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The Decider

Ian Butler: Fun with Names


Now that the Coastal Commission has approved the first-of-its-kind biodiesel facility at the Calera Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, San Francisco is considering a similar design at its Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant, and yes, it’s the same one that S.F. voters will decide in November whether to rename the “George W. Bush Memorial Sewage Plant.”

So far the debate has focused on how demeaning this would be to the sewage plant, which after all efficiently converts something hazardous into something benign. Some feel the name would better suited for a sewer pipe, or even the sewage itself. Supporters plan a “synchronized flush” when the next president is sworn in, although Paul Addis (the Burning Man arsonist) may try to flush all their toilets a day early.

What does this have to do with our biodiesel plant? Not much, although I find it creepy that it may be replicated at a place named after George W. Bush. My solution: Name it the “President Al Gore Memorial Biodiesel Plant.”

I finally learned the official name of the creek that I have been referring to as the “Secret Waterfall” (the hard-to-find and heavily polluted site I’ve been cleaning up for the past year). One city worker jokingly referred to it as “Doelger Falls,” after Henry Doelger, who paved over the creek in the 60s. But according to Public Works Director Van Ocampo, it’s actually called the Westline Outfall, which is pretty much the most boring name possible, if it can even be considered a name at all.

I propose that we rename it the “Secret Waterfall,” which would look pretty cool on a map (although if it appears on a map, it isn’t much of a secret). Judging from what comes out of it, the “George W. Bush Memorial Sewage Waterfall” would certainly be an appropriate alternative.

It was an inspired choice naming the Devil's Slide Tunnels after Tom Lantos, who worked tirelessly to secure federal funding for the project. But the full name, “The Tom Lantos Memorial Tunnels at Devil’s Slide” is a little wordy, like “Monster Park at Candlestick Point.” Perhaps it could be shortened to something catchy, like “Tom’s Tunnels.”

I always hoped they would name the tunnels after Mitch Reid. He’s the guy who used the Freedom of Information Act and a home computer to force Caltrans to admit the only reason it didn’t consider tunnels in the first place was that its manual was missing the chapter on tunnels. Although “The Mitch Reid Tunnels” has a nice ring to it, Mitch has disqualified himself by remaining very much alive.

Another strong contender: Alfred J. Wiebe (pronounced wee-bee), coastside equivalent of Emperor Norton. The eccentric Mennonite bought Devil’s Slide Rock in 1963, with elaborate plans to build a castle, radio station, apartments, and a restaurant on top of the promontory, which he wanted to rename “Monaco West.”

In Barbara VanderWerf’s book “Montara Mountain,” she describes how Wiebe and a woman who called herself  “Princess Magnette of Belgium” (who had a suspiciously American accent) took reporters up the 200 steps to the top of the promontory to unveil their plans, which included a $10 million yacht harbor.

Wiebe’s unique life included such notable detours as spending a winter in a giant igloo in Sweden with 10 Vikings and 40 sheep. He once appeared on the Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins TV show, wearing five suits and a “thinking cap” consisting of a child’s leggings stuffed with paper. On the show, he hawked instructional cassettes explaining how to make his invention, the “Fig Leaf Windmill,” primarily the rear end of a truck sticking out of the ground. But the invention he most wanted to be remembered for was the “7 Day Wash,” essentially burying laundry in the sand and letting tidal action wash the clothes (patent pending).

Eventually, Wiebe, whom a police officer once admonished by saying, “There is a point at which one can be too weird,” sold the property for next to nothing with one condition: The buyer had to frame a photo of him in a toilet seat and hide it in a secret location on the property. Legend has it that the photo, which features Wiebe with one side of his beard shaved off, is still there today. (The rock is strictly off-limits, so don’t even think about looking for the photo, except maybe at night.)

When the tunnels are completed, sometime during President Obama’s second term, the old stretch of Highway 1 will be converted into a hiking and biking trail. The least we can do is name the trail after Alfred J. Wiebe, at least until it slides into the sea.

Ian Butler is host of Laugh Locally on PCT 26. He insists that the facts in this column are true, as far as he knows.


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Oh, yes. I forgot about that one. But, Ian you sound a bit paranoid to me. I do not have your crack pipe.

Yo! Calera Creek -- let's not forget what an important body of water this is. Lots of frogs live there. Red legged ones. Is it important they are endangered? Is life important? Is the variety of life important?


"If you actually think I would waste my time sending you anything, than I must suggest you get off the crack pipe."

Uh Oh....... John must have meant it when he said he wasn't going to edit for us any more. The word you want, Kat, is "then" not "than".


Misquote? Here is the exact quote I attributed to you in my column:

"...columnists like Ian Butler make me want to throw up in the paper and send it to him."

Now look up to the first comment on this page. See anything familiar?

(I suppose you also forgot that you borrowed my crack pipe and never returned it.)

Hey Ian,

You miss quoted me in the Pac Trib today. I said "you were not funny" and I still think that. If you actually think I would waste my time sending you anything, than I must suggest you get off the crack pipe.

No Hugs and No Kisses

I do not think he is funny at all. I know a lot of people do not buy the paper because of him and others. The Editor needs to bring in others. And if I ever see Ian Butler's book, oh well, you don't want to know.

I couldn't disagree with Kat more. Although I sometimes disagree with Ian, he invariably draws a chuckle and sometimes induces the elusive "laugh out loud when you're sitting by yourself so people look at you like a serial killer" effect.

Also, I've perused several local community papers, and we have the cream of the crop in the Trib, IMHO.

Why fight over it? There are two tunnels. Name one for Mitch, the other for Tom.

I thought Ian's column shed light on interesting bits of arcane Pacificana. Although I like the idea of calling them Tom's Tunnels, I always credited Mitch Reid as being the first one to take on Caltrans and seriously pursue the idea. I'm still in awe of that accomplishment.

Nobody remembers this but me, but at a fateful City Council meeting a long time ago, the council was supposed to choose between the Martini Creek Bypass and the Marine Disposal Alternative. There were two council members for each alternative, so I was the deciding vote. I said it was like choosing between death by hanging or death by fire. I chose neither. I wanted a tunnel. But that wasn't one of the official choices, so I abstained. No motion passed. Everybody was angry at me for that, but I've always said that if you're going to be a council member, you have to be willing to piss off half the people in the room at any one time and make the right decision. I think of myself as the Original Tunnel Guy because of that meeting, but Mitch gets the credit for starting the activism that actually led to the tunnels being built. To me, they'll always be Mitch's Tunnels--and Tom's, too.


Thank you so much for taking the time to express your feelings, it is tremendously satisfying to know that I have touched you so deeply. When my book comes out in December (which by the way, will make a great Christmas gift!), I will be sure to get you an autographed copy.


More and more people I talk to are not buying the Tribune for their own reasons. I only buy it occasionally. But columnists like Ian Butler make me want to throw up in the paper and send it to him. Ian, you are not funny. As a matter of fact, you are boring, and it's very likely nothing will ever be named after you.

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