I was threatened with arrest on Sunday by a member of a private security force. 'You're going to jail' he screamed at me numerous times, while I was on the phone to the Albany Police asking for them to send an officer so that I could be assured that some goons could not deprive me of some pretty fundamental rights. 'Get off the phone' he yelled, which to be quite honest made me madder. My dogs sat quietly in the car, panting in the sun.
The long story of Golden Gate Fields Racetrack which straddles the Berkeley/Albany city lines and has been a dominant fixture of the east shore of the San Francisco Bay since the 1940's, is complex and filled with all the elements of a modern day 'land use battle' potboiler: the changing needs of an urban population, the collapse of horse racing as a viable entertainment business, corporate greed, exploitation of the lowest paid workforce, conflicts with their neighbours, dark, disturbing coalitions with certain environmental groups, political alliances, campaign donations and corruption.
The vast piece of land on which the racetrack sits is the site of a former munitions and dynamite factory, which sat on a bluff overlooking the Bay right next to where dumping of industrial and architectural debris would begin in the 1930's. The destruction of the Berkeley shoreline, in fact the whole shoreline from Emeryville in the south to Richmond in the north is one of those jaw droppingly shocking abuses of municipal and corporate power which we hope could never happen now.
Fast forward decades - not because the intervening story is at all uninteresting, but simply because I'm sure you wanna know why I almost got arrested.
The ownership saga of the racetrack is also convoluted - but one family, that of patriarch Frank Stronach, and their myriad of shell corporations, failed business deals, Chapter 11 bankruptcy (of one of the corporations) is central to the continuing battle over what will or won't happen to this land which environmentalists drool over but which will inevitably be sold to whichever bidder can put up the money and at the same time twist the arms of Albany City Council enough to obtain the zoning adjustments necessary to put new, profit making ventures on this piece of California land.
The latest (and it looks like possible successful) bid is from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) which is proposing to build new Science Research Labs along with a hotel and conference centre, and to make 50 acres of the site public land. It is far more complex a deal than my two line description, but at this point, with Albany in deep debt and flailing around to pay blls and keep their much heralded school system functioning, this looks like a done deal.
I don't actually care. What I care about is that the Stronach family is all about greed. What I care about is that corporate contributions to certain environmental groups and candidates have soiled the public discourse (how else to explain the local Sierra Club's willingness a few years ago to support a shopping mall on the site). The racetrack has a history of labor and workers rights violations at the stables which sit on the Berkeley portion (how ironic that in progressive Berkeley we hear nothing of this). What I care about is that this massive nasty corporation controls vehicle access to a public beach.
See, my needs are pretty simple. Most days I drive my bunch of exuberant and amazing canine companions to the Albany Waterfront (if you want confusing land rights issues, the story of this land is, if anything, more convoluted than the racetrack). There is a short row of parking spaces on a rutted piece of road just north of the fence of the racetrack property.
Probably as few as 20. There are signs saying that parking is limited to park users. But on event days at GGF, those customers wishing to avoid the $4 parking charge so they have more to bet on the fillies, use 'our' parking spaces. Leaving us nowhere else to park because even the free spaces on the main road are taken by racetrack visitors.
But, lo - just a short two hundred yards away, across the 15 acres of their 5,000 space parking lot (which usually has a grand total of a coupla hundred cars in it) the public beach sits, with a large muddy parking area next to it.
Empty, except for a few vehicles whose drivers are able to persuade the guys in the toll booth to let them drive across GGF property and go to the public beach for an innocent romp with their kids or dogs. On days when there is no event at GGF, there are no tolltakers and you can drive across the parking lot to your hearts content. In fact, one of the favorite sports of idiots in low slung red sports cars is to come and do wheelies, or speed up to 60 miles an hour before making last minute turns at the edge of the lot. They are no doubt practising so they can come to my neighbourhood at night and do the same thing.
But the point is - when there are no events, there is plenty of parking in 'our' parking area. Duh. Over the years, I have felt that unless the City of Albany is willing to police and enforce the parking restrictions, the GGF owners should be good neighbours and let those of us who want to use our public park, drive across the parking lot, out through another chain link gate, and plonk ourselves by the beach. And through the years, I have exerted what I consider my right of way. And security goons have descended on me to threaten me with car impoundment and fire and brimstone. We have usually talked it out and last year, the security chief made it very clear - 'Jill, just stop at the toll booth, be friendly, tell them what you need to do, and I promise you, they will be nice back.' Sounded great.
So, yesterday after I waited a futile 20 minutes waiting for a space to open up in our measly lot, and my dogs were panting in the sun, I decided to drive through the GGF parking lot. I stopped, I smiled, I was polite and the guy tried to grab my door. Are you kidding me? I pulled away from him and called the Albany Police and requested an officer. Somehow I thought mediation might be necessary. At the other gate, a man was running across the parking lot trying to get to the gate before I did, to close it in front of me to contain me on GGF property. Really? Are you kidding me? Again. There was plenty of room for my car to slip by him and I did. As I parked at the beach and was still on the phone to the police, two truckloads of goons descended, yelling that I was going to jail. 'You are going to jail lady'. Who are you calling a lady was my first thought. My second was to call Susie to head down and retrieve my dogs and car in case I did indeed get hauled off to jail.
There were other cars parked nearby. Park users who had entered by a different toll entrance but whose toll taker was clearly in a better mood than the one I encountered.
Cut to the chase Jill. The police came. They talked to us all. The police asked the GGF goons why, if I was being stopped, the other vehicles were not and they had no answer the that. The police sergeant said 'well, the GGF customers always use the park users parking spots but we have been told by the city not to enforce'. And then the young cop turned to me and said ' next time they stop you, don't just pull away, call us, we'll come down and sort it out'
That's all well and good I thought. But how about we get some handle on corporate greed and naked abuse of power by a bunch of private security? How about that as a freakin' solution? Because we have become docile, we refuse to stand up for the small stuff, and when we fail to do that, we lose control of being able to change the big stuff. At it's best the Occupy Movement is that seed. This isn't about a parking space. It is about a corporation saying 'we can' so 'we will.' It is up to us to say 'no.'