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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Racking My Brain

By Gary Singh

"I want to lead the Victorian life, surrounded by exquisite clutter." —Freddie Mercury

SO MUCH for urgency ordinances. Last week, the San Jose Redevelopment Agency recommended deferring until August a specific urgency ordinance originally slated to be railroaded through Council on June 17. The ordinance was to place a "moratorium on the installation and relocation of freestanding news racks within the downtown core and the Civic Plaza Redevelopment project area; and to establish a consolidated pedestal mounted news rack zone pilot program within those same project areas."

The RDA thinks that sporadic, nonregulated placement of stand-alone newsracks clutters up downtown, blocks the public right of way, makes them more susceptible to graffiti and creates enough of an eyesore to warrant a new approach. As part of their previous Streetscape Master Plan, they want to implement, or at least test out, the idea of consolidating future free-standing racks into pedestal-mounted newsracks (PMNs) in specific downtown locales (Zones). With giddy euphoria, the terms "PMN" and "PMN Zone" are sprinkled all throughout the four pages of this urgency ordinance, including detailed plans of where the PMN Zones will be, as well as specific issues related to who will pay for the PMNs themselves.

Of course, nobody bothered to tell any of these people that PMNs are also the Soviet-manufactured land mines that have been exploding all over the Middle East and Africa since the early '60s. They are still prevalent across northern Iraq and much of Afghanistan. Often called the Black Widow, the PMN is a bakelite-cased, pressure-operated, anti-personnel blast mine filled with 240 grams of TNT.

Kind of puts a whole new twist on Redevelopment Agency language like this:

"This ordinance anticipates that the Agency will install the PMNs within a period of six months or shortly thereafter. Redevelopment Agency staff anticipates installing and maintaining the PMNs in the pilot areas on a trial basis; however, at the May 20, 2008 community meeting, the publishers indicated a preference for their purchasing and installing the PMNs for security reasons. The ordinance allows the flexibility for staff to implement the program or utilize a third party for the purchase and installation of the PMNs."

Anyway, the News Rack Program is just one small tidbit in the city's Small Wonders Work Plan, an elaborate scheme to create a distinctive, lively and pedestrian friendly downtown street life.

But I have a better solution to the whole problem. You see, in a recent scheme to make downtown look like Disneyland and make everyone feel like they're in a different reality, a force of lime-green-clad workers were unleashed upon the public to clean the streets, give people directions, serve as roaming concierges and, especially, report graffiti. Employed by Groundwerx, these people have completely transformed the local landscape. If you've been downtown, you've undoubtedly seen them. They know the terrain and they really love their job. You won't see a single one without a beaming grin on his or her face.

So why not give them all the newspapers to sell? Why go through all this trouble arguing about misplaced newsracks and blatantly subjective declarations of blight and clutter? Instead, have the lime greenies plant themselves there on the corner 24 hours a day and sell the newspapers. That would really make it look like Disneyland. Case closed.

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