Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One Door Closes

This weekend I had to put my cat Oso to sleep. Oso was a magnificent blue-gray cat with big yellow eyes. Throughout his 14 years, many cats and dogs came into our house for temporary shelter, and Oso was always so calm and accepting of the new animals, who usually came to us sick and scared and confused. He knew his place in our house and in my heart, and never felt the need to push the newcomers around.

Over the past two years, I've had to put all three of my beloved senior pets to sleep. I adopted all of them when I was in my final years of college and just after graduation. They were my family as I grew up and started my career. All three of them moved with me across the country to Tennessee and Washington D.C. and Utah, and back to California. It was a wild adventure.

My memories of them are so intertwined with memories of my youth, it's difficult to separate them. Margaret started it all. She was this fuzzy, unkempt terrier sitting in the shelter, a week past her euthanasia date, with big sad eyes. She was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime, soulmate kind of dog. I was her sun and her moon, and she slept in the curve of my back for almost 17 years. The day I had to put her to sleep was one of the hardest of my life. I miss her still.

Cody was next. Cody was an Australian shepard/lab mix that was really all goofy lab. He and I struggled a bit throughout his 14 years, but ours grew into a mature, mellow friendship that I miss terribly. He was my self-appointed protector and lifeguard. I could never go swimming with Cody around, whether it was ocean, lake, or river. He would get this furrowed look between his eyes as he watched me swim away and suddenly leap into the water and bug me until I held onto his collar and he'd pull me to the bank or beach, happy and proud of himself for keeping me safe.

Just this weekend a young man stopped outside my house and asked if Cody was around. Cody was like that. Friends and neighbors would just come by and take him for long walks or car rides. Sometimes I'd be driving home from work and would see him happily walking on the waterfront with a friend, or hanging his head out of somebody else's car. Whenever I went with Cody, complete strangers would say hi to him by name ask what I was doing with him! Cody was everybody's friend.

And now Oso is gone.

Not quite intentionally, I've been slowly filling the empty spaces with a new rescued menagerie: Sophia, a one-eyed poodle/Jack Russell mix; Papi, a crazy Chihuahua/terrier mix with this hilarious under bite that makes it look like he's smiling all the time; Sunny Peeps, a sweet-singing canary I "won" at a political auction; and two cats, BBK, a Vallejo native from the streets with one blue eye and one green eye, and Mr. Tennessee Mittens, a six-toed kitten rescued from a gutter on Tennessee Street after he'd been hit by a car (thanks to Jane for taking the time to investigate the bit of fluff in the street, and Bayside Veterinary Hospital for taking such great care of him!).

So while the door on my youth has closed with finality, I now move on into the next phase of my life with my new companions to make new memories. And I can still pull out and cherish my memories of Margaret, Cody, and Oso and our crazy, fun adventures. Maybe they haven't completely left me after all.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Touro & the North End of Mare Island

Last night Touro gave a presentation of their proposed cancer treatment center and associated research and education facilities, student housing and hotel and retail center. The project is beautifully designed, and the uses were grouped into different areas of the project site in a way that really made sense. This project stands to be one of the best opportunities Vallejo has had in a long time. The cancer treatment center will be a catalyst for other commercial, medical, and retail opportunities (like a bookstore and healthy foods market) that will be a great long-term revenue source for the city.

One aspect of the plan that I'd like to look into (other than the financial feasibility) is the purpose and size of the retail area along the Highway 37 corridor. The specific plan only allowed for a small amount of square feet of retail. Because of this restriction, this large parcel of land was over-dominated by surface parking and an underwhelming amount of retail space. I'd like to increase the amount of allowable retail space. The Touro team said that the intent of the retail area was to serve the island and Vallejo residents. As this area lies along Highway 37, we should try and capture some of the many travelers along that corridor. So hopefully we can increase the amount of retail space and gear it towards both Mare Island and Vallejo residents, as well as Highway 37 travelers.

I was surprised to hear that Siemens was no longer Touro's partner on the cancer treatment facility. They were originally providing the heavy-ion accelerator system technology. (According to Touro, the accelerators produce a beam that destroys the ability of cancer cells to replicate. It's similar to X-ray radiation therapy but more powerful and more precise.) Touro officials explained that the new technology they are pursuing is better and even more cutting edge than Siemens'

I asked a question about the Alco Iron & Metal company that is in operation on the north end of the island. They want to expand their operation, and some members of the public have asked me if they would be willing to move their operation to the industrial section of the island, freeing the north end area for additional commercial/retail opportunities. From a land use perspective, this makes sense – you want to group land uses that are compatible with one another.

I spoke to Alco's general manager today to ask if they've talked about that possibility. I was told that they had already invested several million dollars into their infrastructure on the north end of the island, and it didn't make financial sense for them to move. That's completely understandable. Alco is an established business that provides good jobs and revenue to the city. They've made their investment already, and we'll make Touro's project work with the existing use.

Overall, I have to say that this is an exciting project. While the general economy is definitely not well right now, according to Touro the health care and education fields are somewhat immune. So if all goes well, they could break ground early next year. Forward progress is happening.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Multiple Realities

I walked Vallejo neighborhoods this weekend with a friend of mine, handing out flyers about a free vaccination shot fair for pit bulls and pit bull mixes coming up next weekend. It was a warm fall day, with clouds chasing each other across the sky. The streets were fairly quiet, people were just hanging out at home, sitting in front yards chatting with friends or working in their yards. That slow Sunday hush hung over the neighborhoods, the one I used to lament as a kid because there were no other kids outside playing.

As I walked door to door and chatted with people, I was reminded why Vallejo is so special – our people and our neighborhoods. We hear so much negative talk about Vallejo's crime and financial problems. And while I know that is a reality, it's not our only reality.

The reality I saw on Sunday was what Vallejo is all about: working class people who work hard and were enjoying a day of rest; neighbors feeding watermelon to neighborhood kids; the man stopping his car because we were looking at a map, and offering to lead us to our destination; the genuine smile from the man who didn't speak English, when I spoke to him in my broken Spanish; the taxicab driver who went out of his way to help us find Wilson Park.

These weren't the gated community neighborhoods we were walking. Yes, we saw some drug dealing. There were empty houses that had been repossessed. There was poverty and there were signs of hard times. But everyone we approached was helpful and friendly. Once we told them what we were doing, their faces opened up, they smiled, and they took flyers for themselves or to give to their friends who had pit bulls.

It was good to be reminded of Vallejo's other reality, the good reality, the reality that will ultimately help us recover from the tough times we're in right now.

The vaccination shot fair is geared towards helping lower income residents – and their pitties – and is being hosted by Bad Rap, Greater Vallejo Recreation District and the Benicia-Vallejo Humane Society.

When: Sunday, October 12
Time: 12:00 to 2:00 p.m.
Where: Wilson Park (Solano Avenue at Wilson Street)