While I fully realize we live in a time where media pundits compete amongst themselves to outdo each other with the shock value of stories unencumbered by anything so tedious as research or the finding of facts, The Shredder in his piece “Redneck Bunny Hop” (Oct. 17) presents such a reckless and clichéd portrayal of Atascadero that I feel compelled to respond.
I can just imagine how much thought Mr. Shredder put into this piece: He reads somewhere (and I am confident The Shredder is a he) that the City of Atascadero has decided to try to recover some of the millions of dollars they invested in restoring their City Hall (damaged in the 2003 San Simeon earthquake) by renting it out for $5,000 per event. He then seizes on this little snippet of news, and, without any investigation whatsoever, starts the cheap shots by comparing the new City Hall to a “Piggly Wiggly” or the “nearest bowling alley.” Putting aside the fact that Atascadero City Hall actually was located in a bowling alley until August while construction took place, I was amazed when I continued reading still more baseless piffle. The Shredder says, “I’m picking on Atascadero for throwing on a pair of skinny jeans and pretending to be San Francisco. But the barbecue stains on their v-neck T-shirts gave them away.”
I think I can say with some certainty that Atascadero residents have absolutely no desire to emulate San Francisco. We live in a town of fewer than 30,000 that has one high school, one movie theater, and a very modest downtown that certainly will never equal the shopping and dining chic of SLO. But we also do not charge our residents for parking on public streets that are supposed to be maintained via General Fund taxes, have no traffic issues, do not have to pay overheated rent rates, and can, if we are lucky, find a home to buy for 30 percent less than SL0 and 60 percent less than San Francisco.
No, Mr. Shredder, you are mistaken if you think that we feel our “crown jewel is a fetid lake they can’t keep stocked with water” (quick tip: lakes are “stocked” with fish and filled with water). If you ask Atascadero citizens, they will tell you that our crown jewel would be the new City Hall, or Atascadero High School, or the Charles Paddock Zoo. The biggest drought in decades has certainly had an effect on our humble lake, but if Shredder had just taken a few minutes online to research how the $5,000 City Hall rental charge compares with typical wedding room rates, you could learn that in 2012 the average wedding venue rental rate was $12,905. Yes, that’s right, the $5,000 Atascadero is charging is actually a bargain. (Source: CNNmoney.com)
And what other wedding site boasts a newly restored Wrestling Bacchantes statue that was featured at the World’s Fair of 1904, or a rotunda dome with details that took thousands of hours to complete? Can Mr. Shredder let me know which Piggly Wiggly has this level of art before he insults the workers who resurrected this building or the citizens who donated heavily to help cover costs? Is there a Piggly Wiggly on the National Register of Historic Places? It is clear The Shredder has never even bothered to see Atascadero City Hall, nor the acres of manicured lawn studded with centuries-old trees.
As for the “redneck” headline, I only moved to Atascadero 16 months ago, but in doing so investigated virtually every town between Ventura and Paso Robles. So the label “carpetbagger” may be appropriate, but “redneck” is a poor fit. I am pro gun control, pro choice, and anti-Walmart, but the main thing I was looking for was a small-town feel with a good high school for my teenaged son. When I research towns, I find the best way is to attend a Friday night high school football game, where I can get a feel for the town’s flavor and spirit. When I visited SLO High School, I could see great academics but also a bit of an attitude amidst all the Timberland shoes, North Face jackets, and L.L. Bean shirts. The cheering was lukewarm, with notes of oak and tannin. When I visited Atascadero High School, there was genuine passion for their football team, people kept bumping into others that they knew, and my $20 track shoes from Big 5 were right at home. Yes, there are some people who seem to think Obama was born in Kenya and who want to be buried with their Remington deer rifle next to them in the casket—but not as many as The Shredder may think.
It is especially sad to see such a poorly researched, even flippant, piece of journalism in the most widely read news source for a college town (the fact that New Times is free helps). Shallow journalism/opinion like that of The Shredder will only perpetuate a coarsening of American values where measured, reasoned discourse gives way to inane and irate rants by individuals who cannot even make it to the end of a sentence without sprinkling in a few F-bombs. I can still remember a time when I could have a lively, even entertaining exchange with a Republican friend and know that, at the end of our debate, we would still be friends and respect each other’s point of view. Those days in America seem long gone. More’s the pity.
And finally, if The Shredder were to call up Atascadero City Hall, he might be surprised to learn that the facility has already been booked for weddings with no issues over the $5,000 price. It may be a drop in the bucket compared to the millions already invested, but it still does not deserve the cheap shots and crass insults that are not worthy of a community newspaper with any semblance of journalistic integrity. At the very least, the usual disclaimer should be printed by the publisher at the end of every column, mentioning that the opinions of snarky columnists who feel they are superior to their neighbors are not necessarily those of the paper’s ownership.
I would write more, but I have to go soak my favorite shirt that I stained with barbecue sauce.
Jim Elfers lives in Atascadero. Send comments to the executive editor at email@example.com.