Column: If You Mean It, Don’t Exploit Children

By Susan Parker
Tuesday January 29, 2008

A friend asks me to check out the website I click on their URL and up pops a paid plea from Children’s Hospital Oakland, (CHO). It asks for help distributing 50,000 “Vote Yes on Measure A” yard signs. That’s one helluva lot of soon-to-be-thrown-away plastic signs. 

My neighbors and I buy 50 green and white signs that say “Vote No on Measure A: Build healthy neighborhoods, not high-rises.” We get them at a discount because they’re recycled. The messages vary. “Put the Christ back in Christmas!” some shout. Others urge readers to “Boycott Turkish Products!” A few list contact information for “Doggie-doo Pet Grooming Services.” We paint over the original slogans and stick them in our front yards. 

This sums up the David and Goliath battle we’re fighting to stop Children’s 

Hospital, a private corporation, from building a 12-story 196-foot high-rise at 53rd and Dover streets: Our 50 signs vs. their 50,000, plus BART and freeway-viewable banners; our website and letters to the editor vs. their expensive TV commercials and glossy “Get Well” cards. Slick Sacramento political marketing gurus pitted against me and my neighbors and a Kinko’s Xerox machine.  

CHO is spending more than a million bucks on their campaign to get Alameda 

County voters to endorse their expansion with a $300 million parcel tax. Their signs and messages shout that’s it’s a retrofit and rebuild, but it’s not.  

My neighbors and I aren’t opposed to expansion, but we want them to find a more appropriate spot for their hulking high-rise, or to build on their own campus closer to the freeway and their existing helipad, away from our one-and two-story single family homes. And, by the way, we don’t want to pay for it. 

To make our case, we attend lots of community meetings. Folks who don’t live in our neighborhood—or anywhere near a 12-story high-rise or helipad—suggest we shouldn’t have moved to the flats of North Oakland if we didn’t want Children’s Hospital to take our homes. Floyd Cole, who’s lived on 53rd Street for over 40 years and will never again see the sun from his front window if CHO builds its high-rise, says, “I’m a Flatland Man. I don’t like hills. Never wanted to live there and I won’t move there now.” 

We ask our Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner for help, and she responds three weeks later with this email: “I’ll study the plans CHO has filed.” 

When we point out that there is no master facilities plan and that the preliminary project application has not yet been filed, there’s silence in District 1 cyberspace. 

We fire off more letters to newspapers and get the attention of local TV and radio stations. Lee Otis Odom, the sole homeowner left on 52nd Street, between MLK and Dover, is interviewed by KGO Channel 7. 

Bob Schenker, who faces losing his unique home/studio on 53rd Street, is interviewed on NBC11. I’m on KTVU-Channel 2 for exactly five seconds. 

The mailman delivers an oversized postcard that appears to be from the Democratic Party. “Everyone says that curing sick kids is important,” it says. “If you mean it, vote yes on measure A.” But it’s not from the Dems; it’s from a marketing firm down in Sherman Oaks. We counter with some cheap bumper stickers: “No on Measure A or your tax $$ will bulldoze homes.” 

And then THE LETTER arrives in our mailboxes. It appears to be handwritten by a child. It asks the reader to “vote yes on Measure A if you mean it.” It’s signed “Adriana, age 14, Leukemia.” 

The exploitation of vulnerable children for political purposes makes me sick to my stomach. My neighbors feel the same. Children’s Hospital should argue their case based on the merits of their proposed expansion, not sick children. Fifty thousand yard signs and they still need to use 14-year-old Adriana with leukemia to do their bidding. Shame on you, CHO.