Pink Eggs And Sam
Rep. Farr debriefs over breakfast after a subdued town hall meeting.
Thursday, August 30, 2001
Sam Farr smears jam on his eggs. He does this over breakfast at the posh La Playa Hotel in Carmel, last Thursday morning. After gnawing down three stiff planks of bacon, the local congressman lathered his scrambled eggs with hefty dollops of raspberry jam. Rather than daub a waiting dry English muffin, he garnished the eggs and mixed them in with some potatoes.
A bold move for a public man, but then Farr was among his people, back in his district, on his home turf, down the street from his house. And he was somewhat relaxed. In fact, Farr''s been going to the hotel''s Terrace Grill so much lately, the manager jokes that the staff plans to affix a nameplate to his usual corner table.
The night before, Farr had held a town hall meeting in Monterey that drew more than 100 people. Some were docile, others quite ornery. He says the exercise reassures him that democracy is still alive in America. But for the first time in forever, no one during the more-than-two-hour meeting brought up the Peninsula''s perennial favorite issues.
"Can you believe we got through a meeting without talking about water or energy?" he asked at breakfast. No, the headliners in Monterey were the toxicity of Fort Ord and the various threats to commercial fishing.
With Congress in summer recess, Farr has been convening town hall meetings all over his district, California''s 17th. Each community has revealed a different agenda. In Santa Cruz, the locals threw partisan brickbats. They wanted to know why Democrats on Capitol Hill weren''t really sticking it to President Bush. In King City, they wanted to make sure the Navy would stay with its plan to practice bombing runs at Fort Hunter- Liggett, though Farr said he had to explain that the aviators would not be stopping in town to spend any money. In Salinas, it was health care issues.
In Monterey, the gate-closing edict at the Presidio was expected to make the meeting a barnburner. But inconvenienced locals were muted by a letter Farr had written to the Secretary of the Army, copies of which were passed around the meeting hall. In the letter, Farr urges the Secretary to reconsider closing the gates because it will "negatively impact" everything from local childcare to "language readiness."
In Monterey, there were some people who really wanted to get Farr''s attention. The most vocal opposition came from the contingent of commercial fishermen. A half dozen of them leaned against the back wall of the City Council meeting room.
In late July, Farr introduced a fisheries recovery bill that was so sure to anger local fishermen, his press office conceded its potential unpopularity from the outset.
When it was made public, some fishing organizations lined up in support, but Kathy Fosmark, a spokesperson for local commercial fishermen, emerged as the loudest foe.
Fosmark was at the town hall meeting, standing in the back trying to get Farr''s attention, keeping her hand raised even when everyone else had put theirs down. She was so determined to be called on, she moved up to the second row of seats and sat directly in Farr''s line of sight.
Finally he called on her and invited her to the podium, fully expecting to get worked over. Instead, Fosmark offered support for the fisheries bill, noting only a few criticisms. Farr was so surprised by the gesture, he said, "I thought you were just going to come up here and ream me."
Curt Gandy of the Fort Ord Toxics Project did give Farr an earful about pollution at Fort Ord. Local gadfly David Dilworth demanded an Environmental Impact Report before any more controlled burns of overgrown vegetation on the old base. Farr said he wouldn''t give it to him.
Farr says he does not disagree with advocates like Gandy and Dilworth, who want Fort Ord cleaned up. In fact, he says, the reuse of the old base is at the top of his local priority list. But Farr also wants to use all that public land out there to solve the Peninsula''s housing crisis.
The problem of grossly overpriced housing on the Peninsula is so serious, Farr compared its effect on the fleeing middle class to the local crash that occurred when sardines left the bay, shutting down the packing plants and crippling the local economy.
His solution is to use the remnant infrastructure at Fort Ord for affordable housing. He conceded though, "The one thing we need help on is it is a messy base."
Over breakfast, he explained why he was opposed to another Environmental Impact Study. He says he thinks it will only delay progress at the base.
"An EIS goes back and asks the same people the same questions. It just puts them in a different book," he said.
Although decisions on the base are made locally by the members of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, Farr said he will assert his leadership and use whatever leverage he can to make Fort Ord more useful to the communities of the Peninsula. But he worries that the momentum is gone. People are not focused on the old base because they see no progress, "Now they''ve gotten used to nothing happening," he said.
Just cleaning up the old barracks and other buildings is projected to cost $70 million. That''s money the Army won''t be spending, as it''s responsible for cleaning up what might be below ground, not what''s built above.
To get rid of the old buildings, Farr says he wants to give them away. If had his way, he''d run full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, offering the removable assets of Fort Ord. He says he would run "a big ad that says, ''Free. Free Housing. Come get it.''"