Did Arrillaga and city staff cop from Weiss activism on 456?

Here is another insight into 27 University “Arrillaga Office Towers Proposal” and how it compares to 456 University, the Varsity Theatre, about which I was plenty active last fall, suggesting that local leadership could work with the landlord to let an arts group get the lease on the historic and beloved site. The landlord, a very well-known person, has meanwhile gotten approval to convert the theatre to office space above and in back, and retail in front, possibly including glassing in the courtyard (which arguably would be inconsistent with the site’s historic designation)

I spoke to Palo Alto Historic Resources Board in October, 2011 about community interest in 456 University, the former Varsity Theatre. I suggested that community leadership, boards, commissions and our council, could work with the owner –who they know quite well and generally have a project or two in the works with — to bring in a qualified operator to re-store the Varsity as a downtown entertainment amenity, I suggested concerts could be the primary use, although I did run into the head of the Theatreworks trustees at the time and bounce it off him. At the meeting, reported here at Palo Alto Weekly, board member David Bower denounced me and my idea saying “This is America”, that if I have an idea about a property I should go out and buy it myself, conditional to commenting on it. He was basically calling me a Bolshevik.

So jump ahead a year and you have John Arrillaga articulating what should be done with SOMEONE ELSE’S PROPERTY. He does not own this property. (27 University) But the distinction is he is a billionaire and he is working with an entity that has a $20 billion endowment and people like me are merely citizens and taxpayers. But what do you call it when giant entities can dictate what the market can do? A command economy? Does not sound like Democracy to me. Oligarchy? Plutocracy?

I am still curious about the timing of the so called ‘”Theatre proposal” and whether or not that “false advertising” as posters at, for example, The Plao Alto Weekly site, here say is related to the talk that was going around about people wanting a cultural amenity downtown. It would be interesting if it turns out that Palo Alto staff suggested that the Arrillaga proposal add the entertainment element. Indeed, staff had a list of concert promoters they were supposed to track down, so they had at least a vague sense of what people like me were trying to say. Concerts like you have in SF at the Fillmore or Warfield are a bigger need downtown than Theatreworks which is doing just fine splitting their schedule with nearby venues plural. Actually there is someone on the 7th floor who worked on, or at least has spoken to the press about 456 University, 27 University, and for good measure, CCAC, the Cubberley ad hoc committee, to whom I recently wrote a white paper or one-page memo about its history and potential as an arts venue.

Here is the actual quote from The Weekly (Gennady Sheyner) and commissoner Bower (or compare to the actual archive for more complete context):

Historic Resources Board member David Bower responded to Weiss’ entreaty Wednesday by advising him to rent the space.

“That’s the way we do it here in America — we own property and we rent and buy it,” Bower said. “What our job is is to preserve the building and the architectural features of the building.”

But the main point is to question whether this comparison means that billionaires have more free speech than people like me.


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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