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March 29, 2013

Tilting at Windmills, Reaching for the Star in Saving the Dome



Today I meet with some crazy suburbanites like myself who are fervent in their desire to Save the Dome.  I offered to write an appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision – a document that needs to be ready by late next week. I’ve never written this kind of document before, and feel like I the lack basic background to do so. I'll do a pathetic job. Being a lawyer might help. Or an urban planner.  I’m just a journalist who has done some reporting on city government issues and seen development projects go through the process, so I have only rudimentary knowledge of how all this works.

I feel pretty rag tag and out of my element.  I don’t have a lot of time to spend on something like this. I have other projects due – the kinds that help me and my family pay the bills. I don't have the deep pockets and staff of SyWest, the developer that wants to destroy the Dome and replace it with a 73,000-square-foot DICK's sporting goods store. 
 
But I tell my husband I have to do this. I realize that the destruction of Dome CineArts movie theater may be a “done deal,” as City Council member Jack Weir so famously said. City planners, city staff and SyWest say they have been at this project for years and years, and SyWest, which owns the Dome property and first built the theater in 1967, likes to say it has struggled mightily to figure out how to develop that southern end of the long neglected shopping center – struggled with certain legal limits on the space and with restrictions having to do with tenants and the other owners of the properties of the shopping center.

So, I realize the Dome’s demise is probably inevitable, but I have to do what little I can to fight that threat.  And stand up with all the other people in Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities who agree that this is just a wrong, cynical, sinister, short-sighted and culturally backwards thing to do. 

The other Dome lovers are similiarly rag tag.  You could see them by the dozens at the protest outside Pleasant Hill city hall before Tuesday night’s Planning Commission meeting. They include long=time Pleasant Hill residents who have been taking themselves, their children and grandchildren to see movies at the Dome for nearly half a century.  They include men and woman who appreciate that the Dome is not just a commercial enterprise but an arts venue showing one of the 21st century most popular forms of art: film. They appreciate that the Dome is the only venue in the East Bay suburbs and on this side of the Caldecott Tunnell showing the kinds of films that are the alternative to the usual CGI, action, blow-em-up blockbuster.

These are the independent, art-house films that the movie industry actually recognizes as having its own demographic and strong following among educated, discerning, and financially influential consumers.

The other Dome fans may not have lots of financial influence just yet but they are in the demographic that movie makers and retailers (like DICK's) like to go after. They are in their early 20s and just started out in their lives. They are young hip, sophisticated, and highlight educated Pleasant Hill natives who grew up going to movies at the Dome CineArts. Some maybe had their first jobs in high school there, and have moved away from Pleasant Hill as they pursue their college education at UC San Francisco, San Francisco State and other colleges. Giorgio Sassine, who started the Change.org petition, signed by more than 2200 people, is a Pleasant Hill native who is studying law at UC San Diego. 

By the way, SyWest, in the kind of opposition research usually reserved for the nasty underbelly of presidential political campaigns,  submitted a report to Pleasant Hill’s Planning Commission claiming that Sassine is “not even a resident of Northern California.”  I showed that report to his father, who attended the Planning Commission meetings. “That’s bullshit,” he said. “Geirgio’s addres is Pleasant Hill.

A group of  college students at the protest were on spring break, but were taking their time off to go see movies at the Dome, like the critically acclaimed indie hit Spring Breakrrs. And then they took the time to join the protest.  Students from Diablo Valley College were also in attendance, including a young woman reporting on the Dome’s proposed demise for DVC’s Inquirer student newspaper. As much as she was trying to do an objective report on the Planning Commission meeting, she expressed surprise and shock that anyone would want to destroy the Dome.  She echoed the sentiments of many in the crowd of protesters, “The Dome is Pleasant Hill." She added it’s a popular movie-going destination for DVC students.

Yes, it’s the most distinctive building in town and it does carry an almost indescribable amount of meaning to thousands of people across the region.  

Some say it is an eyesore. Well, SyWest Development hasn’t exactly done much with keeping the Dome looking as fresh and new as it good be. 

The Dome has its own amazing, unique beauty, much more than the generic, big box looking DICK's sporting goods store that would replace it. 

I’m sorry, DICK’s may have 500 stores across the country but here, its effort to replace a beloved cultural icon is nothing short of dickish, and all that this phallic imagery implies.  DICK's has those big green signs with big white letters announcing “DICK’S.  It became clear in Tuesday’s planning commission meeting that the phallic imagery of the word DICK’s so highly visible on the sign was very much on the minds of planning commissioners as they tried oh--so hard to phrase their use of the word DICK's carefully in their discussion of sign size so that it wouldn't hang in their air in some sort of embarrassing, giggle-producing double entendre.

DICK’s.

Meanwhile, you have the Dome, which has its own retro aesthetic. The Dome is indeed the coolest place in town and one of the coolest places along the Interstate 680 corridor. It’s Man Men chic. It's go-go boots and flower power and Laugh-In and the Summer of Love. It's the Apollo moon landings. It is totally Space Age and it holds everything of US aspirations of that post-war era  to create a better world. 

The Dome with its beautiful white roof – which, yes, could use a good power washing.

I am utterly disheartened that a city wouldn’t do more to try to save this building, when it is only four years shy of being eligible for listing as a California Historical Resources. I am also dismayed by the city’s willingness to rush through this project when it finally became public in December, and despite the thoughtful misgivings of one commissioner, Jim Bonnato, who voted against SyWest proposal: 

“I think this particular project meets the letter of the law but it doesn’t give Pleasant Hill the quality of a shopping center it should have," he said. 

"The Dome has been imploded,” he declared. “Meanwhile, the Dome’s replacement involves a Dicks’ sporting goods store brightly displaying its four “Dick’s” signs."  

"I think we have deserve a lot better," Bonnato continued. “I’d love to see the developer go back the drawing board and get more creative and give Pleasant Hill an updated center. I don’t think this is updated. We should see something better."

If only Bonnato's fellow commissioners had that much discernment. Thank you Bonnato for having the courage to speak up. 

I am disgusted by SyWest, despite President Bill Viera’s expressions of sympathy and the crocodile-tear-like emotion he displayed when talking about how SyWest’s parent company, Syufy built the Dome, and the Syuyfy family has a lot of attachment to it. 

I am embarrassed for the leaders who Pleasant Hill, who fail to appreciate an icon in their midst, who are willing to sacrifice it for yet another sporting goods store that may or may not succeed in that space and that may or may not bring those sales tax revenues the city is so eager to accumulate.  They see DICK’s as some kind of golden ticket to a more attractive, profitable shopping center.  I see it as yet another strip mall coming to Pleasant Hill--a  city  that has long struggled, next to its more defined neighbors, to create a brand, an identity.

Pleasant Hill has long been looking for its There. Well, it has its There in the Dome, and now it wants to destroy its There for a DICK’s.

Without the Dome and the cultural delights it offers inside, Pleasant Hill--as one of those rag tag Dome supporters said--becomes just a town you pass through on the freeway.

The other rag taggers, who are even more new than me to the labyrinthine, legal process of city planning, are full of passion for the Dome, and full of wonderful ideas for making it an even more lively, exciting venue that would put Pleasant Hill on the map. But the word is that they are much too late. The big giant bulldozer destruction lurks just beyond city limits.

Too bad I and the other rag-taggers didn’t dutifully follow the City of Pleasant hill website all these years—as any reasonable person would if they didn’t have a million other things going on their lives—to find out when the next commission hearing would be on such usually well-attended topics as set backs and parking demand, as they relate to Sub Area II – the area of the shopping center where the Dome is located.  Hey, maybe we’d be more up to speed with this project, even, though, according to city documents and senior planner Troy Fujimoto himself, the plan to destroy the Dome didn’t become public until December.

But by then, it was apparently all too late. City staff and SyWest no  doubt had been discussing the DICK’s plans for months outside of public purview, as cities and developers tend to talk amongst themselves. By the time the Dome's destruction proposal was finally on the table and supporters of the Dome started to gather signatures and develop their rag-tag movement  of students, film lovers and retirees dedicated to  its preservation – well, too bad about their efforts, from the perspectives of the city and its friends at SyWest—too bad that it was all too late.

But oh, we can always try. We can don our Man of La Mancha costumes and dream impossible dreams, and fight unbeatable foes. 

The cause may be hopeless, but sometimes life presents us with hopeless causes, and we get a choice. And we can choose, depending on where we are in our lives. We can choose to crumble and accept the less-than-ideal, the mediocre, the soulless, the mendacious, the agent of destruction that obliterates a place and idea that brings beauty to our world – because this agent of destruction met the guidelines set down in  a city’s specific plan. 

Or we can put up the last good fight. That is--to, um, quote "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha --we can give it one last shot  to right, the unrightable wrong and aim for the unreachable star.

For more information about this rag tag group, go to the Facebook Page Save Independent Film and the CineArts Dome in Pleasant Hill. 

17 comments:

LeeAnne said...

Great post, Martha. #savethedome

Anonymous said...


Talk about middle class entitlement and narcissism! This is private property. If you want it to be a City park or landmark of some kind have the City condemn it and pay the owners its value. That would come out of the pocket of Pleasant Hill residents, which you and many of the other objectors are not. Pleasant Hill needs sale tax revenue to fund essential services like filling potholes and maintaining parks. People like you talk a lot about what they want but take no responsibility for bearing the cost. And your Dick's double entendres are not funny or clever, they just reflect immaturity.

Elizabeth said...

Well, dear Anonymous....What makes you think that people will shop at Dicks to make a difference? Just down the freeway you have REI and in the mall you Sports Authority, not to mention Big 5 in Walnut Creek. Like one protester said, Pleasant Hill will now become another town that is a drive by with no distinction! What makes towns a destination, and a place to drop money is atmosphere. You are the short sited one! That strip area is not very pleasant to shop in to begin with, and what makes it fun and cool is that dome.
This is so sad and disturbing to me on so many levels. Why couldn't the property owners spiff up the dome and make it a cultural center, by adding cool restaurants and make it a place that people want to come to and hang out. That makes people want to spend money, not another f..ing ugly sporting good store.


Martha you are a champion for writing this, and I applaud that you are going to give it your all. Even though it may not work, I think at least you can say you tried. It will be a really sad day with this gets torn down :(

yehudit said...

One big problem is that the management of CineArts has not stated any opinion about the project, and in particular have not expressed any desire (or willingness) to continue operating at the SyWest property. If they clearly wanted to stay, I think that could influence the City Council. Does anyone know how to reach the decision-makers at CineArts?

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth - What makes me think people will shop there is that Dick's wouldn't spend the money to build a store unless it knew (from its own research) that people would shop there. That is how retailers operate. I have two young kids who play sports and I would shop there. I know others who would also shop there. It is more convenient and a better quality sports store. If you feel really strongly about this come up with a plan that will revitalize this center, generate tax revenue for the city, and get the necessary funding. And the plan should be something more then "make it a cultural center and add cool restaurants." Do you have a cool restaurant who will open there? A cultural center operator? Really, making spur of the moment suggestions like this without any thought or research is not helpful.

Mike said...

It is funny to me that the people who oppose this are from Walnut Creek where they raze anything historic to put stores in. I guess they want the retail sales tax and use Pleasant Hill for recreation. Not fair!

Martha Ross said...

If you will read the story, the people quoted or mentioned are from Pleasant Hill. They include long-time residents, young people who grew up here, are now in college but come back home to visit and go to the Dome for movies. Maybe they will move back here some day, but they represent the growing number of educated, professional people in Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities who want some of the cultural amenities you find over in Berkeley or SF, but they don't want to have to deal with traffic or parking through the tunnel or over the bridge. Also there is plenty of evidence that cities that invest in these sorts of amenities fare better in the long run; they become more desirable places to live and work. Arts and culture also create jobs. And desirable places to live and work most certainly have higher home values and attract businesses that are probably more innovative and growing. As a Walnut Creek resident, I'm saying Pleasant Hill has a real asset here that NO OTHER city in the area has and makes it really unique and gives it a cool factor that another strip mall sporting goods store won't. I love to come to Pleasant Hill for the Dome. But I'm not going to come to Pleasant Hill for sporting goods. Geeze, got enough other choices within a 10-minute drive for that, or I can order online.
As for the double entendres, well, your Planning Commissioners gave us an unintentionally comic performance in their pained efforts to not trip over the work Dick's. The sexual connotation of the word has given Dick's problems in other markets, and it seems very certain to give the store -- and its proposed new home, Pleasant Hill -- similar headaches.

Anonymous said...

Martha - If you think that having a store with the name Dick's in Pleasant Hill is too much for people to deal with and will give Pleasant Hill "headaches" then you're reaching. Dick's operates in a lot of other places (including Colorado where I was stationed for a while) without problems, maybe you should just grow up. If you want the Dome to be a cultural landmark then maybe you (or a group you put together) should buy it and put your money where your mouth is. Pontificating is easy when you have no skin in the game.

Anonymous said...

I think people who defend DICKS should realize that they could put their business anywhere, they do not have to take out a beautiful cultural landmark that many people love. To many of us, the dome is an old friend. Yes, it needs help, it needs a bit of a business plan revisal, and it needs an investor- unfortunately which won't be the ordinary citizen. How soon those who like DICKS forget that the dome was once a friend to all of Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities, you dont let your friends go to the wastelands.

Anonymous said...

If you have a house that is old and falling down, and you want to rebuild it, and your new home meets all City requirements, but someone on your street says, no, I have good memories of your house from when I was a kid and you should not change it, just keep it the way it is so I'm not sad - that would not be fair. That's basically what these people are saying. I for one want to see something new in that run down center.

Therese said...

Thanks Martha for your valiant efforts. There are hundreds of buildings that look just like Dicks, offering the same fare as hundreds of other sporting goods stores. The Dome is unique and provides unique entertainment. It deserves to be preserved.I'm hoping the powers that be will take a second look at this and respect the past it represents and appreciate its potential for the future.

"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone'

Anonymous said...

I just have to pointm that should any there be any commenters who are trying to save this dome and who objected to the Sufi sanctuary, you're just laughable.

underestimatedmom said...

anonymous, you must be working for " Dicks" or you would come out of the closet!

I have lived here my entire life!if you liked Dicks in Colorado then go back!
The city needs more revenue My ass!
until recently, their entire retirement and MEDICAL was paid for by THE CITY! (us)you are way out of line here.
I, for one work for a government agency, I PAY FOR MY OWN MEDICAL and contribute to my retirement!
now back to saving the DOME..... we are hear to do our best to save the Dome, we dont need any haters here.
You are free to "shop where you want",I doubt any store is Better than any other, all the items come from CHINA...

THE DOME is a part of "OUR" history and culture.
We might not save it, but we will do what we feel is "the right thing to do".
You will not efect us!

Anonymous said...

DICKS could, instead of taking out a historic landmark, place its store in any one of the vacant furniture/piano/grocery stores in Walnut Creek. So many of these "business" ventures fail, and then residents are stuck with ugly empty concrete buildings dotting their landscapes (think Neiman Marcus in a matter of time). NO ONE needs another sporting goods store in our community, we have a ridiculous number of them already barely staying alive.

russeldewey said...

For those who doesn't know, save The Dome is dedicated to preserving the South Pole Dome. We are concerned with the physical structure as well as it's historical record.

regards,
russel of Soapbox Photo Booth Rentals

Anonymous said...

Russel, you sound like you have empty dome for a brain.

rommelxaine said...

I could not agree more. We should really make an effort to replace a beloved cultural icon, the Dome.

Ketterman Rowland & Westlund