Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I turned 18 the other day....

Before the internet...more things from boxes..

Propeller press release, 1980

Propeller press release, 1981


Sunday, September 27, 2009

You gotta wait a minute, wait a minute, oh yeah..

I've always wondered what the Auckland City Council has against Auckland. Sir Dove-Myer Robinson

Over the past three or more decades it's hard to think of a time when Auckland's controlling body has entirely worked toward the betterment of Auckland. There are huge successes of course and I think the city is blessed with it's parks, pools (although Parnell Baths are a shadow of what they once were), libraries, Art Gallery and very much more.

But for all that I do think it's been very poorly served by those we elect and those they employ, and I look at Wellington, or to Melbourne as examples of how cities can be administered and directed.

There have been missteps, many often benign in their intent, but missteps nevertheless, like the recent upgrade of Queen Street, which was done, I believe with the best of intentions, but tens of millions of dollars later left the city with a little less parking and a road that looked almost the same as before...more or less deserted apart from those looking for a bus, and full of large slabs of gray concrete leading to and from the various faceless banks, fast food joints and phone shops.

Or the viaduct which is mostly a pedestrian unfriendly quagmire of mediocrity, which Aucklanders only seem to value because the rest of the shoreline of what has a claim to being one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, is much worse. And was the last area the slacks-wearers at the council tried to develop as an 'entertainment precinct'...

Or there is utter incompetence, such as the way Ponsonby Road, one of Auckland's potential assets is kept half baked by stupid parking restrictions that restrict its development as a boulevard, and that fact that mostly it's treated as a race track with often disastrous results. Or the way the greed and stupidity of the city's parking department, with it's onerous restrictions, which are applied at times when just about every other city in the developed world is actively encouraging people to come and spend, ensures that most of the inner city is deserted and the businesses there struggle to pay the outrageous rates.

Then there is the plainly evil. I'm thinking of the wholesale demolition of the inner city, with the active connivence of the council in the 1980s, under the supposedly leftwing eye of Dame Cath Tizard, which ripped the soul out of the city to enrich a few select developers who just happened to have rather excellent connections to well placed elected representatives; or the same happening around the Britomart a few years later, where an area which, whilst run down, was bustling and quite ready for revitalizing without an onslaught from, yes, more bulldozers, and, yes, more developers who just happened to have good connections to various council folk, getting rich from the council created mess that ensued.

In the time that I've been actively aware of what's happening in the city politik I don't think Auckland City has had a mayor who can reasonably put his hand up and say "I've done a good job and, because of my drive and vision, left the city a better place", at least since the, still talked about in hallowed tones, golden days of Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. His successor, Colin Kay, was the most insubstantial politician I've met (he kept a cigarette case on his desk with about half a dozen brands so as not to offend). Cath I've mentioned, and I'm trying to actually remember anything Les Mills or Christine Fletcher did. The last guy tried but seemed better suited to making museli, and the current incumbent is pretty much mostly concerned with loud-mouthed self aggrandizement.

Sadly Auckland's inner city is an increasingly unattractive jungle of faceless blocks and architectural drabness and you can point the finger at most of those above, and the self righteous and fundamentalists who have largely dominated the council for many years.

But I guess you get who you deserve and Auckland's sweeping and gray 'burbs seem to like the faceless and the mediocre. So we get David Hay and Aaron Bhatnagar who make wide-ranging policy decisions about people and industries they neither understand or like.

Like the entertainment industry.

Which brings us to Aaron's proposal on liquor licensing for Auckland City.

For most of the 1980s and 1990s I ran or was involved in clubs. One was named one of the ten best clubs in the world by a UK magazine in 1991, and recently celebrated a fairly large 20th Anniversary party. All well and good, but we spent most of our time operating up against the council. They were, not because of any attitude on our part, or any intent, the enemy. We battled unreasonable noise controls (and we know they were unreasonable because after hitting them with a legal opinion, they, despite endless attempts to shut us down, backed down and agreed we were operating within the law, unlike their staff who'd been trying to enforce something they had no authority to enforce backed by council paid thugs), ever-changing licensing requirements (once again often unreasonable and draconian in their application, from people who'd never spent a social moment in a licensed premise other than Cobb & Co), demands for instant access for disabled in a previously licensed 50 year old building (no the lift was not good enough, despite the fact it had been for years....fix it or shut now), threatened zoning changes that would force us to shut a long established business, endless road renovations neither asked for nor needed by businesses, which killed access (see below), and so on.

All of which is neither here nor there except as way to illustrate the way that we, and quite some other businesses trying to provide a reasonable standard of internationally acceptable licensed entertainment in a city striving for tourists, were forced to work against the body that was elected to support these things.

Go forward to 2009 and Auckland has a standard of nightlife, of bars, clubs, and live entertainment the equal or better of any in a similar sized city anywhere in the world that I've been. Across the nation's only real urban area on most nights of the week you can find something pretty damn good to do, to listen to or to hang out.


Norman Jay and I were talking a few weeks back about the first time we'd met, many years back, when we bought him to NZ. He'd said how much he'd enjoyed the wide and invigorating nightlife in the city after his time in Australia. We talked about the talent our adventurous nightlife had nurtured....OMC (out of South Auckland but via the city), Nathan Haines, P-Money, Che Fu, Emerson Todd, Mark de Clive Lowe and so on. It's launched radio stations that define large parts of the city..George FM, Base FM and fed talent to 95bFm. Artists, writers and designers have centered themselves around our thriving nightlife industry. We have wonderful late night eateries and hang-outs that bubble and do so much for the soul of the city.

And all of this exists despite the Auckland Council.

I'm going to leave it to others to tell you exactly why this proposed new law is so bad for the city but it's shocking that some one like the Citizens & Ratepayers crew, who have absolutely no understanding of what is needed or what this industry is or what it requires are trying to draft this. But suffice to say that I can say with reasonable confidence that if Aaron Bhatnagar had turned up at the door of Cause Celebre we would have quickly turned him away as undesirable. It's a cheap shot, but I just need to look at his images on his site to know that. It's not that he's necessarily a bad guy, he simply doesn't come close to getting it.

And this all feels like yet another misstep on the part of a council who as a whole simply don't get it and would do better to leave well alone when mostly its working and has worked. Or if it is going to be revisited, is done so by, and in consultation with, the largely responsible and experienced folks who work in the industries and know what is needed.

I'm also going to mention, with a quiet smirk that a friend of mine, whilst talking to an Auckland City licensing person recently had to explain who Dave Dobbyn was.

Disclaimer: I have a grudge against the Auckland City Council. I used to own a record store in High Street. It was successful and sold vinyl records and compact discs that others did not. We imported most of the stock ourselves, or used some specialist importers. We made a profit but the margins were very slim. In 2000-01 the council decided to undertake yet another major renovation of High Street..it had been 5 or 6 years since the last, so I guess a multi-million dollar upgrade, despite the protests of retailers (at a couple of meetings in the Ellen Melville Hall) was due. After all, it wasn't their money.

It went on for many (6?) months and the street, and all pedestrian access was completely disrupted. For weeks you simply could not get into my shop, and when you could, you couldn't get into the street. I turned up one day and a council worker told me to go and shop somewhere else. In the midst of it they decided to increase the rates. I wrote a series of letters and the first few were ignored. Eventually one Nicole Haines from the council came down and yes, in front of several witnesses, said that the council understood and we would a) get rates abatement, and b) a reasonable payment schedule would be drafted to take into account the huge losses we'd incurred. She advised us not to make any payment until she was able to get back to us.

So with this in mind when the next rates installment came due I wrote to the council. I received a very terse letter from some person who was too insubstantial to sign his name as anything but 'Jeffrey'. The essence of it was: Get Fucked...pay up now. I wrote again, Jeffrey got ruder. I wrote again and then I received a letter from someone further up the chain. I was told that Nicole Haines had not said such a thing...not only that but she was willing to put in writing that she had never met me or been to my business. And I needed to pay up or it would go to court. Simply put, she lied, and if her boss was to be believed, it seemed she was willing to lie in front of a judge.

I found the money but we didn't ever recover from the, I guess, $70,000 or so we'd lost as a result of the council's actions. Yes there were other factors, the internet being one, but the money that the Auckland City Council had cost us was the primary reason we shut our doors a year later. Yes, I have a grudge.