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seismic safety: a laugh riot

By enelson
Friday, April 27th, 2007 at 12:42 pm in Bay Bridge, Caltrans, Freeways, Funding, Retrofitting, Safety.


It should come as no surprise that in an era where “The Daily Show” is the main source of news for a plurality of Americans, that I should get my best lesson yet on the history of the new Bay Bridge from a comedic documentary commissioned by engineers.

¬†Shot in 2005 but first broadcast last September on public TV station KQED, “The bridge so far: A suspense story,” milks the ongoing earthquake retrofit-reconstruction saga for every possible laugh it can squeeze into 55 minutes.

I’d heard of several documentaries about the bridge and its troubles, but this one came to my attention this week when I found out it had been nominated for Northern California Emmy awards in both the documentary and graphic arts and animation categories. The statuettes will be handed out May 12 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

I watched the movie on my laptop while riding the train home, and I nearly embarrassed myself from laughing in front of my unknowing fellow commuters.

As a relative newcomer to the area, I’ve had to absorb the story in bits and pieces, like when I first sat down at my desk in March 2006 and was told that in two days, bids for the self-anchored suspension span would be opened in Sacramento.

Then there was the time a week or so later that I had to learn the difference between cable-stayed suspension bridges and self-anchored suspension bridges. A helpful reader called to explain that the architect’s rendering on the front page of our newspapers was, in fact, not the one my accompanying story was referring to. This reporter bitterly regrets the error.

And last fall, I heard about how an old cable to Treasure Island had the power to delay the bridge enterprise yet again by disrupting an agreement with the United States Navy. Childlike, I asked, “So what’s the Navy have to do with this?”

“The bridge so far” answered such questions, complete with cartoons, to aid newcomers just like me.

Showing then-San Francisco Mayor Willie<cm cq> Brown’s cut-out photo head peeking out of a line-drawn warship, the movie described how the military became the city’s No. 1 ally when it came to protecting brew-pub development plans.

It was just recently, when I was out on Yerba Buena Island<cm CQ> seeing how Caltrans planned to shut down the bridge for Labor Day weekend, and perhaps the Friday before, that a colleague pointed out where the brew pub was supposed to have been developed.

One of the biggest surprises was seeing my predecessor, Sean Holstege, playing one of the comedy’s straight men, leaving Contra Costa Times’ political editor, Lisa Vorderbrueggen<cm CQ>, to deliver the laugh lines for the media.

The best line in the movie, however, is delivered by stand-up comedian Joe Klocek<cm CQ>, an “average Joe” who provides commentary throughout.

“How about this for an idea: `Survivor: Treasure Island.’ We take all the politicians and all the contractors and we put them on Treasure Island, and the only way they can win is to build a bridge from Treasure Island to Oakland.”

Artwork by Charlie Canfield from

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One Response to “seismic safety: a laugh riot”

  1. david vartanoff Says:

    Once they decided not to restore rails, it all seems a waste. will it be complete before the 20 anniversary of the relatively minor damage from Loma Prieta?

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