She said “Yoo Hoo”
Palo Alto City Council member Nancy Shepherd’s curious declaration Monday (actually, it was 1:05 Tuesday morning) that only people with millions of dollars should be allowed to speak out regarding the future of The Varsity Theatre caught me off guard, and woke me out of my stupor. At the end of a long seven-hour meeting, during announcements, she expressed her concern about the recent flurry of chirps, tweets, yawps and utterances by all the people like yours truly concerned about plans to turn the beloved downtown movie house and concert venue into office space. She seemed to direct City Manager Jim Keene to issue an edict asking for a cessation to all the letters, blog posts, speakers, pamphleting and the taking to the streets. She sounded more like Bashir or Mubarak than Daniel Webster.
“I’ve noticed that regarding the Varsity Theatre a number of community stakeholders and activists are urging government to intervene, to try to change the future of the Varsity Theatre, and this concerns me. I don’t think we are allowed to” I heard her say (about four times, thanks to the DVR function on our virtual monopoly media hookup; you can watch for yourself thanks to Media Center here). Her line of rhetoric seemed to be suggesting that unless people like me — and there were 8, 000 of us last time, in 1996 — have a $20 million line of credit pre-approved, that we shouldn’t speak our minds about the obvious public benefit, relative to office space, of a national-caliber concert promoter taking the lease or deed on 456 University. My take is the opposite: unless the owner makes it clear there is a distinct window of opportunity, no viable entity — Yoshi’s, Live Nation, Another Planet, Nederlander, nor my cousin Vic and I and all our friends — would submit a plan. So I therefore believe our local leadership should take the initiative here and work with the owner — a very well-known guy; he seems to be in daily or weekly contact with all nine council members, and probably has been since the days when members of Journey strolled Cubberley, or at least since Steve Jenkins was known as Sticks, for his drumwork, at Gunn and Paly. His friend also said last night to Council that he is Palo Alto’s “Parking Czar”. Well then call me Rasputin’s. I called Rasputin’s once in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know. (This was in Tuscaloosa).
Nancy Shepherd’s logic is flawed but, worse, rather than admit she merely disagrees with what might turn out to be a huge army of motivated and organized zealots, or that she is afraid to face the dude, in her pajamas, pink tights or otherwise, she seemed to be claiming, with her “not allowed” language, that we were asking her to break a law. Or her jaw, or a tusk, you know the Fleetwood Mac version with the USC band.
Further she seemed to be concerned, in the question part of her little moment, to be asking how much it was costing the tax payers to have Tom Fehrenbach, our $60k business flack, research this. Jim Keene, in what has got to be one of the year’s best backhanded compliments, said not much, that Tommy had not been giving it the old Spartan try, in the Lorenzo White or Bubba Smith or even Dave Rayner sense. By my count, or what he told me, he had talked to three people in five weeks; my list is up to about 130, as I noted here previously (and I do this as a volunteer, because I care passionately about the arts, and our community, as an act of conscience because I love democracy, and hate what I fear might come in its wake, or in a vacuum of apathy; I also re-read Thoreau “Civil Disobedience” in which although he says “what governs least governs best” –which is something perhaps Nancy Shepherd wished she had said, at 1:05 a.m. But HDT also said that perhaps his elected officials should resign if they were not up to snuff to get America back on track –and that was the 1850s, only 75 years or so after Washington and Jefferson set perhaps an unsustainable standard).
Jim Keene reassured Shepherd, in that dude-where’s-my-car- 1 a.m way that Fehrenbach was not actually doing much on the matter, but said he would at Council direction find a vehicle (what, a tank?) to help suppress any further public comment, hopefully before the Oct. 5 HRB hearing, or that’s what I heard. He actually said something about “realistic” although I heard phantasmagoria. Or zebras when I should have said elephants.
edit to add, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 23 hours later: I want to thank my old Gunn Oracle colleague Greg Zlotnick, a former elected official, a writer and lawyer, for encouraging me to rein in some of the more sophomoric reactions I had to our Miss Nancy. I picked the headline and the word “yawp” or “yawping” because “Horton Hears a Who” was discussed at the live version of our social media group earlier yesterday at Coupa. As a fan of the language, English that is, I was intrigued that we may be confusing a Glenn Beckism with a Seussism. (And my fellow activist Miriam Frank, a new mom, said she will re-check her Seuss and report back pronto. Seuss may have “yop” for “yawp” although Whitman might have “yawp” to boot). But for me and my concert promoter and former ad guy brain, more John Cage than Bill Gates, “back to Beatnick”, I somehow landed on the song and the video “Yoo Hoo” by Imperial Teen. While not literally true, it is metaphorically apt: imagine Nancy Shepherd (played by Rose McGowan/”Courtney”) gagging the citizens (played by Will Schwartz, who is also tied wrists to bedposts) with a jawbreaker, then doing a little victory dance. The “ha-ha-ha-huh?” and “She said yoo-hoo” bits add to the image. I sent the first version of this to Jone Stebbins who replied that Nancy, or my version of her, was “a piece of work” I tell you what, if this goes through, and the Varsity lifts its curtain, I will atone for being tough on Nancy here by treating her to hair by Jone Stebbins, or at least I will offer it. And I hope she is flattered and not shocked by Rose/”Courtney” and all the “big shot rock stars” invoked herein.
Aram James suggested I re-read Sullivan v. New York Times and write to City Attorney Don Larkin to interpret Nancy’s idea or guide what Jim might do.
I left voice mail for home phones of Matt Nathanson and Penelope Houston, the management of Brett Dennen, John Mayer’s one-time tour accountant and Frank Portman, and hit by email Ian MacKaye, Ian Brennan, Mac McCaughan and Vienna Teng. (which sounds like a bad joke, worse than Nancy’s gaffe, about three Scots and a lady who walked into a nightclub and…)