDC to stay alive. I reported all the income and expenses of my business to the county every month for ten years. Did that mean I was their employee? I am not getting a pension from the county, so I guess not. I was told that the county passed an ordinance to give me a press card. Does that mean I was on their payroll as a low-paid employee with medical benefits that I could not live without? It was in the early 1970's that Jim Kenney did that for me. I sure could use ten years of pension from Contra Costa County if I have a right to it.

I was working with some wonderful volunteers all those years. Wish I had money to pay THOSE people. If I was really running a business, I would be paying those people what they were worth, like Mid Dornan, for example. I owe her a big debt of gratitude for writing A-Mid Trivia all those years. Every time I see her I think, I can't thank you enough, Mid. Sometimes I say it. She knows how to say things and write things so they come out right. She is, or was, the President of the History Society, a well-deserved honor. If I was president I would put her in the diplomatic corps and send her with her daughters to some nice countries for an all-expense paid vacation. All they would have to do would be to stand up in front of some school groups and talk the birds out of the trees as I have seen her do time and time again.

Does the salary come out of the profit of a business or is the profit AFTER you pay yourself a salary? Obviously if you are estimating what a job will cost, you have to include your own salary: i.e., your time. How long will it take you to do that job? That includes driving to the store to get what's-its, so don't forget to make a complete list before you start because it could get expensive to charge $30 an hour for driving back and forth across town because you forgot to put a what's-it on the list. No one is going to pay you to do that kind of thing. Now we have computers so it's like browsing the store and you don't have to use up gas to go do it. Browsing is what you do to learn the business, not what you charge people for. This is also referred to as making mistakes on your own time. Nickle and diming a person to death is something to avoid if at all possible. Selling things for MORE than you bought them for is a principle of business. Maybe you added some beads or freshened up the doll clothes, painted her lips red, did SOMETHING to earn the few more bucks you charged for that doll than you bought it for at the thrift store.

At the end of the month before the welfare check came, I bought paperback books at the Goodwill for 25 cents each and sold them out of my backpack in front of the local market for $1 each. Years later I found out what he thought of me when he commissioned a painting of a pickup truck crashing through the wall of his store. That is certainly not what I was doing there. I was young and beautiful in those years, but sick with an eating disorder. That's culture. He grew up in a different religion and culture than me.

And I am still not sure if I am Native American or Jewish. You know they tried to make the Natives in the east assimilate and there was a lot I wasn't told. Well, you don't LOOK like an Indian, you might say. The Indians of the north east coast did not look like the Indians of the New Mexico area. In the east, I learned about Indian giving--where the Indian expected to get back whatever he or she gave you. It's sometimes called a potlatch--deep in Native American culture. They could take anything away from you that they had given you. Nothing ever really belonged to you. And that included friends, children, husbands, wives, homes, jewelry, all of it. Even a college degree could be taken away from you by a human relations man saying your credits were too old, and you knew it was a lie but you could not do anything about it. They could take your good business reputation away from you. They could take your reputation for honesty away from you. They could steal your customers.

Of course Indians were not the only people who did that and experienced that. Desperate for money, some people were willing to sell their jewelry for a fraction of its worth. Then, recovered, they regretted selling it and wanted it back. And then, was there an unfair accusation of stealing the gold? Some people found it nearly impossible to say no when asked for stuff and they too accused others of stealing when they had handed over the keys to the kingdom to a polite inquiry, instead of saying no as they had been expected to do.

So let's take a look at our resources here in Point Richmond in this bootstrap era. Our government policy is job creation. That means you and I must put on our thinking caps, not just the people in Washington, DC. Think about how you could create jobs. For example, does that mean, handing your bridge fare to a toll taker instead of throwing it into an electronic basket? Does that mean using labor intensive ways of making things instead of automated ways of making things?

Point Richmond has resources of three freeway offramps to bring customers here. Presently we only draw customers from the local population. That's an educated guess. You would have to take a poll to find out the facts. THREE-count them-THREE freeway off ramps. Some people are trying to lay claim to the Point Molate off ramp, but they want to legalize things that have previously been against the law. That goes against the grain of most people who think there is a reason for laws against gambling and drugs. It's all we can do to contain the bad effects of so much drinking without adding other vices to it. And we know that people bet on baseball pools and football pools, so why not just let them throw their quarters away without the government breathing down their neck and demanding taxes on the winnings. Problem gamblers: well that's a different matter entirely.

So let's try to think of some legal ways to capitalize on our resources of THREE--count them--THREE freeway off ramps right to this local area. Those are THREE places we can draw people off the highway to stores, stadiums, museums--whatever we can offer travelers who need services and goods. Think of other places where you have exited the freeway into some kind of shopping center that delighted you. There is room for such a thing that still preserves the history of Point Richmond. Economic health and security is a happy thing. It is within our reach if we can only overcome our cultural prejudices.

It has crossed my mind to run for vice president of the Neighborhood Council with a pro-economic development policy, but then I remembered, I need some votes and some followers to do that. Nobody has been asking me to do that. A no-growth culture might not permit me to do that. However you will have to contend with a pro-job creation culture coming from both parties in Washington, D.C. I didn't make that happen, so don't blame it on me.

Oh yes, and by the way, the U.S. did not bomb Italy in World War II. The Germans painted their planes to look like U.S. planes and they were the ones who did it, not us. My dad almost started crying when he told me that. I don't know how he knew that. War is hell. My dad told me that when I was a child,.