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A tale of two cities 

San Francisco has frequently led the nation with its progressive and innovative ideas. Morro Bay was once the setting for a world record in oyster eating. Yes, the two West Coast cities have much in common.

The first Chinese immigrants landed in San Francisco Bay (1848), providing cheap West Coast labor. Morro Bay has a couple of Chinese restaurants.

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The first commercial dynamite was manufactured in San Fran (1866). I mean, before then, if you wanted dynamite, you had to make it yourself! What a pain in the ass that must have been when you were in a rush to blow something up. Morro Rock Quarry was blown up with dynamite.

The first cable car was created in Frisco (1873) though cable cars weren’t in widespread use until 1893. In an interesting side note, the city pays out millions annually for injury claims due to cable car accidents—everything from bruises to broken bones to severed feet. What’s that Tony Bennett song? “I Left My Foot in San Francisco?” I guess that’s what happens when 19th century technology collides with 21st century traffic, but I digress. Morro Bay has a fake trolley that has severed zero feet.

Here’s my point: San Francisco has scored a lot of “firsts,” including being credited with creating the first parklet (2010), and hence San Francisco must also be credited with creating Morro Bay’s outrage du jour, the dreaded parklet located at 875 Main St.

In case you don’t know, a parklet is a wee park, a sort of sidewalk extension usually created by roping off a few parking spaces, plopping down some seating, and sticking a few potted plants here or there. Parklets are supposed to break the drudgery of the urban environment whilst creating a charming spot for weary shoppers to enjoy a moment of respite. 

In Morro Bay, however, its parklet was created for the sole purpose of making it harder to park and creating unwanted exercise for crotchety retirees who just want to park in front of a damn business, get what they need, and drive off without having to walk three extra parking spaces away, dammit!

At least that’s what Linna Thomas—who gathered 1,800 signatures to have the parklet near her Coalesce Bookstore uninstalled—would have you believe. Her petition, titled “Not a Bad Idea; Not a Good Location,” basically argued that the park was poorly located, is a safety hazard, has disrupted her business, and benefits only the nearby Top Dog Coffee Bar.

Pat Bietz, who owns Top Dog and has maintained the parklet for free, likes the park, even though he didn’t request it and even though he lost two parking spaces directly in front of his business.

Neighbor pitted against neighbor? Oh the humanity! Both businesses are Morro Bay gems, rent asunder by a parklet.

Coalesce was opened in 1973 by Thomas and fellow hippie Janet Brown, who envisioned a place where people—as their business name suggests—could “grow together, to unite,” according to their website.

“That joining has always been the aim of the bookstore,” according to Thomas on her site. “We want everyone to feel comfortable at Coalesce, to find something of value.”

Talk about irony! Here are a couple of nice ladies who want their community to “coalesce,” who have been reduced to generating a petition to get rid of a park—a teeny, tiny park for god’s sake!

To Thomas and Brown’s credit, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Morro Bay isn’t exactly a huge faceless city in desperate need of park space. The city of about 10,000 has lots of parks, trees, and natural settings in close proximity. Perhaps the real problem is the way the parklet was foisted upon the city without much oversight. Mayor Jamie Irons saw one in Pacific Grove and directed City Manager David Buckingham to create one, and they did. Bam! Then their good intentions turned into a shit-storm.

I miss the good old days when politicians did stuff in Morro Bay and people loved them for it, like in 1974 when the city’s sixth annual Oyster Festival focused on setting the Guinness World Record for Oyster Shucking and Eating. Then George Leage and Joe Johnson shucked and gulped 32 oysters in four minutes and were new record holders. Damn American heroes, both!

In a show of solidarity, then-SLO County Supervisor Elston “Buz” Kidwell, a well-known oyster hater, ate the festival’s first oyster in front of a cheering crowd, magnanimously adding, “I’m developing a taste for them.” They don’t make pols like Kidwell anymore, or dames like Buz’s wife Betty Kidwell. Morro Bay royalty!

Back then, the whole town would show up and nobody fought over three lousy parking spaces. Today, thanks to citizen outrage over the loss of three spaces in a town where parking is pretty damn easy, Morro Bay’s experimental parklet is a goner. City officials may try again, but any new parklet will have to go through a lot more red tape before it’s approved. Ah, progress.

The Shredder thinks oysters are gross and slimy. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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