|Of Issues and Individuals
March 17, 2010
In Richmond, it’s hard to separate issues from individuals. Maybe it’s hard anywhere. My Northshore discussions have drawn responses questioning my descriptions or lack thereof of the character of some of the property owners. It’s really hard to get people to understand that this is not about character, it’s about a General Plan.
Public policy issues that involve land use decisions should be based on what is best for the community for the next 20-50 years, not who owns the land, how much they paid for it or to what extent they dedicate their personal life to worthy endeavors.
All I have done is to identify those landowners and their political contributions to supporters of Northshore development. I am not questioning the integrity of Council members who took donations from Northshore developers or the legality of those donations. Indeed, the reason we know the magnitude of those contributions is because our system requires a level of transparency for the process. This is the way our system works. It was that famous political philosopher Jesse Unrue who said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”
I want the record to reflect that to the best of my knowledge, the Shekous, Josh Genser and Jerry Overaa are honest, hard working, generous and caring individuals. I admit that I failed to include details about their heritage, their families, their personal struggles and triumphs and their contributions to their communities because I wasn’t sure it was relevant. Apparently it is to some people, so I want to take care of that now.
Following are personal sketches provided by critics of my Northshore discussions:
I find it interesting that in your email about getting to know your North Shore Developers, the only thing you want the public to actually know is about political contributions. You fail entirely to mention the myriad civic and charitable work that Josh Genser has contributed to this community over the past 25 years (the list is truly so long that I won't describe it further). You fail to mention that he is a second generation Richmonder, the son of a former Superior Court judge and a Rosie, and that he has made his home and raised his children here. You fail to mention the quality projects with which he has been involved. You mislead the public, Tom, when you offer such a myopic view of the reality. And your argument that "oh, well, it's just the political season, nothing personal, get over it" strikes at the heart of the problem - politicians who pander to political extremes and then wonder why there is such acrimony. Sure, it's your forum, you can say what you want. But should you?
Joe and Heidi Shekou:
I thought you might like to know some personal history of the people you are attacking. Joe & Heidi Shekou are my mother and father in law. They are political refugees from the Iranian revolution. They were trained as engineers in Iran, and fled Iran in 1978 with their 6 year old daughter (my wife Sally) and 2 year old son. None of them spoke much English, and as you may recall from the time, Iranians were not much welcomed in the US owing to the hostage crisis. They hid their Iranian identity, including Americanizing their names, but there still were no job opportunities for them given their lack of American schooling or credentials and lack of English fluency.
Fortunately Joe & Heidi were able to bring some savings with them, and they partnered with some other Iranians in similar situations to buy some industrial land in San Rafael which they were able to successfully develop into a mini-storage and business park which they continue to own and manage today and which continues to house our company offices. Joe and Heidi acted as their own general contractor for the construction, and many of the subs they used still work with them today; several have related to me the story of Heidi mucking around every day on the job site in her yellow boots and raincoat. She continues to be very much the matriarch in charge of running our day to day property management. Joe and I work together on new projects and financing. Our family owns and manages about 500,000 square feet of office and industrial space and we all come to work together every day to actively run the business. We are small as real estate firms go, but we do have a good track record of success.
Joe and Heidi’s success in this country epitomizes what makes America great. If someone is willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter if they weren’t born here or can’t speak the language fluently. They still have the opportunity to make something of themselves, and Joe and Heidi have certainly done that. That is something to be celebrated, not denigrated in furtherance of a political agenda. It seems to me Richmond needs people like Joe and Heidi (and the Murrays, Gensers, and Ovaaras) to invest in its future. None of us are big sophisticated development conglomerates that churn and burn through projects, cashing out of each community as they go. We’re all local and are the type of people to give back to the communities where our projects are located. Joe and Heidi’s philanthropic track record in Marin spans far beyond the Marin Symphony, and I’d be happy to share with you the many worthy causes and organizations that they have supported over the years.
You’re obviously very set in your viewpoint and I don’t expect that to change. I would however ask for a basic level of decency and honesty in how you treat and portray people. You may not have known much about Joe and Heidi before you wrote your sarcastic piece about them, but now you do know more, and if you wish to know even more still, I am happy to provide it including as many character and charitable references as you may require. A few blog sites do not, as you know, constitute an accurate or meaningful depiction of a person’s life or their contribution to their community.