December 12, 2014 - sacbee/kasler: 'Cal Expo OKs Sacramento Soccer Expansion'
Cal Expo Is Doing It Again!
Should We Even Care?
The Sacramento Bee goes on boosting Cal Expo, while Cal Expo fixates on trying to destroy the last, large undeveloped urban public commons in the state— Forever!
For several decades Cal Expo has been fixated on two principal schemes: 1) to develop its fair into some obsolete idea of a fair-circus, theme-park, big-fun, off mission carnival with some retail salesroom (gun shows, RV lots...), horse-racing, fireworks display side-shows, and a few charity/veteran's fests to make it seem as if they do good things. They do not. They work old tired ideas of State Fairs that were nostalgic events forty years ago, and have nothing to do with the actual mission of the California State fair. What do water-slides have to do with the showcase of the best of California's traditions, or its future?
2) But it's the second scheme that is really what has been on their minds for a very long time. That one intends nothing less than to ultimately destroy the fair itself, and cash out on the deal. That's the plan to sell/lease off major parts of the property, ostensibly for the purpose of raising money to "upgrade" the existing fair. Don't buy it. What they are really angling for is to cash out period -- to line the pockets of developers which have been itching to get their hands on that property for a very long time.
Now it's true that Cal Expo is in a bad state of repair. Equally true that it has been in decline, attendence-wise and revenue-wise for some time. The directors like to point to the "bad economy" and "deplorable state of its infrastructure" as the reason for that decline. But those are just symptoms of its real malaise. It's obsolete. Most of its directors and managment suffer from an incredibly myopic idea of 19th century "Take me to the fair" nostalgia. The generations of the 21st century aren't really interested much in all that fluff (even if some of their parents think they should be).
Sure, a State fair should offer some fun and entertainment. That goes without saying. But that is not its mission, nor should it be. The children of the 21st century have much more important things on their mind. There's a big mess of a planet to clean up. There's wars and social problems closing in from every direction. There's any number of very new and immaginative things just on the horizon that have little to do with stuffing yourself with hot dogs and light-shows.
So why does Cal Expo keep insisting on pursuing its old-fashioned notions of what the fair was never meant to be? Well, one reason might be that some on its board and management don't have much imagination. A little online "Oh Wow!" and some more colored lights and a rebuilt skyway—that ought to pack 'em in, right?
Or could it be that some actually have a stake in turning the whole show over to developers and commerical interests? While we fought our first rounds with Cal Expo, one director certainly had such interests close at hand. In fact he owned a commercial real estate development and lobbying business. In fact, he's the chief lobbyist for the outfit. " California Business Properties Association"
It isn't clear if Rex Himes is still on the Cal Expo Board or not. We couldn't verify it either way at press time. I don't really think it would make much difference. Off the board he certainly would have an even freer hand in influencing matters without quite so many constraints as he would as a director. He knows how things work over there. I dare say he invented some of the ways they work.
One thing is clear, once Cal Expo gets going on leasing or selling its property to private developers and interests, no matter what influences are at work, that will spell the eventual death knell for Cal Expo. There's no way to keep market pressure and values from forcing the State Fair out of the picture, especially if it remains as irrelevant to most Californians as it is.
What's Left, Why Should Anyone Care?
The fair is declining, the place is a mess, the bills mount, the land has toxic cleanup problems, the habitat is badly neglected and an eyesore to boot. Why save it? Isn't the best thing we can do is to turn it over to developers and be done with it - make a little money for the taxpayers on the side?
It might seem keeping a little corner for the fair and dumping the rest would be the prudent thing for the taxpayers of the State of California to do. But if one thinks a little deeper, the neglected, trashy state of the Cal Expo properties (on and off the fairgrounds proper) may be one of the best things that place has going for it at the moment. Why?
Because it means it has actually been preserved in a state that left it to future generations (this one, and the ones to follow) to decide what use they might wish to make of this last large undeveloped public commons in the state. If Cal Expo had actually made one of its many failed deals to sell off large chunks of the property, that opportunity would have been buried under the sports stadiums and parking lots and commercial real estate and other market-schemes that took it over and did what they will.
However, Cal Expo has gotten far cleverer and sneaky about pursuing its goals to destroy and cash in. This time, with their pretending to "seek new vision" and chugging along playing footsie with Republic FC and beckoning developers with the other foot, they may just succeed. Their timing is impecible, their "leasing" and "sports-mecca" motifs are engineered to make the most noise with the fewest people (as the Kings campaign did with a few purple shirts and some cheerleaders).
Don't sell them short. The folks at Cal Expo ain't stupid. Just a little dull and misguided. They also are expert at keeping things quiet, and have a lot of experience in promoting Cal Expo as a local asset, strictly Sacramento, rather than something that belongs to all the people and the State of California. They don't seen press releases on development planning and such to papers and media out of the region. Why should they? What does a Sacramento soccer team have to do with L.A. or Arcata, or the Bay Area or San Jose? Yes, the annual 4H show is nice and a good boost for some kids around the state; but does it really figure much in the priorities or market calculations of the ranchers in the Central Valley? Not hardly.
So, Does Anyone Have A Better Idea?
Yeah, we do. That is The Sacramento Z, and for years before that your editor, has a better idea. A much better idea that we have unsuccessfully tried to present both in writing and in person to the Cal Expo directors on a number of ocassions.
[for a description of what "Cal Expo - An Alternative Vision" (CEAV) proposes, turn to our Special Report - ed.]
If we didn't, then we'd be the first to say let it go, & good riddence. We don't much like making complaints without having a better solution-set. That's not the z-axis way. But as it so happens, we do have a better idea.
It's a two-parter. First you take the Fair, itself, and return to its original plan and rotate it around the state to different regions every five or ten years or so. That's what the founders of the California State Fair did during the first decade of its existance. Their plan might have have worked, too, (other than their yearly rotation schedule) had it not been for the bad communications, worse transportation, awful roads and other difficulties of tramping around the countryside in the 1890's with a fair on your back,
Today, those problems don't exist. Doing it that way, would refresh audiences, provide real incentive to host and present a State Fair that truly reflects the diversity of California, and distribute substantial economic and other benefits to the hosting region. There's a lot more to say about that, but that's just for openers.
What's the other part?
The second part. gets even bigger, wilder and much more valuable and profitable than the State Fair could ever hope to be, for Sacramento and all of California.
So what is the second part of the brilliant, z-axis idea? Simply to create a permanent, evolving world's fair for everything green and healthy— a world showcase and destination for the technologies, practices, issues, industry and commerce, education and all other matters pertaining to cleaning up our planet and creating a flourishing, healthy world for ourselves. And there will be a lot more to say about that part, "The CEAV Project" ('Cal Expo - An Alternate Vision')
For a moment, ignore your rolling eyeballs, and let your imagination have a little breathing room. This ain't Sci-Fi. Imagine an Advanced Research University for solving serious environmental problems; a Knowledge Transfer Center for bringing inventors, venture capital and industrial leaders together to accelerate getting new technologies and services to market; 'Solar Park' and 'Water Works' venues, a 'Culture Center' which exhibits diverse cultures, past and present, as ideas that solved environment challenges in interesting ways.
Imagine reclaiming the blighted land that Cal Expo now sits on and making that restoration an actual exhibit area of 'Cal Expo Green'. Think 'Federal Bureau of Environmental Standards' (long overdue), or state headquarters for major environmental organizations from all over the state, indeed the world. Think, California Academy of Sciences on steroids.
It could go on and on. There's no end to what could happen on that little patch of state property, given a real opportunity to imagine itself as something other than a 21st century digitized version of a 20th century repackaging of a 19th century circus-carnival nostalgia.
All that, and much more. So, if one is stuck asking "Why?" or "How?" perhaps they should be asking, "Why not?" and "How-to?".
So, Why Not?
Yes, at the moment, 'A Movable Fair' and 'The CEAV Project' are wildly ambititous fantasies. Improbable napkin sketches, and little more. But if one thinks about it, isn't that where all good ideas have started?
Admittedly, that's a tall order. But its not an unreasonable claim to make given what we have to propose. But that's not the real problem for the moment.What stands in the way of anything imaginative or constructive happening is Cal Expo's history and stubborn refusual to really open the question of its future to the real stewards and owners of that site— the people of California. Make no mistake, the mission of the State Fair, its fundamental reason for being included as a state function, is as vital and important to the people and commerce of the state as it ever was.
It will be good to take a moment and review that original mission:
10.1 MISSION STATEMENT:
"The California Exposition & State Fair mission is to:
Create a State Fair experience reflecting California including its industries, agriculture, diversity of its people, traditions and trends shaping its future—supported by year-round events."
[Source: The California Exposition & State Fair Board of Directors Policy & Procedure Manual]
Cal Expo has obviously been off-mission for many decades. Theme-park side-shows, water slides, horse racing and a few benefit events thrown in for good measure don't begin to touch the meanings or implications of that brief mission statement. Some of that is the result of a few narrow, selfish and strictly local ambitions that have dominated the conversation, in the press, at public meetings and in the back rooms of Cal Expo.
But, by far the failure of Cal Expo's handlers can be laid to a decided failure of the imagination. They simply don't have any, and can't conceive of just how important that small patch of badly neglected property might be to the generations of the future, given a truely new vision for its role in the 21st century.
Nothing shows that deficiency more than Cal Expo's demonstrated reluctance to proactively conduct an open call to all Californians, beyond a few bankers and developers they routinely deal with, to envision the site in ways that will serve all the people of the state and for generations to come.
The Sacramento Z and the CEAV Project don't pretend we have the best idea for the future of that land. But we do say, without seriously inviting everyone to publicly participate in the envisioning process nothing really worthy of the future will happen. At the moment, that appears to be what Cal Expo prefers.
In the meantime, we invite you to consider The CEAV Project - Special Report as inspiration to envision more than a developer's pave-over and cement-pour for the future of that land. Send them to us and we'll print the ones we find most unique and interesting.
We leave our readers with this brief thought:
If Sutter had said to Marshall,
"Throw those damn yellow rocks away and go build me a sawmill, like I told you to,"
you would have a pretty good idea of what Cal Expo is saying to us.