Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Umunhum and Almaden AFS: One last post before the MROSD meeting

I've written numerous posts on Umunhum over the past few years. All of the writing and advocacy seems to be paying off, from the newspaper to change,.org petitions and even a website for the station(I may be .1% of that effort, but you do what you can) The final decision date on the fate of the historic landmark Mt. Umunhum Radar Tower is Wednesday, October 17th @ 7PM in the Historic Del Monte Building in downtown Sunnyvale (100 S. Murphy Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA). I will not be at the meeting, but this is a great time to refresh people on the issue and recent progress: the public is welcome (and encouraged) at the meeting.

Post-meeting update: The MROSD has elected to preserve the tower for at least the next five years, as more funding for preservation is lined up by supporters. You can read more in the Mercury News article on October 18.

Before you go to the meeting, you should read the two web pages that the Mercury News has set up. Scott Herhold has an opinion page, and the newspaper has an topic page. This has been a dynamic news area, as people have come up with creative ideas on how to shift ownership to Santa Clara Parks, donate money for preservation or just handle this well enough to open up the space, not destroy the cube and let other solutions develop. The Mercury News has done a great job reporting on this and being a public forum so that good ideas can come forward: they are fulfilling the role of local journalism.

I did attend the public meeting in Cupertino in July. The MROSD was prepared with clear charts and scale models and was open to public input. However, I think they were shocked at the number of people who attended: they had to set up almost twice as many chairs as planned and there were still many people standing. I give the district board the credit for having such a well run and informative meeting. There were over 200 people and, even after they brought in chairs to fill the room, there were still people standing. Above is a picture of the room around 9:30, when a few of the people had left. The E Clampus Vitus folks are in the foreground, in their red shirts and unique hats: I appreciate their appreciation of California history and the plaques that they have set up in so many remote and historical sites. [See the pictures at the end on dot-voting for public sentiment capture.]    

I would like to give a personal spin on things. First of all, let me explain that I am the child of an electrical engineer from Cold War. I grew up with plans of fallout shelters, and pictures of all of our missiles, from Talos to Nike Hercules. I even knew the difference between a Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules. My father worked for RCA on radar systems and television systems like Ranger, the first probe to the moon. Even if my dad didn't work on this radar system, he worked on its siblings.

It was sobering to hear the discussion of the Soviet threat and the effect of nuclear bomb blasts in Marin and the South Bay if there had been a nuclear war. We don't think of those things today (even if the threat of a nuclear accident with the world's aging arsenal is just as real now as it was then).

What impressed me the most were the stories from veterans of Almaden Air Force Base and similar radar stations that defended our borders and the engineers who designed and built the systems. These people brought a personal perspective that has been lost in many of the debates about the tower.

The first was a veteran from a similar radar station in Montana. He described driving to the top of that mountain in Montana with his young daughter, only to find that every trace of the base and artifacts of his service had been wiped clean. While the natural state was wonderful, it may be difficult to explain to his daughter what he'd done for years. His hope was that the tower at the Almaden AFB would remain a visible artifact of service that he could use to explain his service to his children and grandchildren.

Two other people drew analogies to other war artifacts. The first was Fort Point, the 1853 fort under the Golden Gate bridge. People called for that to be torn down as an eyesore when the bridge was constructed, but it was preserved. It is now a San Francisco destination. The other was Normandy, where Nazi bunkers litter the shores. These have been preserved as monuments to those dark times.

Finally, a few engineers from IBM brought us back to roots of the Valley. They pointed out that the radar and tower were the visible aspects of our SAGE air defense system. In its time, the early 60s, this was the most advanced computer system in the world. Remnants of this are at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, but the tower gives evidence of this technology to millions of people and not just a select few who visit this museum.

This tower is part of our history, no matter whether we consider it as a pinnacle of technology, a monument to the service of our soldiers or a dark period in our civilization when we were poised on the precipice of annihilation. Let the tower be preserved.

Dot-voting public input

The MROSD worked to get public input quantifed beyond the speakers. They let the audience vote on what they considered most important. This input went to multiple pages once the "historic value" on the first chart was full. The areas with the most votes were historical value, public sentiment and input and visitor experience. They asked for our input: today is their time to act upon that.


At 3:48 PM, Anonymous B. Jaber said...

Charles, thank you...well written.


Post a Comment

<< Home